A Wicked Lady Tells All

I may not be the biggest BAMF in the room at any given time, but I certainly try to be in the top three.

I've been in the theatre for over twenty years as a little bit of everything. Yes, I have welded upside down from a second story set in nothing but gauzy underwear half hour before a show opened. I prefer to keep my hair purple. And I run very quickly in four inch heels.

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This was originally written on November 3, 2008, the day before the 2008 Presidential election. I was still in college then, living in a small university town in the Appalachian Mountains. It was fascinating to watch the entire political stage that happened in North Carolina that year; I had never lived in a swing state before.


"They Haven't Voted For a Democrat Since Carter"
A Swing State Voter's Story



I'm sitting at a corner table in the smoking section of a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop working through my cigarette and a bottle of Blue Moon. I got off of a work an hour ago, and I'm meeting a friend for a drink. She just got up to chase down our waiter that is more attached to the football play by play on the radio than doing his job.

A guy pauses by my table. I ignore him and continue to fiddle with my cell phone, hoping he would take the hint.

"So, Democrat, right?" he asks.

"Nope."

When I don't continue, the guy refuses to take the hint, and sits down at the table near me. I pray my friend hurries up. I hate this conversation because it isn't an excuse for a pick-up line. "An Independent?"

I give up on ignoring this guy and look up from my phone. He is over twenty-five, unshaven, but does not give off the stalker vibe. Probably a graduate student in one of the hard sciences.

"No," I tell him while looking straight in his eyes. If we're going to play this game, I'm going to have fun, too. This guy doesn't disappoint: his eyes widen and his mouth hangs open. He doesn't ask if I'm registered to vote, though. He knows what I mean. That's nice. He must be a math guy.

I'm vaguely twenty-five with pink streaked hair, pointy toed black boots, and I've been a registered Republican since I was eighteen years old. I've voted in every election since I was eligible to vote (even the ones without presidents). I once got into a minor car accident while speeding because I was worried I wouldn't make it to the polls in time before they closed. As a historian with a focus in American politics, I know how misguided I am in believing in the electoral process, but I exercise my right to vote every year. I'm proud to do it.

"So, I guess you don't want the whole spiel?" I notice that he has a handful of Obama-Biden stickers.

"If that means I can have one of those, I do!"

I've shocked my unexpected guest yet again. He hands over a sticker without a word; I give his limp hand a fist bump. I worry briefly if I've broken his universe by defying all political laws as he knows them, but my friend has returned with two more Blue Moons and orange slices. I can't be bothered with politics in that moment.


***

A graying older man stopped me as I rushed to my mid-afternoon lecture. I needed coffee, and the line had made me late (totally worth it, beloved caffeine). He asked me a question, but I did not hear him. I had my head phones on.

"What?" It must be a cultural thing, because I do stop to listen to this man. My mother always told me to respect my elders.

He smiles, and I realized I've walked into a trap. "Are you registered to vote?"

"Ack! Yes!" I try to dodge around the man without spilling my coffee. I am now going to be late for class, and my only hope is I'm close enough to on time that the professor lets me still take the quiz on the day's readings.

But I hear over my shoulder as I start to walk away, "She's not registered. Probably doesn't even know who's running." He said it loud enough so I would hear.

I should keep walking. This man does not know me. He has no idea who I am, my background, my intelligence level, or the fact that I'm going to visit my parents next week specifically to vote since I'm still registered in my hometown (I've heard too many horror stories of absentee ballots: I always vote in person).

I put my headphones back on and keep walking. I refuse to be any later for class.

***

I went to a McCain-Palin rally with a friend. Palin was speaking down in Asheville, and I wanted to hear her for myself. I knew my opinions on McCain (I'd met the man once, and I had liked him. I would have voted for him in 2004. I didn't like the guy I was being encouraged to vote for now), but I wanted to be sure.

There was a large group of protesters outside with signs that read "KKK for Palin", "Say No to Racism", "REAL Americans Against Palin". My friend was a little worried since the week before, protesters at an Obama rally had slashed tires and broken windshields. We ended up parking a block away from the Civic Center and walking the gauntlet through the protesters. I was called a racist and a traitor. I refused to make eye contact and kept walking. My friend, a naturalized citizen and hispanic, never said a word.

We got there a little late, and just barely got in before the doors were closed. I wasn't sure who the warm-up speaker was, but I remember he used Obama's full name "Barack Hussin Obama" and heard a few shouts of "terrorist" from the crowd. There were no hangmen's noses nor anyone shouting "kill 'em". But the crowd was wild, just as wild as the protesters outside.

When Palin came out, the crowd erupted. There were shouts of "I love you" and "You betcha, Sarah!". She waved and let the crowd tire itself out before she started her speech. It was a version of the "real America is small towns" I had heard on Youtube before. I hadn't really believed the stories of the different versions of "Joe the Plumber" being peppered through out her speeches these days, but they were there. I wasn't moved. Not like I had been a few months before when I had managed to sneak into an Obama rally in Charlotte. She was not a bad orator, but she was not great, and she did not raise any of the hate speech I had been told to expect. I didn't see what all the fuss was about, in that moment. The crowd, though, they were frightening.

