I’ll never forget the Fall of 2008. I picked up and moved to a red-state-turned-blue to shack up with Dan and teach 50 college students the difference between Plato and Play-doh. (Turns out morality is also sticky.)
50 students: That’s one student per US state. New Jersey gave me attitude, California came to class high, Kentucky couldn’t find the active voice if it hit her in the face (and even then she’d say she “had been hit by it”), but in the end — the end being me dressed up as a lion, in front of a chalk board, distributing bagels — I’m hopeful. I’m not tucking my tail between my legs. No, I’m twirling it waist-high!
Each of my students, over the course of a ten week term, presented for ten minutes on a political issue relevant to the election. We tried to disengage from the popular media and pundits, from Republican Factors and Democratic Countdowns. We cut away cult of personality and empty rhetoric to expose the bare bones of policy. And after we held these bones to the light — turned the femur of Foreign Relations, thumbed the patella of Economy — we reached a majority decision. We voted anonymously, proudly.
I have never wanted something so badly for my country. I have never cared so much. Nights, when I sit healthcare-less on the couch, contemplating my meager teacher’s salary and high Baby Boomer security payments, reading a freshman paper entitled Randall Jarrell: Poet Traumatized by War as our troops continue to die, wondering why it’s 75 degrees outside in October but knowing I will have to wear a wool sweater tomorrow, I ask myself: Why is this election still close?
And then the questions really start (poor student paper, now totally put aside): Why was an unlicensed, ill-informed plumber given a microphone? Even Fox News wants to know:
Why is redistributing wealth worse than offering a national platform to those who haven’t intellectually earned it?
Why do we equate all Muslims with terrorists? Why aren’t we stopping global warming, regardless of what (or who) caused it? Do pro-lifers ever think about channeling their passion into saving genocide victims in Darfur? Have the American people not noticed a difference in temperament, and comportment, and campaign organization, between the two candidates? Isn’t it telling that Colin Powell endorsed the Democratic ticket? Isn’t it revealing that McCain had to defend Senator Obama against the very anti-American vitriol he advanced in ads? Doesn’t anyone remember The Crucible — if not the book, then at least the movie with Winona Ryder?
This morning, while putting on my mane and tail, I practiced saying “President McCain.” This was my sleepy way of letting myself down easy: my exit strategy of hurt. Because as Obama said to the crowd last night in Missouri, it’s not over. We have to assume responsibility.
We have to self-aggrandize until we’re convinced our individual voice is the one that matters most. Listen: there is no other vote in this election but yours.
So I practiced saying “President Palin” to rouse me out of my defeatist stupor. Try it.
If you just turned 18, vote. If you live in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, vote. If you live in a blue state — the bluest blue, the blue the color of a thunderhead — vote. I marched in the Bush protest back in 2004, I watched Kerry lose, I witnessed our country don the dunce cap and jaunt to the front of the room. Vote. Be a slutty Sarah for Halloween, but when you wake up the next morning, hung-over, your librarian glasses lost in your updo, vote. Tell your Facebook friends to vote. Go door to door, like Dan and I will on Saturday, and convince your neighbors. Forward this post to five folks you know, five you don’t.
Four days. 1 out of 7 voters is still undecided.
My students — who come from conservative, Republican backgrounds, who for 10 weeks explored the issues sans bias — voted for Obama in our mock elections. There was no grade mongering. Voting was anonymous.
“President Obama.” Don’t say it out loud — no, not yet. Go vote.