An unexpected encounter in a waiting room opened my mind to some thoughts on how we view the voting process.
I spent part of Election Day 2012 in a hospital waiting room. I’m okay, but doctors monitor my blood once a month to make sure I remain that way. My blood tests aren’t the usual “tap, slap, off ya go” affairs. I have to wait a while for an IV nurse, so I always take a book.
On election day, I sat on the aisle when a little family rolled up. A teenage girl in a wheelchair with her leg in a cast, a boy about 10 years old and a middle-aged woman wearing a Muslim headscarf scanned the area for a spot to sit together.
I shifted a couple of seats toward the wall from my aisle seat. That left two seats in a makeshift conversation cluster for them. I flashed a “here ya go” gesture. They sat next to me. Problem solved.
Different accents often catch my ear. The woman’s English sounded tentative as if she needed to translate inside her mind before she spoke. The boy and girl chattered away in fast American speech. I tried not to eavesdrop, but they were so close. They sounded as if they had a fun day planned, although they were new to this whole outpatient stuff. I think I added a couple of cordially supportive comments. After all, I’m an old hand at doctor doings.
I usually surprise northerners by chiming in on their conversations, so this exchange, too, ended with the usual polite discomfort. I made an exaggerated sheepish face straight out of vaudeville, muttered, “Oops. Sorry. I’ll mind my own business,” and returned to my book. They resumed their conversations. Sort of. That’s when I noticed the woman had a book open, too.
Her small pocket-sized book had a plain cover and all the text appeared to be Arabic. Or Farsi.
A nurse called the girl for her outpatient procedure. After she left, the woman turned to me. “Have you voted yet?” she said.
I have to admit, I was a little surprised when she spoke to me. “Not yet. My husband asked me to wait until he gets home from work so we can go together. That’s sort of our thing.”
With a smile, she tilted her head toward the boy and said, “He wanted to go first thing this morning. He was so disappointed, though, with the polls. He thought we should vote in the White House.”
We both smiled and nodded in one of those “kids say the darnedest things” moments. Then, I had a memory flash of news footage of Iraqi women with purple thumbs raised to celebrate voting. That’s when an idea sparked.
“He’s got a point,” I said with a bit of aHA moment awe. “Voting should include more ceremony and ritual. It IS a big deal, and we should celebrate it more.”
The girl returned, and family day resumed. Her mom and I nodded cursory farewells, almost as if we hadn’t shared a moment, so I returned to my book. Except she’d planted a thought.
Why don’t we celebrate voting more?
We take voting for granted. Up here in Connecticut, we vote – at least in my town – in elementary schools closed for the day. We arrive down a driveway lined with political signs only to run a gantlet of pamphlet-bearing volunteers. Inside, poll workers are pleasant, even if they’ve been there since the 6 am opening. We arrive, show ID. Get in, get out. Bada bing, bada boom.
Granted, there’s much appeal to getting it over with and returning to normal life.
But we celebrate everything else. Minor holidays. Championship athletic events. The Oscars. Why not Election Day? I have to admit that the relentless negative ads batter my enthusiasm for the process. We get enmeshed in the whole partisan politics clash.
For the first time, I noticed children much more excited about the election than the adults, even the middle-aged woman obviously born in the Middle East. When my husband and I went to vote, a father and son showed up behind us. The son wanted an “I voted” sticker, but the polling place was out. The boy left disappointed, as if he’d been dreaming of that toy for weeks but the store was out of stock.
Are children naive? Or do they have the right idea?
My kids had school yesterday, and I had the chance to “sub” at the grade school. The 8th grade class held a mock Election. I had never seen kids of all ages so excited about the election. They had the scene set. They were polite, and enthusiastic! After I placed my vote, I received my sticker. I told the kids that I was just getting warmed up for that evening when I would go and vote for real. I agree with you Rhonda, those kids and staff put more thought and pride into there voting experience than the actual polling place. There is something to be said about how our children see the process, and we do. We have so many freedoms that we take for granted! Thank you for sharing your story!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Gina. What a great program at your school! Giving children an opportunity to enjoy the election process lets them get a feel for citizenship. Anyhoo, that you commented means a lot to me. Thank you.
I love this post, Rhonda. It is so true. I bring my kids to the polls and always emphasize how this is a great honor, a great day for all Americans.
This morning I was able to snuggle on the couch with the kids as the news ran the maps and explain (roughly) how the process works, and it is a joy.
Though I’m excited to see that voter turnout was very high, I think we need to do more to get kids and people in general excited about the process. It should be a national holiday, to make sure everyone, and I mean everyone, can get to the polls.
Wonderful thoughts and a wonderful story. (I’m another one guilty of talking to strangers, you’re not alone!)
Thanks, Tracy, for stopping by and commenting AND for explaining the process to your children here in the morning after. I agree – why not make it a National Holiday? Even if merchants hold sales, so what? They could offer discounts or a free gift for those wearing an “I Voted” sticker. Thanks again for sharing your story, too.
T.L. I echo your sentiments and agree with you completely. We should have a National holiday to honor such an important event and allow time for more people to vote. Our system needs to change and grow in order to empower more voters. Several locations ran out of ballots, others did not have enough voter booths to keep up with demand.
If we can have a Starbucks on every corner we can improve our ability to handle and encourage a much larger voter turn out.
Hi, Erin. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Getting psyched about making Election Day an annual holiday. TL, you came up with a good one!
Great post, Rhonda! I am all for modeling the importance of voting to our children. They need to know it is a priviledge never to be taken for granted. They need to know how the voting system works and what happens to their vote. But I will go one more. They also need to know that a person’s voting choice is personal and something to be respected. I can’t tell you how many times I have sent the neighborhood children home because of disagreements in candidates this past week. Of course, they are just repeating snippets of what they hear their parents and teachers saying, but they can get really riled up and cruel, and no friendship should ever be broken because of this.
So yes, voting should be celebrated, and yes, it is wonderful to see our next generation getting ready to accept the baton, but let it be with peace and respect for each other.
Excellent addition, Katy. I couldn’t agree more. We need more respect for other viewpoints, if for no other reason than the a lack of respect for others is deep in the murky heart of bullying. If we want to stop bullying among children, we adults have to walk the walk and talk the talk ourselves. Thank you so much for stopping by and adding this crucial point.
Great post Rhonda. You know, years ago, all schools were closed on election day. It was sort of a holiday, we just didn’t express that it was. It is an honor to be able to cast people’s vote. Just like the votes for American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. We are missing the music. We need a DJ at all the voting places.
Thank you, Gail, both for stopping by and commenting. Having music is a great idea. Maybe even live music? It would be a way to showcase local musicians wanting to get noticed.
Rhonda thanks for your wonderful perspective on voting. It is a privilege many people in the world will never experience. I do think we should celebrate it more. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Kourtney. The things we take for granted, eh? I’m writing this reply to you on Thanksgiving Eve, so we should be thankful we get to vote.
Well said as always Rhonda! We should have a day off to VOTE, it is so sad to see so many disenfranchised people and such dirt politicking. We should celebrate our voting – many do not have that in their country and many women so much so.
I always got to the polls early when I taught and made sure I told the students how proud I was that I got to do it and it was my right to do so. We usually got into a discussion about my service and how I fought for their right to vote. I never injected who or whys just get out there and vote and be intelligent about who you vote for, research and no party line voting.. nice story!
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Chet. So sorry I didn’t get your comment approved for so long. I can only plead “The Holidays” as an excuse. Thanks again.