It’s 3:00 am and I am walking to a mailbox near our house. She’s asleep at home. I waited until then to go because I didn’t want her to know, and I didn’t want her to see.*
Before she ever met me she came to this country looking to get some international job experience. She never expected to stay. But things happened the way things do and we met and we got married and we made a life together and had good times and wonderful times and bad times and awful times and here we are, 20 years later. But in all that time she was proudly Canadian, and never seriously considered becoming a U.S. citizen until this year.
This year we got Lump and a crazy person as the Republican nominee.
She does not like the crazy person who is the Republican nominee. She dislikes the crazy person so much that this year she decided to do what she resisted doing for decades – become a U.S. citizen so she could vote in this year’s presidential election.
I think about that and I am a little surprised. There have been a lot of people running for President of the United States in the last 20 years. She has never shown much interest in voting for or against any of them. She bitches about the ridiculously long election cycle we have here in the United States, complains and bemoans certain winners and losers, and is keenly interested in how policies affect women, minorities, and the LGBT community. But she has never wanted to become an American citizen until now.
Until the crazy person who is the Republican nominee came along. The crazy person who is the Republican nominee is, to her, something uniquely and specially horrible – something that is unlike any previous presidential nominee. The crazy person who is the Republican nominee pushes all her buttons. She loathes the crazy person so much that she made the decision to go through the naturalization process, while battling cancer at the same time, just to vote against the crazy person.
The streetlights cast cold beams onto the damp sidewalk.. A jet lumbers into the air from SFO**, its roar echoing throughout the entire area. I can see the mailbox two blocks down. Overhead, Orion casts his watchful gaze on me. I’m older these days, so I hope he protects me from muggers.
Despite the difficulties involved, she decided to become a US citizen this year to vote against the crazy person and for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee. Unfortunately for her, she turned out not to be the only person who hated the crazy person who is the Republican nominee. LOTS of people turned out to hate the crazy person who is the Republican nominee. Lots of resident alien people turned out to hate the crazy person who is the Republican nominee – probably because the crazy person said lots of mean things about resident non-citizens and suggested that when the election was over and the crazy person was President a lot of them would be arrested and tossed out of the country. Those people had the same idea that she did to become citizens so that they could vote against the crazy person in the upcoming election. So many people had this idea and decided to act on it that the government agency in charge of turning resident alien people into citizen people could not wave it’s bureaucratic wand fast enough to transform them all. A big backlog developed, and she was caught up in it.
She will not get her citizenship in time.
I don’t like the crazy person who is the Republican nominee either.
I also don’t particularly want to vote for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee. I’m not going to go into why here, but suffice to say I have reasons that seem good and appropriate to me to feel uncomfortable voting for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee. I’ve talked about it with lots of people, argued about it with a few, and gotten into nasty Facebook screaming matches with one or two, but for most of this election cycle my plan has been to vote for the crazy person who is the Green party nominee or the somewhat odd person who is the Peace and Freedom party nominee because while I don’t like them I know I don’t have to worry about them actually winning, and I do like their parties and want them to have ballot access for the next four years and FEC funding..
I get to the mailbox, open the slot, drop in the envelope, and close it with the particular, instantly recognizable metalic *whump* sound that all public mailboxes seem to make.
In the envelope is my ballot. On the ballot there is a mark next to the name of the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee.
I turn to walk back, and I am still mulling it over in my mind, even though the decision is made, and is now irrevocable. After months of researching my position, arguing it, defending it, refining it, have I thrown my convictions away? I am already anticipating getting shit from people. Maybe some of it will be deserved – politics always brings out the worst in me.
This is important to her. Important enough for her to break with 20 years of tradition. Important enough for her to take on the headaches and the paperwork and the additional appointments even while carrying around Lump. Its a symbol to her, more than it is to me, of taking control, of leaving a legacy, of fighting for what is right. She really believes in the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee. More than I believe in the crazy person who is the Green party nominee, or the somewhat odd person who is the Peace and Freedom party nominee.
