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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Voting San Francisco Style

I cast my first vote in 1976. A strange time in our country: The US was fighting inflation and on the horizon, though many Americans were happily unaware, energy woes were as ships at sea, out there on the horizon, big tanker ships drifting slowly to dock, yet carrying no oil to pump through pipelines into the refineries. Just a few years earlier, we watched spellbound as our legislative branch grappled with the executive branch's usurpation and corruption of power. The major networks preempted their regular daytime programming to broadcast the Watergate Hearings to the American public. I remember Sam Ervin, and his big, bushy white eyebrows, his gravelly southern drawl and the gavel he banged with gentility, yet command. I remember watching Halderman, Erlichmann, Jeb Magruder and James Dean, testifying to the committee. Some were cocky and arrogant. All were out to save their skins. Yet some were also keenly aware of the damage they had done, the fissure they had helped create in our democracy. I can still hear Senator Baker, querying with that now famous line: “What did the President know and when did he know it?” And I can recall the utter hush in the room, when Haldeman and Ehrlichman's lawyer, thinking the microphone was off, spoke in annoyance to his clients about one of the committee members, “that little Jap,” Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a decorated World War II hero who lost his arm in the war. With grace, dignity, and elegance, Inouye put that two-bit lawyer in his place.

Politically innocent despite having watched several years before the assassination of Bobby Kennedy on television in the wee hours of the morning, despite having watched,again on television, the turmoil and violence of the 1968 Democratic Convention, despite Watergate, I was excited to vote, to participate. I cast my vote nervously and left the voting booth in pride.

Yesterday, I voted at San Francisco's City Hall. I took Muni downtown, got off at the Powell Street Station, pulled my coat hood over my head and walked in the rain through the United Nations Plaza, the Civic Center Plaza, and into the gold-domed City Hall. For the first time in my life, I stood in line and waited over an hour to vote.

The line was long, but the voters waiting their turn were happy and friendly. We joked that someone could make a killing selling pastries and coffee to us; that San Francisco's famous Tamale Lady could wrack up the sales – if only she came by with her twinkly little bell and cartful of tamales. Parents stood in line with their children, lovers stood in line holding hands. Grey-haired ladies with large bags sat in camp chairs,and one young fellow, seeing an old couple moving quite slowly, gave up his spot in line for them – giving them a ten minute wait while he went to the end of the line – to wait another hour. Students stood with ipods plugged into their ears, books in their hands, and their feet tapping out a beat on the tile floor. One woman worked the NY Times crossword puzzle. I brought papers to grade, but scarcely looked at them. We laughed and smiled. We exchanged tidbits of information and gossip: Steve Young, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers and a Mormon, has a No on Prop. 8 sign in his yard. The mayor, Gavin Newsom, will be in the Castro in the afternoon, reminding folks to vote. But we delicately danced around the topic everyone had foremost in their minds: the reason we were all standing in line – the historical nature of the election and the man truly responsible for the large early-voter turnout. No, we didn't speak of Barack Obama, but why else would so many people, old and young, happily wait in line to vote on a dreary, rainy day in San Francisco?

I went through the state and local ballots first, following my little cheat sheet prepared at home. I drew my line across the ballot for my congressional representative. And then I paused, to savor the moment, to say a little prayer, before I cast my vote for President with trembling hands. I tell my students: don't vote with your heart, vote with your head. But I voted with both. How could I not? And I walked out of City Hall with my “I Voted Sticker” securely plastered on my coat lapel. The rain came down harder than before. But I skipped through the heavy sheets of rain, splashed through the puddles. Pretending I was Gene Kelly, I danced my way back to the Powell Street Station, ran down the stairs, through the closing doors of the M line car, and smiled my way back home.


Blogger J Cosmo Newbery said...

Well done and good luck. The rest of the world is watching in fascination and, after previous disappointments, no little trepidation.

November 02, 2008 2:06 PM  
Blogger Jack K. said...


I am looking forward to the opportunity to go to the polls and wait for as long as it takes.

Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. I, too, remember those historic times.

I,too, proudly wear the I voted sticker.

I, too, will savor the moment one more time.

To vote is a right and a privilege. I spent a good portion of my adult life in service to my country so we could continue to exercise that right and privilege. Even when we didn't seem to get it right. (There's a pun around here somewhere. tehee)

Thanks for taking time to post this message. I missed you.

November 03, 2008 2:25 AM  
Blogger LeftLeaningLady said...

I am an emotional basketcase lately. I swing (swiftly) between euphoria and nausea. Euphoria because I KNOW Obama will win, nausea with fear that he won't.

But this post is beautifully, so full of hope. I will be sniffling for quite some time.

November 03, 2008 6:25 AM  
Blogger Bird said...

Cosmo: If the rest of the world could vote in this election, Obama would be a shoe-in. Not that we should determine who our president is based on the rest of the world - but he certainly will be far more diplomatic with the world - yet I think not unbending when it comes down to the U.S.'s national interest.

Jack: Glad to hear I've been missed. Hahaha! I so rarely post these days - life is just sweeping me up and taking me further and further away from the Internet in some ways. How are you?

LL: I am more in nausea part - despite this sentimental post. The election will be close - the polls are tightening up and they are not to be trusted to begin with. And I worry that we will also see a such a large voter turnout on Tuesday - some voters may walk away because they run out of time. Wait times in other states have been as long as 6-12 hours.

ALthough the early voting is great - clearly, we are not setup to truly accomodate(sp?) an engaged and voting citizenry. Many cannot wait that long - cannot afford to wait that long. We need more polling places, more education about how to vote, and a longer voting period.

November 03, 2008 6:50 AM  

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