An Election Day Walk

On Election Day 2012, I started my day, as I do most, with a cup of black coffee and a little morning news. But this morning, I also had another task of filling out my election ballot. You see, in Colorado, we have this crazy thing called mail in balloting. Many years ago, I went online and changed my voter registration preference to “always mail”, and ever since, my ballot arrives in the mail, and I can either mail it back or drop it off at my convenience and after I have a chance to research all that I am voting for. No cumbersome absentee process, voting booths or hanging chad. It is very simple and it makes me wonder why morning news headlines are still detailing voting issues across the country. How stupid? I am pretty familiar with most of the ballot issues and candidates so the process is more of a formality for me than a big new deliberation. There was a time in life when I took this less seriously and when I tended to read ballot issues for the first time standing behind a curtain, late for work.

As I opened the ballot I was at first struck by the fact that the entire ballot was printed in both English and Spanish. Although it may have been the case, I don’t recall this before, and I thought for a minute about just how angry this will make some people in my state. I then replaced that with a thought about how good it feels to instead be happy for the fact that a larger number of citizens will be able to intelligently exercise their right to vote this year. I also thought about how not long ago, I was not even aware that I had a choice about how I feel, and that my reaction can actually be a conscious decision, and not a selfish, thoughtless reflex.

I actually had an easier time voting for Obama this year than I did four years ago. No, I am not satisfied with the state of our country’s economy or government and I am definitely not pleased with the Democratic Party. But unlike most of the US that seems to just knee jerk, and always kick the current guys out when things are tough, I actually watched the last four years very closely. I watched the actions and the rhetoric of the President, and I also closely watched the actions and rhetoric of the Republicans in congress as well as those working on that GOP machine. I watched a concerted effort of large scale, and considerable money to undermine any, and every, effort the President made to govern. It reminds me a lot of the end of Clinton’s first term. I, and all my conservative friends and family, were just outraged and astounded that Bill Clinton and his radical socialist agenda could possibly be re-elected. Exact the same message you can hear about Obama within 5 minutes of flipping on Fox News today. All the while, we were bathing in the glory of a remarkably good economy, relative world peace, and an unprecedented balanced budget in government that was a marked change from the Republican he replaced. Oh the humanity. Clinton was the worse president in history. At least that is what I always heard on the radio and TV at the end of Clinton’s first term. Sounds familiar doesn’t it.

To be fair, left wingers did exactly the same. They warned of incompetence, cronyism, and complete disastrous repercussions if we elected Bush. Two illegal wars based on false pretense, unthinkable death, destruction and murder, mystery weapons of mass destruction, unjustifiable tax cuts to the wealthy, constitutional bans on gay marriage, no child left untested, 911, government sponsored torcher, botched Katrina, housing market collapse, worldwide financial system meltdown, bank bailouts, unemployment and job losses going to record levels, deep recession. Good times and memories! That was a hell of an 8 years for the GOP. Especially considering where they started. Oh, but I forgot, Clinton and Obama are radical socialists.

In addition to the President, I marked the ballot for state officials, congressman and judges.  I also voted on issues to fund our public school system to add back previous unavoidable cuts in the arts. Even though I do not have children, I voted in favor of additional taxation upon myself for education spending even for expendable pursuits such as the arts. Not because I think that public schools are doing a great job, and that they should be rewarded, and not because I think my taxes are too low. I do it because I am more than aware that the public school system needs more resources; not a redirection of resources away, toward private schools that favor the wealthy. I am also very aware of how the long term benefits of public educational spending outweigh the short term penny pinching excuses for why education spending today is somehow excessive.