She has fought Lump to a standstill. She has taken on everything that Lump and chemotherapy and surgery could throw at her. Now she is preparing to tackle radiation therapy, stalwart and defiant. And yet, because there are not enough bureaucratic wands to wave around, she will not be transformed into a person who can vote until after the election. And she is bitter about this.
That’s a word she used: “bitter”. She is unhappy that she cannot vote for the person who is not crazy. She is not happy that she will be powerless in this, what she must consider to be the most important election during her time in the US. And she is bitter that I, who can vote, am in her opinion throwing my vote away by voting for the Crazy Green person or the somewhat odd Peace and Freedom party person.
“Bitter” is the word that got to me. Its the word that made me sit up and take notice. Because I can live with her disagreeing with me on politics, and I am comfortable with my position on why I am choosing to vote the way I am. But “bitter” is too much for me. “Bitter” is something I do not want for her, cannot stand for her to have, cannot imagine that she deserves after all she has been through this year.
The word haunted me for days.
the government agency in charge of turning resident alien people into citizen people can’t give her the thing that will prevent her bitterness. But I can.
Because she has already had enough stress and disappointment this year.
Because she deserves it.
Because when it comes right down to it, if it is something she feels so strongly about that it makes her change a position that she has held for 20 years, then it means more to her than it does to me.
Because in this important time, I don’t want her to feel like a helpless bystander.
She really wants the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee to win. She wants to be part of that winning. And she wants the crazy person who is the Republican nominee to be stomped into the dustbin of history, never to rise again. And she wants to be part of that stomping.
So this year, for the only time in my life, I voted for someone else.
(Apparently, like the crazy person who is the Republican nominee, I have been ensnared by a foreign power.)
Am I doing something immoral? Am I disrespecting the franchise? Am I acting in a manner not in accordance with the Democratic process? I don’t know. I admit that I certainly feel a little strange casting a vote for a person that I don’t particularly want to support. It doesn’t feel like those old civic responsibility movies and public service announcements we saw as kids.
I’m reading a book right now by S. Jacoby, entitled “Strange Gods” – it’s a book about the social process of conversion from one religion to another. Jacoby points out that contrary to the myth sold to us by major religions, most conversions historically have not been due to persuasive argumentation or divine intervention, but based on pragmatic decisions about benefit. I suspect that voting is much the same. People generally don’t vote the way they vote because of ideology, but because of the way they perceive their vote will benefit them – whether pragmatically such as lower taxes, or socially because their family and friends vote that way. One thing this decision has taught me is that people vote for a variety of reasons, and I no longer think that civic responsibility is the only one. Perhaps it isn’t even the most important one. There can be no single strategy for voting because there is no single goal for voting. You can vote out of civic pride, out of a sense of responsibility, out of habit. You can choose to vote based on who you want to win, how you want to affect election politics, by party rote, because the person on the ballot is your friend or looks like they could be.
This year I am not voting for a POTUS candidate due to ideology or political theory or policy or because I am scared of the other POTUS candidate. My vote is much simpler than that. I am voting for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee because it will make her happy, because she wants me to, because despite her best efforts she can’t do it for herself even though in a just world she should be able to, and because she 100% deserves it for all she has done, all she has dreamed, all that she has worked for and because of who she is. Because when it comes right down to it, within the United States with all its millions, she and I are a nation of two.
I step back into the house. I can hear her breathing in her sleep. It’s a good sound. Its a sound of us.
The rest of the country can take care of itself.
*Also because it is more dramatic this way, and makes for a better story. I could have just waited until she was napping in the afternoon and done it then, but there is something satisfying and thematically appropriate about waiting until the middle of the night and then slipping off.
I’m a bit of a drama queen.
**I carefully timed my walk to include this jet in the narrative. It is my nemesis. Years of living near the airport, and this one particular flight still wakes me in the middle of the night.