I worked for fourteen hours at the polls on November 3rd. It was an unforgettable experience.
Our home is just off a state park in a little resort town on Lake Erie. Our village has 1,200 year-round residents (though we number in the tens of thousands in season) and 709 registered voters. Our full-time population would be described by demographers as “rural poor”.
Our team of election officials consisted of two wealthy local citizens, a semi-retired physical therapist (our boss), a twenty-something librarian and me.
Most of the voters we served appeared to qualify for government aid in some form. My first reveal of the day is how ignorant I am about the level of poverty in my own hometown. By name and reputation, I am a philanthropist. I was reminded November 3rd that I am also a blissfully ignorant old man sheltered from the storms of those who live only hundreds of yards from me.
As we got into the rhythm of the day, our team’s personalities seemed to blend brilliantly and the time flew past as we engaged every person who showed up at the door. Old, with walkers, and young, with strollers, often hesitated at the doorway unsure of what to do. They were shown in as if they had a table reserved for them at a fancy restaurant.
The hospitality that our little team displayed is what will stay with me. That for one day we represented what is democracy’s greatest advantage – inclusion. None seemed to be in their “caste” this day, everyone spoke with each other freely and kindly.
My mother was appalled by exclusion. She was made uncomfortable by bullies and intellectual snobs. She was an educated, professional woman, who married a medical doctor, and was equally gracious at fancy events or church activities among her financially poorer friends.
What causes people, particularly upon achieving advantage to seek more by leaving others behind?
- Having gained a degree, we look down on those with only a high school diploma or less.
- Having gained financial security, we forget when a major car repair was financially devasting
- With real wealth, we construct gates to isolate our house or neighborhood from the riff-raff
I signed up to work the polls for the first time ever simply because I wondered if media coverage of possible fraud might be true. I prefer first-hand knowledge to someone else’s word. I learned that our county has great precision, using technology and people from both parties skillfully to secure every vote.
But I found something deeper that satisfied my curiosity about why we seem to be so divided.
I found that I/we are becoming, consciously and unconsciously comfortable with exclusion.