Like a few other states, I also voted on a Marijuana legalization measure. In my state, like many others, we already have legalized medical marijuana, but this amendment seeks to further legalize and regulate the sale similar to laws in place regulating alcohol sales. This amendment also sends the first 40 million of tax revenue directly to our public schools. I also support this measure as well as almost any grass roots effort to challenge the archaic Federal laws that affect an individual’s civil liberties and that perpetuate the failed drug war. Outdated drug laws also mire our penal system and needlessly ruin countless lives in an endless cycle of unthinkably expensive insanity that also severely jeopardizes the security of our nation’s borders. The opposition said that medical Marijuana legalization would bring crime and chaos to the city streets of Denver. We now have medical dispensaries more common than Starbucks and the threats and fear campaign against, just did not turn out to be true in the least. This is one of the few votes I cast, that actually felt very nice and easy. Not an ounce of second thought.

As the sun warmed the day, with my ballot in hand, I decided, as I did on Election Day 2008, to walk the mile or so to my nearest ballot drop off location on another mild fall day in Denver. As I did four years ago, I walked alone. No wife or dogs and not a word said. I also made a specific commitment to stay in the present during my trip. No background thoughts about the work email, or phone call I might be missing. No bitter feelings toward any ridiculous Facebook propaganda a friend recently forwarded and no excessive dwelling on the past or future for more than a second before moving on. I walk my dogs nearly an hour every day so the neighborhood, sights and sounds are not exactly new, but as it did four years ago; my neighborhood appeared quite different to me on this day.

I passed by my local elementary school and I considered all of the teachers and students that pass through those halls and the immensely important and often insurmountable challenges that they face every day. I thought about the fact that almost every parent I know, with money in my neighborhood, drives their kid to a private school farther away. I thought about how much better this school would be if that were not the case and if instead, those parents were active in making their public school better. Those, like my wife and my mother, that dedicate their career to making a difference for children that have absolutely no connection to them, are the true hero’s in our society. They are the ones that must be the priority of our government. Educators are the true job creators and where our economic stimulus dollars should be focused. The attacks from the right against teachers, unions, and public education have been hard for my wife and me to stomach. I moved on and thought about my wife, my mom, and my own elementary school experience.

I walked near the ever expanding hospital complex and watched as huge cranes erect ongoing large scale expansion near my home. I marvel at a private corporate capitalistic business that, unlike most in this country, is booming and expanding at a furious pace. The expansion has also brought these great new “parks” adjacent to the hospitals. They are large grassy areas complete with benches, and doggy cleanup stations. Only these are not public parks, they are owned by the private hospital, and part of the agreements they have with the city as part of the expansion plan. Unlike the public funded parks nearby that are underfunded, uncared for, and infested with stickers and weeds that stick in my dogs foot, these parks are lush, green, and in perfect condition. The hospitals have a lot more money than the government in my city. I guess that should be argument for private healthcare, but as much as I like these hospital parks, I am not so sure I like what it actually represents. At least my dog can crap without standing in a patch of thistle. I guess this is the way of the future where private companies do what the government use to do. It is hard to ignore the potential down side of this type of arrangement.

This leads me to think a second about the increasingly poor health statistics that unfortunately fuel this unprecedented economic growth in the medical, hospital industry. I also think for a moment about those lying in bed on the other side of those walls. As if catastrophic health problems are not enough, it is hard not to think about just how many are also dealing with the reality that their health problems, and lack of insurance, could very well, financially cripple them and their family, irreversibly, for the rest of their lives. That is, if they survive, or even bother to go to the hospital in time. I can only imagine. How can they erect new buildings research centers and parking garages if they keep treating the uninsured for free? Not my problem or responsibility right? Those people should have chosen to buy health insurance for $500 a month like I do. What is that matter with poor people anyway?

I also wonder just how many patients suffering from pain and nausea are being drugged and are starving to death, in a complete stupor, with such extremely addictive and powerful drugs as opiates and morphine while others, just blocks away, are in an all-out war trying to ensure that the same patients do not have access to a natural, harmless, plant-based, home remedy that could absolutely provide meaningful relief, with far fewer harmful chemical side effects, and at a fraction of the cost. But then again, how can they erect new buildings research centers and parking garages if people could simply grow their own medicne in their back yard. I moved on, both physically and with my thoughts.