My friend and I slipped out before her speech was fully done. A two and a half hour drive to see half an hour of a speech. The staff stopped us from going out the front door. "It might be dangerous," they said. When we explained where we were parked, several of them walked with us out a side door.

The car ride starting back up the mountain was quiet. We were both thinking.

"I'm sorry I asked you to come with me," I told my friend.

"...no, don’t be." He told me at length. "I needed to see that, too."

***

"Are you registered to vote?" This time, it is a Republican party official working their registration table that stops me after my morning work out. She has big hair and a nice smile. Their table is located on the sidewalk between the two main university dining halls and the student union.

"Yes, ma'am." I smile back.

"Have you made your decisions yet on who to vote for?" She pulls out a pamphlet and offers it to me. I've seen it before: it is a copy of a newsprint article from the local paper listing all the more conservative leaning Republican politicians running in the area this term.

"Oh, I'm not registered in this county."

"Which one, then?" She turns in her chair to start shuffling a rolling file cabinet sitting next to her table. I tell her the name, and it only takes her a moment to come up another pamphlet, this time with names I recognize.

I take it. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, dear! And thank you for voting!"

***

I gave the pamphlet to my parents when I visited. They have been hard core Republicans since the 1980s. My teenage years were spent at fund raisers with rubber chickens and long speeches. I've meet three presidents (only one while he was in office), and many more cabinet members and presidential hopefuls.

My father takes a quick look at the list and marks off two names. "Crook, crook," he explains. My father was a police officer for twenty years. When he retired from the force, he went on to become an executive in a private security company. While he is now technically retired from that job, he still works part-time (mostly because my mother told him if he fiddled with her garden one more time, she'd divorce him). "I'd vote for the Independent here, and the Democrat here. They're honest. ...well, honest enough."

"Neither of those," my mother tells me about the school board candidates. My mother was a special needs teacher. She retired while I was still in high school, and then got her associates degree in computer programming. I still let her pick out computer upgrades for me. "They were never good administrators." My mother would know.

"So, I should write in your name again?" I tease her.

***

I vote early, and I wait an hour in line. I'm sandwiched between a single mother, with her two young children with her in their Halloween costumes, and a retiree. The mother and I are almost the same age, and we small talk.

"Can you believe all the people?" she asks.

"I know!" I take a picture with my camera phone and send it along to Twitter with the subject 'An hour wait to vote! :D!'. I'm excited. There are so many young people, people my age, coming out to vote for the first time. I'm hopeful this won't be their last time.

"I just registered this year," the mom admits to me quietly. "With these two, I didn't have time." Her oldest daughter is Disney's Snow White, and she is very excited about her long, shiny skirts. They kept being lifted up over her head. The youngest is Dora the Explorer (I have a three year old nephew and have become an expert in pre-school tv programming). She is "exploring" the polling booths, much to the amusement of most of the voters.

I make sympathy noises. The retiree politely does the same.

When I get to the front of the line to "check-in", the election official is talkative. She tells me about her friend that has the same name as me, but that wasn't her real name. She had changed her name when she married. I explain that she is referring to my cousin's new wife. We share a small town moment before she hands me my paper ballot and walks me through the instructions. I'm not asked to verify my address or for proof my identity. I ask her politely to please check my ID, if only to make me feel better. She does so after an apology for having to be prompted.

I go to my voting station and take my time. I wrote down who I wanted to vote for before coming in, and I refer to my cheat sheet as I darken the ovals next to the names. I make sure I'm supposed to fill in the circles to the left, not the right. Dora the Explorer stops under my station and admires my shoes. I can't write in my mother's name this year for the school board position. My final decision on the subject may have been influenced by who gave me cookies when I was little and sick. I do not vote straight ticket, and my hope is I never will.

I'm confused what I'm supposed to do with my ballot now. A tiny gray haired woman takes my hand and directs me to what I first thought was a giant shredder.

"Put it in here, dearie," she tells me.

"Does it matter which way?"

"No, no. Put it in the slot."

I push my ballot into the slot. The machine makes an ominous noise at me before the readout window increases by one. I am voter 16593, whatever that means.

***

On the drive back home, I count seventeen political ads on the radio. Six for Obama. Five for McCain. The rest are for local and state offices. I only switch the channel between three radio stations (pop/rock, country, and metal). I'm amused by the Rednecks for Obama spot.

***

"I think Obama might be a bastard," my father tells me. "His campaign restricted access to his birth records."

I've been proud of my parents because they always correct their friends when they hear some of the wilder rumors from either side of the campaign (Obama the Muslin, McCain fathering a bastard child).

I pause. What I want to say is 'so why does that matter?'. What I say is "oh".

My father stops what he is doing and turns to me. "I'm proud of you." That isn't something my family really does, willingly talk about their feelings. I'm surprised. "Your uncle and I were talking, and he said your cousin only registered to vote last month. She didn't know who else was running. I said you always vote, always have. And you know who you're going to vote for before you get there." He ruffles my hair, like he used to do when I was small and sitting on his knee as we fished in the small stream behind the house. "I'm proud of you," he repeats.

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thewickedlady

Wicked Truth

I'm a southern girl making my way through Yankeeland with a history degree and an artist's soul. I'm a geek and a dork, and I'm okay with that.

Sometimes, I even wear pants when blogging.

[community profile] realistica



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