WireTap Election '04: Sounding Off

Suemheda Sood

I woke up at 7 a.m. on Tuesday to proudly exercise my right as an American citizen. Then I went back to bed. I had already decided to skip all my classes to help drive homeless people to the polls.

It was a little late by the time I got to the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter with my friend. I had visited the shelter twice before in the last couple months as a part of the Informed Voters Foundation. The two trips consisted of registering homeless voters and holding nonpartisan forums for discussion about the candidates and the issues. Since we knew for sure that there were at least a few registered voters at the shelter, we figured this was a good place to find people who could use a ride to their respective polling locations. We marched through the shelter asking every person we saw if s/he still needed to get to the polls. I was pleased to see several men and women with “I voted” stickers proudly displayed upon their chests. It didn’t look like anyone really needed us. Just then, my buddy Al—we had made friends since my first visit to the shelter—greeted me with a big hug.

“Did you vote yet?!” I asked, knowing full well that Al was one of the few people we were able to register in September.
“I can’t,” said Al. “My voter card never came.”
“That’s okay, do you have another form of ID?”
“Nope. Ain’t got no ID.”
“Okay, well let’s go down to City Hall and they’ll tell us what to do.”
“Ain’t got no time. I got work at 5:30.”
“We’ll give you a ride to work!”
“Uh, I don’t know”
“Come ON, this is really important. That’s it, we’re taking you. We’ll give you a ride to work”
“Alright, alright. If you want me to vote that bad, I’ll do it.”

Victory! So we took Al down to City Hall where we found his polling location. At the polls, he had to fill out a provisional ballot because he was still registered in his old precinct for some reason. When he came out of the elementary school with his “I voted!” sticker on, we felt pretty damn good about ourselves.

****



Katie Puza

I won't lie. I am sad today.

I'm sad that my state, South Carolina, elected a man to the U.S. Senate who would rather take away rights than protect them.

I'm sad that the country will be taking an extremely large swing to the conservative side, with the potential of Roe v. Wade reversal among other things. Progress doesn't appear to be on the agenda for the next four years.

I'm sad that the international community is more concerned about American foreign policy than Americans.

I'm sad that people vote for candidates, parties, and not issues.

I'm sad that because I'm a Christian, I'm not supposed to be allowed to be a liberal.

I'm sad that rights will be taken away before they are expanded.

****



Brandy Ventura-Kristiansen

But most of all, I'm ready. Like Lougan said, regression breeds revolution. Watch out world ... here we come.

Early 2003, while perusing a punk record label, I happened upon some blatantly anti-Bush columns and discussion. At that point in time I had had the sneaking suspicion George was kind of dumb, and he was making some egregious decisions, so I decided to check it out. I am glad that I did. Until that point I had been an example of political apathy. What I learned changed me forever.

For 6 months I read every book and Web site about Bush and his administration that I could fit between school assignments. I argued and debated and even convinced a few to come over to my side. I had a lot of confidence in the election and John Kerry. Initially, my vote was against Bush, but the more I learned about Kerry, I respected and liked him. I had confidence that our country could change for the better.

On Nov. 2, I sat up late in front of my TV, hurrying back and forth to the computer to get the stats on undeclared states. I tabulated and made my predictions. Finally, I headed off to bed. In the a.m., it was evident our guy could not pull it off.

As I walked to class in a cold, drizzly rain, I saw a wadded up Kerry sticker in a puddle. My heart sunk and I felt all the wind of the previous year leave my sails. "What do we do now?" I asked myself. My country chose a guy that discriminates against gays and women. Someone who approves environmental destruction and huge tax breaks to the wealthy. A complete moron over an intellectual who is diplomatic and fair. Is that what our country is striving toward?

The election may be over, and Kerry may have conceded, but I have not conceded. My side lost, but it does not mean that we were wrong. The left will always have the most important values at its forefront – equality and opportunity for all. We must not stop this fight! In Time magazine last week, Garrison Keillor spoke of how he couldn't wait for the election to end so that he could return to his former self. That is what the right would love to see us do. We must refuse to do this!

