I voted, and more (part 2)
(Click here to read part 1, published November 2016)
In 1988, I spent a few hours as a poll watcher at my local polling place in New York’s Chinatown. The poll workers spoke no Chinese, so the interpreter was working hard. I then formed my theory that there are errors in voting, but only a fraction of a percent. Dukakis lost by more than that.
When we moved to Bowie, Maryland, I continued canvassing and poll watching. When Bill Clinton won both times, I got tickets for each inauguration from our Congressman Steny Hoyer. We didn’t go to Bush’s two.
In 2000, we watched the slow-moving disaster through Thanksgiving. I went to the Supreme Court to witness the arguments in Bush v. Gore. The decision was terrible. I wanted the House to decide. It was clear that we were in trouble.
Bush missed the warnings for 9/11 and then seized power to do all kinds of harm. The beat of war drums was relentless for a year and in 2003, when Bush invaded Iraq, I resolved to do everything I could to defeat him. I had concluded that political action such as demonstrating was powerless to change those liars and con men.
My partner, Tom Quinn, invited me to the Massachusetts delegation fundraiser for new candidate John Kerry and I liked him for president. I started giving money and gave a lot. I got called by a Kerry activist to sign up as a delegate. He asked me if I knew any women that could run. I hesitated and then suggested my wife, and he said okay.
We signed up in Annapolis as nominees to be candidates to be delegates to the DNC convention in Boston to nominate Kerry as a candidate for the presidency. I met the coordinator for Howard Dean, the front runner, and said “Enjoy Boston.” Kerry took the lead a few weeks late after the Dean Scream.
I got placed on an advisory committee, and we ran a fundraiser on U.S. presidential yacht Sequoia. On primary day, Kerry won, and both of us did too. Jill got more votes. Maryland has votes for both candidates and delegates.
Our local Democratic club invited us to come speak. We went and joined and participated for a few years. The Bowie City Council members and state legislators were members along with other local activists. The relationships we formed served us well when we organized our neighborhood to block a housing development and have the land bought by the county as a park. Such clubs exist all over the country, but you have to look for them.
The convention was exhilarating. We met all the Maryland politicians and many national ones. We saw the speech by the then-unknown Barack Obama. Everybody said “He’s the One.”
Kerry took a vacation in August and got Swift Boated. I served in West Chester, Pennsylvania as a local voter protection lawyer. There was some voter suppression with leaflets at the local college saying students were not allowed to vote. I reassured the locals to ignore the flyers. The three kids and Jill assembled hundreds of signs. Then we drove around the local roads putting them up. By the time we finished, the kids only got twenty minutes of trick-or-treating. It was Halloween. They forgave us.
On election day, I was assigned to the Prince George’s County Board of Elections, and I can’t forget the bipartisan way they solved problems like the polling place that had non-functional machines. If every bipartisan body functioned like that, we would have a great improvement.
Kerry never recovered. We had four more years of the torturers. And they brought us the Great Recession.
I became involved in county politics when our elected school board was replaced with an appointed board. I was very active in outreach and lobbying and when a bill passed reestablishing the elected board, several people suggested I run. But I didn’t want the responsibility and the long, boring hours compared to my day job as a patent attorney.
I worked on the election of Martin O’Malley as governor in 2006, and discovered fraudulent flyers purporting to be a Democratic sample ballot but showing the Republican Michael Steele as the Democrat, and having homeless people bused from a shelter in Philadelphia hand them out. I bought the local guy lunch and took a statement. There was an article in the Washington Post but my memo to the state Democrats outlining a winning case for trademark infringement went nowhere. The Republicans were clearly infringing the Democrat trademark.
In 2008, I supported Hillary Clinton, based on experience, over Obama. When he won the nomination, I went all in. I phone banked and canvassed with friends, strangers, and my 11-year-old daughter Julia, who gamely helped me navigate a suburban Virginia high rise and surely won some votes with her cuteness.
Election eve, I drove to Richmond and handed out packets for election day. The next day, I rose very early in the cold rain and went to my assigned polling place, a school, where I was astounded to see thousands of voters lined up around the building and into the road in the wet, cold predawn. The polls were not open yet, so I made it my mission to keep them there. I needn’t have worried, as people were singing and in great spirits. There were no big problems, and I saw the afternoon results before I drove home, very encouraged. And as the results came in, it felt much better than in 2004.
The inauguration was joyous, including the one finger salute we gave to Cheney’s helicopter. And we danced at one of the official galas, where the president and first lady came to dance.
In 2012, I had just received my diagnosis of ALS, but I wanted to make a contribution. I voted early with first-timer son Max, and he will always remember that it took four hours. I served on a phone bank in Virginia advising people with voting problems. Then I went to a suburban polling place and helped six people who were in line at 8 PM to vote with provisional ballots because the poll official said that they were late. The results were gratifying again.
I have learned several things from my forty year experience voting, and more. It feels great and is great when my candidate wins, and making an effort makes me feel invested in my government. When my candidate loses, it feels better to know that I tried. And it gives me faith in our democratic system. I see there is no fraud, just citizens trying to vote, and sometimes it is hard. Voter suppression, on the other hand, is real, and getting much worse. We are going back to the days before the Voting Rights Act if we don’t block new voter restrictions. A signature should be enough at the polling place.
I did very little, compared to many I crossed paths with. But I saw how people get started in politics, and I admire many of them. In short, I am proud that I voted and more.
As is often said, it takes a village. Each of us lives in many villages. I’m still working on a road from the shadows of my post-election village into the light of building and acting. Thanks to you and all those who are encouraging the rest of us.