While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is to not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.
Election day is Tuesday, November 3. At American Canary, we acknowledge the heightened importance of this election and encourage you to engage your voice – by casting your vote.
Across this country, millions of people are having unique experiences trying to cast their ballot and make sure their voice is heard. We have been inspired by the perseverance of US voters in this election as they overcome tremendous obstacles in their effort to exercise this fundamental right.
For the November Monthly Engagement, we wanted to share our own individual voices in response to the following…
How would you reflect on your experience as a voter?
It was the first time I was eligible to vote, and I remember how exciting it felt, how mature I felt, how important I felt. It was 2008, and I was filled with the hope of electing our first Black President, something I did not fully understand the impact of as a 19-year-old student. I signed up to call in poll results to the Times Union and spent the night in downtown Albany, NY celebrating with the community over that monumental moment.
2012 rolled out as expected, and I sat back and enjoyed the ride, not understanding that we were losing the momentum of progress that the election of Obama had set in motion as we all sat back and watched, confident that things were heading in the right direction. Then 2016 happened. That election and my experience of it came with a whole range of emotions that I’m still working on processing. I was so overcome with joy that I cried as I voted for the first female Presidential candidate, something I never thought would happen in my lifetime. I remember feeling so certain that progress would continue. I brought my children with me to vote as I have done since their infancy, but this was the first time my daughter, then 5, could understand what was happening. I remember her asking me as I worked to compose myself, “Mommy, why are you crying? I thought voting was a good thing.” I responded, “It’s the best thing. I’m crying because I’m so happy.” I pointed to Hillary Clinton’s name and read it to her as I explained that it was the first time in U.S. history that a woman’s name sat in that box. We were making history voting that day. But as you can imagine that feeling of joy was short lived.
Ironically just as I started my 2016 voting experience crying, I ended the night crying with the rest of the crowd at an Ani DeFranco concert as we watched the poll results flood in across the country. I woke up the next morning hoping it was all a dream. How could we go from what happened in 2008 to this? And although that night still pricks in my mind, I will not hold onto that despair. Instead, I will choose to focus on the hope that filled my community as Obama led the polls. I will focus on the look in my daughter’s eye when she saw that there was a girl on the ballot running to be President of the United States; a girl like her. I will choose to focus on the power I know my vote holds, and I will again exercise my right to vote.
This morning I pulled out the mail from my Colorado PO box, where voters have received an informative voter blue book and a mail-in ballot delivered to them since 2013. The bright orange markings with “Official Ballot Enclosed” jumped out at me from beneath a flimsy coupon booklet, and my heart leapt. I always enjoy the process of voting. I clear off my kitchen table, stack the voting blue book next to my computer, gather a pencil for notes and the most heavy, official pen I can find to cast my ballot.
It always astonishes me how many candidates are up for election, despite the U.S. having such a decisive and divisive two-party system. I can’t help but wonder who these other mysterious people are, whether or not they received the 5,000 signatures required to position themselves on the ballot, or if they just fronted $1000 and hoped for the best. When I vote, I try my best to ignore the visuals that enter my mind as I read through names and policies. I am a visual person and am often tempted to be swayed by catchy marketing and flashy slogans. But, while intrinsically tied to election outcomes, politics are generally the opposite; they are awash in minutia and drudgery of detail. Even the term ‘red tape’ is too artistic for politics; it’s a more beige, general purpose masking tape.
However, the very act of putting pen to paper – of making a qualified decision with the hope of creating a positive impact on a large scale – is really exhilarating. The sensation of pride in fulfilling my civic duty, and the emboldened hope for change and advancement, overpowers the general disquiet I feel for politics most days. Election day is special. I am beyond fortunate that I have always lived in a state that allows me the time and space to ritualize this precious right, to vote in the comfort of my home with resources at hand to make informed choices. Now, more than ever, I recognize the pernicious attempt to undermine American democracy through voter suppression, and I yield my heavy pen with ferocity to cut through that beige tape and engage my voice.
Sitting down to fill out my 2020 ballot, from the comfort of my own home in Denver, CO, I put my headphones in and turned on one of my favorite songs, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Democracy’. I remember first hearing this song when I was living in Scotland, and it was one of those pieces of art that I felt gave me the words to know my own experience, even from afar. This line in particular resonated, and made me miss home:
“It’s coming to America first, the cradle of the best and of the worst. It’s here they’ve got the range and the machinery for change, and it’s here they’ve got the spiritual thirst. It’s here the family’s broken and it’s here the lonely say, that the heart has got to open in a fundamental way. Democracy is coming to the USA.”
