My husband’s grandmother lived to be 95. She was in her mid 40s when women in this country were first given the right to vote. “Wow,” I exclaimed upon hearing the numbers, “You must have been so excited.”
I had visions of women in high-necked black dresses, marching en masse to the polls, their heads held high, their resolve unshakeable. This would be their chance to finally be heard.
“No,” she replied, “I didn’t think much of it at the time. I didn’t even vote at all for many years.” She went on to say that, in effect, she had gotten along without voting for her whole life and didn’t see what big difference it would make.
Of course, that was before she gave birth to the most rabid Democrat on the face of the planet, my mother-in-law, Elsie. I can just picture Elsie propelling her stone-deaf, barely-able-to-walk, half-blind nonagenarian mother into the voting booth, snapping the curtain shut and then bellowing, “Just pull the Democratic lever, Mother.”
My own mother joined the political process many years ago when she worked feverishly for a candidate in the Northeast Kingdom. The guy had a few strikes against him, like being an Italian, Catholic, divorced Democrat. At that time any one of those credentials would have put him away, and did.
The first time I voted was when I was living in Germany. My husband and I had sent for our absentee ballots and were ready to choose between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. We had listened to the debates on Armed Forces Radio and I sure knew where he was coming from, but he didn’t know how I was going to vote. I didn’t want him to think I was easy.
I was so excited my heart was pounding. We decided to go into separate rooms _ we only had two _ to perform our sacred duty.
Later he asked who I had voted for and I wouldn’t tell, citing “secret ballot” privileges. Eventually I relented and we cheered for our guy that late November night in a foreign land, and felt personally responsible for the outcome.
For the many years I worked as a journalist, I got a chance to meet _ even if barely with a handshake _ some of the big guns in American politics. George H.W. Bush looked me in the eye and with great sincerity, took my hand in his, and asked me how I was doing. Ralph Nader squatted down next to my desk and asked me if the computer tube hurt my eyes. Lowell Weicker was totally gracious when I messed up an interview schedule with him. Joe Lieberman’s kids went to school with my kids. I chatted many times with Bernie, Pat Leahy and Jim Jeffords in my last job.
And, of course, Governor Dean. After 27 years of not displaying bumper stickers for political candidates because I deemed it unethical for a journalist, I proudly sport, even now, the name of the guy who really got things going in this most recent campaign: Howard Dean.
I remember a discussion I took part in years ago, where the general attitude among my friends was “why get involved in politics.” My husband’s sister said “You get involved in politics when there’s no sidewalk where your kid walks to school. You get involved in politics when they threaten to drop the arts program at school.”
And then are other reasons: You get involved in politics when you don’t like the way your tax money is being spent. You get involved in politics when you see unfairness and injustice in your own back yard.
You get involved in politics when your country goes to war.
Get involved. Vote!