The election is over, and I hear that "W stands for Winner!" I guess that means I am a loser. Most of the Kerry stickers and lawn signs have disappeared, but the Bush supporters go on displaying theirs proudly. I have decided to leave my Kerry sticker on my car. I urge you all to do the same. I don't feel the time is right to remove it, and I suspect the guys in big trucks with Bush stickers are laughing at me at every stoplight. I don't care. The sticker, for me, has come to represent a struggle of good against evil. May it remain until it disappears in small peeling flecks with the wind. Maybe by then, our country will have come to their senses, and elected a Democrat.

****



Marah Eakin

Oh, Ohio. I've lived within your borders my whole life, and now what's going on? I spent Election Day almost worried sick, afraid to talk to my office-mate, a young, gay, Republican in the arts, desk littered with Bush stickers, pictures of Sean Hannity and "clever" flip-flopping bumper stickers. I e-mailed back and forth with my best friend in Florida, who described voting on "ATMs," and the endless lines of people waiting to early vote, which, in hindsight, might have been a good idea for Ohio as well.

Of course, not much good happened, especially in Ohio. Like many other states across the country, Ohio passed an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution. (Interestingly enough, the amendment also bans any sort of male-female civil unions.)

I watched, flipped through, and glared at news coverage all night. I had 7 different windows open on my computer, and 3 different television stations in the rotation. Still, though, what I found out about Ohio is only speculative. With all the hub-bub about provisional ballot decisions being made at 2:30 a.m. the morning of Nov. 2, missing absentee ballots (a decision about those
was made at about 5 p.m. November 2), and extremely long lines at some precincts (NINE hours in Knox County! FIVE in some urban Cleveland precincts!), I guess I didn't really expected to know anything last night.

I'm worried that with all the legal battles, all the counts that are bound to come up, there's not going to be any good results. With so many black and Young voters coming out in this state, they might not see any real, tangible change. And they will ultimately feel their opinions don't really count and that Ohio, and the election as a whole, was again stolen right out from underneath
them. Frankly, I can't say I feel entirely different thusfar, but I've got at least 10 more days of
provisional vote counting to think about it. Either way, I'm impressed with the way young people
voted, and I'm impressed with the way some people came out to vote in certain areas in Ohio. I wish this election wasn't about appealing to people's basest morality. I wish it hadn't been perceived as a popularity contest between the Star Quarterback and the Student Council President.



***



Hannah Kane
The author of this letter grew up in Seattle, currently lives in New York City, and calls herself a progressive. The recipient is her good friend and former roommate, a Texas native, evangelical Christian. The two share a belief in the value of community service and a hope for a better world.

Dear Jamie,

I need you today more than ever.

I need you to explain to me why the American heartland just gave billionaires an electoral high-five, and gave the rest of the world the proverbial finger. I want to understand what over half of the voters in this country were thinking when they went to the polls yesterday and voted for a president who deceived us, entered into an unnecessary war that has already left 1,100 Americans and countless Iraqis (maybe 100,000) dead, gave the wealthiest among us huge tax breaks, and has the worst job growth record since Herbert Hoover.

Notice I didn’t mention anything about Bush’s attacks on women, gay people, the environment, minorities, and the United States Constitution. Though it hurts me, I understand that most Americans support his policies and ideas regarding these. But please do explain to me why the threat of stem-cell research would weigh more heavily on a voter’s mind than the war and the economy.

I am not being sarcastic. I do not want to think that I am better or smarter than people in “red” states. I really do want to understand where they are coming from. Jamie, I value our friendship, and I think it is representative of what needs to happen in this country. We are so very divided as a nation, and they say a house divided against itself cannot stand. But you and I have managed to bridge ideological differences, learn from each other, and even live in the same house without a civil war.

