Voting Today in A Vermont Village After Teaching

IMG_2285
As much as I love my students, I scolded them soundly today. I don’t know why I was so shocked when over half said they weren’t voting in the primary, and some weren’t intending to vote in the general election either. They couldn’t understand my dismay. They didn’t see the big deal–their feeling of disconnection from the political process was stunning. Perhaps because I have recently pushed myself out of my higher ed torpor to take a stand about how I intend to participate in a more inclusive, cross-cultural, community-intensive educational process, I am taking pretty hard their rejection of any stand about their country’s future.

It’s unimaginable to me to be 18, 19 or 20 and NOT vote. It was what turning 18 was all about! Even when I have been unhappy with the choices, I have worked hard to participate in campaigns, conversations, and always always always to vote. I’ve written in candidates from time to time when the choices were too grim to consider, but I’ve been there in the booth, pencil in hand.

I urged my students at least–if they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a presidential candidate, if they really could see no difference between the lot of them–to make sure they voted for local, state and national legislators as well as all those school board members trying to make a difference. And to think about running for office themselves if they didn’t like the state of things.

As I drove through town past the stream of Obama and Clinton campaign signs listing in rapidly melting snowbanks, I thought some more about my students’ response. What would get them to get excited about participating in their democracy, these students at a school of considerable influence and privilege? By the time I finally arrived at our town clerk’s office at around 4:00, I had missed the famous pie sale—probably a good thing– but overheard the town clerk say that over 300 of our 630 registered voters had preceded me into our small booths. I thought of my students, too, in that moment as my eye fell on my daughter’s name on the Voter List along with the check and note, Absentee Ballot, next to it.

In the wee booth I saved the democratic primary ballot for last, moving through the green, blue and yellow local ballots first–the names of those running representing people I know, my neighbors and friends. Those votes were easy to make. Then I turned to the final sheet. The names, “Hillary Clinton” and “Barak Obama,” on the white ballot hit me in a way that even all the talk, the reading, the campaigning had not–these two names signify such a shift, such a promise: that a woman–a woman!– could be a serious contender for the White House, finally; that a black man with a name that conjures up visions of an open, multicultural society could be surging to the head of the pack–well, I was just about overwhelmed right in that tiny booth behind the red-white-and-blue curtain. And I voted. With relish.

winterwater

Thursday I’ll go into class and talk again about voting–I’ll show them my little “I voted” sticker, and tease them a bit. Then we’ll explore ways that the deep, compelling creativity they are unveiling in this course can push them beyond our walls and into the community, and even how it can can help them envision participating in the political processes of their times. Just imagine what kinds of names might be on ballot by the time they’re my age–I’d like to know that they had a hand in it.