I walked a bit further and paused while a watched group of men tearing a whole in the street in an ongoing effort to replace all of the aging gas lines from the road to thousands of houses in the city of Denver. I recognized the same guys working as the ones that were doing the work at my house a couple of months ago. Steady job it seems. Seeing how far they had gotten, for a moment, I had a sheer understanding of the enormous complexity and unbelievable and impressive capacity of our public works and infrastructure system. I thought about how all the neighbors have been complaining about the inconvenience of parking, and dirt, and road closures. And about having to pay tax. I thought about all of the anti-government propaganda from all of my Facebook friends about how government is the problem and that we have to eliminate it or privatize the function. Then, for a moment, I considered the alternative, and I felt bad for just how much we take for granted during our everyday lives as US citizens. Yes, we pay too much tax and yes, our government is often dysfunctional with spending, but do we ever appreciate what it does provide ,or do we even have a concept of how often it does not fail, even on some fairly complicated endeavors? What would life be like without government in a system where everyone pays their own way? How many miles of aging gas lines were replaced this summer in Denver with only mild disruption to the hundreds of thousands that live here? I moved on, although slightly out of my path to avoid the damn construction.

My redirection passed me by my neighborhoods’ “Senior Support Center”. The typical long line out front is usually an image that us city dwellers have become immune to, but today, I spent an extra second looking at the wrinkled faces standing in that line, waiting for a handout. I thought about who they were, how they got there, and what life for them must be like as they age and as their health begins, or continues to fail. Obviously these are part of the 47% that are not the concern of Romney and his camp. Mooching off the tax payer and living the good life of free food and medicine. No one can convince them to “take responsibility for their own lives”. Funny, but the looks on the faces in that line sure didn’t reflect any great option I could see.  I thought about how thankful that I was that my parents and grandparents are not the ones standing on line outside, in November, at a senior support center to get food, clothes, or medicine. I pictured what life would be like if they were. I thought about for how many, this is the reality. I shivered as I humbly moved on.

I passed a couple of Mexican guys working on a car. I always find it funny that no matter how big and tough or tattooed or serious some of these guys look; they almost always are playing this very loud carnival like Mariachi music. I smiled and said hello as I passed and again smiled as the thumping base of another passing car playing gansta’ rap caused my heart to stop beating momentarily. The black driver was wearing a hoodie. I shook off the effects of the bass. I watched as another guy rode by on an undersized bike, holding a baby under his arm like a football.  I am sure such a scene makes some people cringe. It makes me feel at home, as does the broken bottle of King Kobra Malt liquor that I ignored and stepped over as I moved on.

As I walked, I glanced down an alley and made very momentary eye contact with another gentleman slowly pushing a shopping cart full of aluminum cans and scrap metal. I recognized him like I do many of the transients around the neighborhood. We have names for them like “Blue Sweatshirt” and “Shifty Eyes”. I feel guilty as I contemplate how not human they are to me on most days. Shifty Eyes looked more human to me today, as I moved on.

I passed a soul food restaurant that was packed full of white businessmen scarfing down pork bar-b-q and collard greens. I passed my fire station and I thought momentarily about the terrible tragedy on the east coast and the heroes that make a difference for so many.  I thought about how often I see that fire station but how little it actually affects my life. Usually only when all the fire house guys are at the grocery store stocking up on corn chips and animatedly yuckin’ it up with the staff and store patrons. Watching the news reminds me of how my relationship to those guys could change in an instant, as can my life and health. I moved on towards my destination.

I watched a young lady sprinting full speed about two blocks trying to catch the light rail train that slowly pulled away as she pounded the side of the closing door, cursing breathlessly. I considered how crucial public transportation is to some, and what a nice clean feature a light rail system is for those in urban settings. I also thought about how crazily desperate that lady seemed to be about getting on that train. I checked around to make sure she wasn’t being chased, and when I didn’t see anything, I complimented her on her speed and agility. She smiled and slumped down onto a bench dejected, and I presume late. I thought about the fact that my wife and I should use public transportation more often than we do. I thought about my SUV parked at home and my wife’s car parked, like it is most days, unused at the airport parking lot while she is away for work. I thought about how lucky we are, as I moved on.

