Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Q Notes Article: Teaching Our Children to Vote

was riding in the back seat of my parents’ white Buick Le Sabre, as my mom pulled into the large fairgrounds in New Jersey, leaving my dad at a rally for Lyndon B. Johnson for president. In 1964 I was nine years old and to this day I remember the tension in the car between my parents riding in the front seat of the car. My mom was and is a “cloth coat Republican” just like Pat Nixon; a regular “Rockefeller Republican,” even though I hasten to share the information that that branch of the modern GOP is, well, a relic of its collective past. She was going to vote for Sen. Goldwater for president and she was furious with my dad because he was going to vote for Johnson. If memory serves me correctly, that was the last time my mom and dad voted against each other. Since then, my brother and I canceled out my parents’ vote, voting solidly the Democratic Party line.
Politics was and is part of my family discussion topics at dinnertime when I was growing up, as was religion and other current events of the day. “The McLoughlin Group” and later “Washington Week” were part of our television viewing habit. While my parents usually lean to the Republican right on talking points — with my mom fixed to Fox newscasts — it nonetheless gave my brother and I something to hone our skills as debaters and intellectuals. If we weren’t going to follow their political thinking, then we (like generations of children before us) would have to think logically about where we either agreed or diverged from what our parents thought. Separately, but around the same time, my brother and I came “out” to my parents and told them that we were Democrats. Frankly, this may have upset my mom more than telling her I was gay.
Habits and interests in our adult lives are formed early in our childhood. Knowing this, I watched carefully and with tenderness as I worked at an early voting election site in early May. I observed a mom pushing an infant in a stroller with one hand, while holding the hand of a slightly older child with the other hand, and a dad precariously balancing a child on their shoulders into the voting booth. What soon turned out to be the hot ticket item at our table was a round blue teal sticker that said “I Voted Against Amendment 1!”
All morning long, children and adults alike began to wear stickers against Amendment One. For anyone reading this outside of N.C., Amendment One will amend our Constitution declaring that the only legally recognized union is only marriage between one man and one woman. One child put the sticker in the middle of the “S” of his Superman T-shirt, while a little girl simply placed the sticker on her arm, complementing the sticker on the other arm that she got from Trader Joe’s. Moms and dads also wore the stickers on their clothes as they walked into the voting area, showing others that they were going to vote against Amendment One. In this classroom of life, parents were teaching their children that politics matter, can be fun and is important enough that a mom or dad would interrupt one’s daily schedule of fun activities to practice a civil right: the right to vote. Parents are teaching children that voting matters in our collective life and is important for the greater good of the diverse community in which we live.
Later in the day, my 19-year-old son texted me, telling me that he voted. My daughter had already voted too. Regardless of the outcome of this election, a lesson has been learned: vote. And, where did they learn to vote? From their parents, who learned in from their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before us. : :

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Voting Gone to the Dogs

My latest in Chapel Hill News:
“Can you bring your dogs up on campus to help bring out the vote?” asked our friend Chris.
My partner and I were confused at first, muttering to ourselves, “Our dogs? The vote?” What would Lil (our queen-like, 12-year old yellow Lab) and Toby (our overly rambunctious, 11 year-old chocolate Lab) do in order to help bring out the vote against Amendment One on the UNC campus? Simply wag a tail, convince students they’d love to be their best friend as they are gently nuzzled, told, “Aren’t you a pretty pup?!” and someone directs them to the voting booth a few yards away.
As so many dog owners know, dogs have a way of making us feel like we are “Number One” in a world regardless of what others say. There’s simply nothing like coming home at the end of the day and being greeted by dogs that seem to say, “Where have you been? We’ve missed you! Now come and play with us, OK?” as their tail wags their bodies in an overly exuberant sign of welcome. There is a certain attraction that is undeniable between humans and these furry bundles of love and drool.
The dogs and I found Chris and her crew of volunteers working against Amendment One, planting signs to “VOTE!” with red, white, and blue balloons tied onto the signs on a lovely Friday in April. They greeted the dogs with warmth and joy, placed a kiss on the wet nose of each dog, a bowl of cold water (ice included!), and a treat or two for each pup (the dogs were in their idea of heaven).
Without needing to say a thing, or advertise with a sign, “Dogs here to pet,” the magic took place: students simply started coming up to the dogs, like iron filings to a magnet. They pet their head with the accompanying, “Ah, aren’t you cute?! What’s your name?” Within minutes, Chris placed a thin scarf of an American flag around each dogs neck with a teal blue button pinned on simply stating: “Vote Against Amendment One!” The dogs didn’t mind the scarves one bit. After all, their attention was on marking out the new surroundings, their respective noses in the air catching aromatic whiffs of food near by.
More students, and then a faculty or staff member, slowed down from their brisk walk between the dining hall and the next appointment or rush to study. There it was again: without a cue they petted a dog, scratched under their chin, rubbed the area behind their ears, and spoke baby talk to them, “Hi sweetie!” Chris and her merry band of volunteers dove in and invited students, faculty, and staff alike to vote against Amendment One inside UNC’s Chase Hall, only a few feet away from dog-petting central.
For six hours the dogs did their best impersonation of being, well, dogs, and the voter numbers grew throughout the day. Needless to say, the dogs were exhausted by the end of the day, heavy panting out of both of them, and from their deep snores I knew they slept well that night.
In hindsight, I get it: voting is stressful work. The right to vote comes with a sense of gravitas. Years ago I was in the Dominican Republic during a tense election day, with police posted outside of voting areas for fear of violence as people put their lives on the line simply to vote. Sadly, many adults here do not take the opportunity to vote. They find it easier to grouse about the poor economy or get angry with a new law passed rather than taking a few minutes to stop, vote, and make a difference.
Elections matter. Who we elect changes the course of our collective history.
With all the seriousness of doing our duty as citizens of this country, it is great to have a dog outside of the voting booth to simply cut down the stress all sides feel during an election. Dogs are a welcoming presence, great stress relievers, reminding us that we did the right thing.
If the person we voted for and our fight against the Amendment wins, we will celebrate with our dogs (extra treats!)
And if we lose? With a dog to accompany us, we move forward, working anew to make a better change for our future.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Crunch time

I signed up today to work the polls for early voting tomorrow, Friday, May 4th, in Hillsborough.  I will work at a phone bank on May 6.  I may work the polls on May 8th.

This is crunch time.

I'm amazed at how swept up I am in the work, but this work is personal and familial.

Friends from the West have written about the "cracker" state of North Carolina. The youtube clip of the wife of one of the co-sponsors that put this Amendment on the ballot, promoting the idea that passage of this Amendment will help Caucasians pro-create did not help those for the Amendment.  Nor did the ravings of the Rev. Sean Harris of Fayettevill, NC (Berean Baptist Church), promoting beating our children into heterosexuality.

The simple question, as I would ask in my Ethics class re: the right moral choice, is based on consequentialism: will passage of this Amendment bring the greatest good for the greater number of people? 

Simply: no.

Pace, Brett