Please help me to understand where these people are coming from. And please help me to understand how we might go about talking with them, not down to them. Finally, one more request. I see you as a bridge between the two sides. You understand both the culture and values of middle America and the rest of us (outer America?). Because of that, you must be an agent of reconciliation. I beg of you, please use your position in this cultural war to translate, to redefine, to bridge the gap.

Thank you,
Hannah

– Hannah Kane

***


Daniel Alarcon

Earlier this year I left my car parked at the airport in Phoenix. When I came back a week later, there was something different about my car. Not a key scratch or a flat, but it was something. I remember putting my bags down and just looking at it. My anti-W bumper sticker was missing. It had been there, and now it was gone. I was stunned. I drove out of the parking lot, livid, looking for a W sticker to pull off, only I didn’t. I never would.

As far as dirty tricks go, this one hardly rates a mention. On an Election Day marred by concerted right-wing efforts at voter suppression, by media complicity in legitimizing these tactics, it may seem a bit absurd to complain about this $2 vandalism. But four months on, I still recall this moment and the way I felt: that someone would take the time—in the Arizona heat, in August!—to get out of their car and peel my bumper sticker off? Are you fucking kidding me? The impulse to suppress my political voice—in the rather conventional and inoffensive form of a bumper sticker—this impulse is not natural in a democracy. It is learned. It is policy, and it comes from the top. Given what we saw in the run-up to Nov. 2, we can say that now.
While we’ve sent our young men and women into harm’s way ostensibly to foment democracy in a foreign land, it bears asking: what kind of democracy is it exactly that we feel entitled to export? As I write these words there are Republicans celebrating the successful campaign of voter suppression in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere. At this hour, I have heard the same reports you have: of missing absentee ballots, of registered voters made to cast provisional ballots throughout the so-called battleground states—ballots that won’t be counted until after the television networks all but have sworn W in for a second term. It’s clear to me there are people in power who don’t really believe in democracy. There’s no way of knowing just yet how many people were disenfranchised. Later there will be estimates and those numbers will be appalling. In the meantime, make no mistake: there will be folks out there looking at those same numbers, and congratulating themselves on a job well done. They subverted democracy, again, and this time so cleanly no one in the mainstream has yet made a peep.

***


Michael Goworecki

Thousands of people showed up in Washington D.C. in January of 2001 to protest the inauguration of a president-elect who had neither won the popular vote, nor the electoral college vote (fair and square, that is). I was at a protest at the Texas state capitol in Austin on inauguration day. We marched around the capitol building chanting, “He’s not my president.” Several Bush supporters stood by and shouted back at us. I specifically remember one old man who just sat in his car and yelled out of the window. Every time we finished saying “He’s not my president,” the old man would simply yell back, “Yes he is.”

And now, after four years, that old man is actually right.

It turns out W. may have actually won the election for real this time, which scares the hell out of me. If he’s caused so much unilateral havoc without having even won the election, what will he do now that he has what his administration is already calling a “mandate” from the people?

It’s tempting to grow disenchanted right now, to want to give up, to snidely quip to no American in particular that “you get what you vote for” and pretend to wash your hands of this whole damn mess. But of course, that’s not really an option.

I always tell myself that there’s no such thing as a wrong decision. If you make what seems like a wrong decision after you’ve made it, that’s obviously just a mistake you needed to make on your own so that you’ll make the right decision in the future.

Ironically, four more years of Bush might be exactly what this country needs.

Progressives need to acknowledge where we’ve made some wrong decisions, and start getting our shit together. It’s a daunting task, uniting the multitudes of progressives and their multitudinous causes. You would think four years of Bush would have already forced us to unite, but we evidently have a ways to go yet.

He’s our president, there’s no more argument about that. But the protest will not, can not stop. Four more years of Bush may just be the best thing that could have happened to the progressive community. So in the long run, maybe Bush was the right choice for America in 2004. Let’s not just hope that this isn’t the case in 2008, let’s make damn sure.

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