I noticed the rack of red city bikes on the corner. We have this great city wide program where all you have to do is swipe a credit card and you can check out a pretty nice bicycle for a reasonable daily or hourly rate. The first hour is always free and you can return it at any station around town. Pretty cool way to get around the city, although it is somewhat controversial because only people with money and credit have access to the bike program. In other words, guys like me with two cars are the ones that end up using them to ride to a baseball game for $8, cheaper than parking, but for the people that really could use them in their daily lives, those red bikes might as well be Mercedes Benz’s.

Next, I passed a medical Marijuana dispensary with a big green cross and bright red “Open” sign. A guy walked out with a brown paper bag full of schedule one illegal narcotics and committed a felony under Federal Law. He got in his car and drove away. He was a middle aged white guy with a golf shirt tucked into jeans. A peaceful transaction in broad daylight and in plain sight of a policeman in his car parked only blocks away. State taxes were collected on the sale and state and federal taxes were paid on the generated income from a plant grown organically, and then sold and consumed locally. All against the law of our Federal government. And best of all, unlike the weed most people buy and smoke in this country, no Cops in Mexico got their head chopped off in order to make this transaction possible.  I wondered if the full legalization amendment on the ballot will pass and what that might lead to if it does. I moved on.

Finally I arrived at my destination, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, where, like four years ago, I cast my vote for the first African American President in our country’s history. I took a moment to contemplate this as well as how far we have come in race relations in many parts of this country, and how far we still have to go in others. I also contemplated the brilliant and important role public libraries have played in the advancement of our society and the education of its citizens. I wondered if this library was a place for African Americans to do research, or if it was a place for everyone to research African Americans. Based on what I have seen, it is a little of both.  I thought about my mom who is a librarian in a public elementary school, and I felt proud.

As I dropped my ballot in the box, I also considered how truly lucky I am to live in a neighborhood where black and white, Hispanic and Asian, young and old and even rich and poor live together in relative harmony. There are no large gates separating the million dollar homes from the subsidized housing, and likewise there is very little animosity or conflict between races or classes. I have spent enough time in other parts of the country to appreciate how unique this is. Traveling outside of the city limits of Denver by even a mile seems to cause this formula of harmony to break down very quickly. So many of our country’s political, international and even economic problems could be solved if people just let go of their fear and judgment of those that are different or unknown to them. I am confident my vote is a vote forward for our country toward the type of racial and class harmony we enjoy in the city of Denver and away from division, segregation, and the fear based hate that I see so commonly in other regions.

As I complete the process for yet another election, as usual, I am more confident that I made the right vote than I am that either candidate will have success moving the country forward in a meaningful manor. With the help of the conservative justices on the Supreme Court, the corporate money and influence will not dry up, and neither will the associated all-out efforts of one Party to undermine the other. With insane no tax pledges, and under new well timed Filibuster rules in Congress I don’t see much getting done.  Clearly, compromise in Congress has been relegated to political history and my primary voting concern is that we don’t launch any new wars.

I also realize that community involvement in politics does not start and stop on Election Day. I like too many others have spent much of my life on the sideline in political debate, crippled with fear about who I might offend and simply going along with the crowd, and popular propaganda. I intend to continue my change, away from silence and fear and onward and forward, regardless of whom is elected or whom I offend. I hope others do the same, as make no mistake, if we stay silent in political discourse our silence and subsequent thoughts will be replaced by the hypnotic message of corporate influence and big money propaganda. As difficult as the political discussion and discourse can be, the alternative is government, not by the people with the most reasonable argument, but instead, by the corporation with the most money to back up its agenda. It is not just our vote that can make a difference, but also our intellectual curiosity followed by brave voices that will bring about the change we all desperately desire.

Election 2012 is over. I moved on, and so did the world around me.