It was right around the time of the Scottish Referendum on Independence in 2014, in which Scotland would vote on whether or not to leave the UK and become an independent nation. I remember being inspired by the level of civic engagement on the issue, and by the genuine dialogue and fact-based argumentation each side was putting forth to make their case for whether to stay or leave. Everywhere you went people were canvassing, campaigning, and having civil, respectful conversations with one another about the issues underpinning their decision to vote yes or no. A stunning 98% of the Scottish population voted in the Referendum. It was a thriving democracy.
At the time I remember thinking that despite all of the USA’s problems, our democracy (technically our democratic republic) was making progress. Obama was in office, more young people were voting and participating in civic duties than had in a long time, and to my optimistic 24-year-old self, it seemed that hearts were beginning to open. People cared.
2016 rolled around and I was still in Scotland, watching the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns from afar. I went to great lengths to ensure that I would receive my absentee ballot in time for it to be counted, always taking my civic duty to vote very seriously. I stayed up all night watching the results roll in, heart-broken and devastated as I watched him walk across that stage. On my way to teach the following morning, I remember searching for sources of hope and historical perspective to share with my undergraduate students, trying to find some way to convince myself that this didn’t carry the enormous implications that it appeared to. What I told my students, and myself, was that democracy is like a pendulum, and thus can be easy to take for granted in the lead up to the downwards swing. But sometimes it takes this downwards swing, and a populous confronting the worst of itself, for citizens to be jolted back into action and out of a civic dormancy that, in this case, led to a full blown attack on democratic institutions that many people thought could never happen in this cradle of democracy.
As I submitted my 2020 ballot in person here in Denver, Colorado on a crisp Autumn day, an older man wearing a mask and a tweed hat greeted me at the dropbox. He had been sitting outside all day in the cold to make sure that everyone had signed and dated their ballots – one of the main reasons people’s ballots get discarded. I looked back and saw a line of people, each 6 ft apart, all of whom would be greeted by this same man. I thought of the tens of millions of other people across the country that had made a point to vote early, many of whom had to stand in line for hours to cast their ballot, overcoming obstacles that no healthy democracy should put between its citizens and the ballot box. And I felt a surge of hope. Cumulatively, these seemingly small acts of determination are what tip the scale.
Democracy isn’t a constant. It’s not some abstract concept or set of rules. It’s not an ideal. Rather, it’s a struggle, an ongoing process, brought to life by people who see the value of working together to create the kind of society they want to live in, who may have different ideas about what precisely that looks like. And here in the USA, people seem to have been woken up by the realization that we cannot take it for granted.
actions to take
Reflect on your own experience of voting and encourage this reflection in others.
Share your experience with us! Connect with an AC member for a one on one chat.
If you have friends or family that don’t make a habit of voting, have a conversation with them about why. Remind them of the significance of this civic duty, and of each citizen’s responsibility to bring life to our democracy.
Make sure you’re informed about how we as citizens can ensure this is a free and fair election: https://www.electiontaskforce.org/
Watch and host a screening of this short film on voter suppression in the 2020 election: https://www.bravenewfilms.org/suppressed?gclid=Cj0KCQjwit_8BRCoARIsAIx3Rj7EEHhBRy4Hq8R1s60A-6XHpiLrQDPzzoCIRZ2RN4dQRwbvaC41WV8aAjVREALw_wcB
questions to consider
What resources are available to voters in your state to help them make an informed decision?
What can you do to help ensure that the people in your local community have the resources they need to be able to vote? Child care? Transit? Time off work? Think of what you can do to tip the scale.
Whose interest is it in to make it harder for people to vote? Why would those in government want to obstruct the ability of certain people to vote?
Should where you live determine the relative ease or difficulty of your ability to exercise this most fundamental democratic right?
How much change do you feel voting can cause?
Learn about the voting restrictions in place in your state.
Learn about the law suits taking place across the country to protect our elections, tracked by the Healthy Elections Project.
Listen to the Last Stop Till Election Day Podcast