Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Breaking the silence

Date: Nov. 3 and 4
Mileage: 35.1 and 62.0
November mileage: 156.9

Sunlight poured in through the window as the dentist hovered over me with a miniature sandblaster. He wore a sticker that read "I ensured freedom by voting today." It was still only 9 a.m. As he ground away 15-year-old retainer glue, the whine of the drill competed with the yammering of high-volume news radio for nobody's attention.

"Wow, it's a nice day today," my dentist said.

"Hmmm mmmm," I gurgled.

Outside, people on the corner waved campaign signs. The streets were full of noise, honking and traffic, yelling and whistling. "Can I really handle a full day of this?" I wondered. I parked at a nearby mall and pulled my bike off the roof rack. I suited up in clothing that would assure me warmth - something that's been eluding me on bike rides lately - two fleece jackets, long johns, rain pants, balaclava, neoprene booties. I pulled into traffic and rode north.

Beyond the businesses and polling places, beyond the houses and the campaign signs, the street became starkly quiet. Despite the nice weather, no one seemed to be venturing out the road - minds and hearts elsewhere, I guess. I relished in the solitude, in a place where rushing streams and soft wind drown out the constant yammering. But without the noise, I began to wonder why I had been so annoyed.

Political passion has eluded me for years. I registered to vote soon after I turned 18, and happily voted for Sandy City Council members in the 1997 election. I came back in '98 for my first statewide ballot. I campaigned fiercely for future Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson in '99, going so far as to wave a sign on a street corner. I joined a number of environmental activism groups, volunteered for university voter drives, and went with Nader in 2000. But shortly after I graduated from college, something snapped. My passion faded. I began to view voting as a statistical exercise in futility. I began to hear campaigns as meaningless rhetoric. I began to see major-party candidates as small variations of the same ideas. I became a political agnostic. I haven't voted in an election, any election, since 2002.

There was comfort in my apathy, safety in doing nothing. I never tried to defend my status as a non-voter, but I never did anything about it, either. I started to feel guilty in 2006, but failed to register before the deadline. I watched the results diligently and concluded my vote would have made no difference. I did not rush off to register after the election. I still hadn't registered by the 2008 primary. I did not register to vote until the first week of October, on the last day before the deadline, because I knew, despite my agnosticism, refusing to vote would only secure my place in purgatory.

The beautiful day kept me out on my bike until it was time to go to work. I did not have time to stop by my polling place first. I sat at my desk and tuned back in to the yammering, because that's what I'm paid to pay attention to. Bursts of excitement punctuated the air at the office, with all eyes on the election. By 6 p.m. Alaska time, major news networks were already starting to call the race. National reaction poured in. I browsed the Associated Press wire, looking for photos to include with the stories. The faces, the tears, the words captured my spirit in a way I haven't felt for eight years. Especially powerful was this photo, with Christine King Farris, sister of Martin Luther King Jr., and her granddaughter in Atlanta:

I took my break shortly before polls closed, went to the Douglas Public Library, and voted.

37 comments:

  1. MichH3:00 AM

    I'm a South African and I assure you that our voting can really feel like a farce. However, the process can only work if the common man believes it can, right? Well done on voting!

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  2. I was thinking about all of you up in Alaska last night as I was watching the returns. They had already called the race, but had posted that the polls in Alaska hadn't closed yet. I already have trouble feeling my vote is useful sometimes since my husband and I go to the polls and effectively cancel each other out. Seeing that about Alaska made me wonder what I would do. If I could see the race had already been called and had already watched the winner's speech, would I even bother to still vote?

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  3. Of all the things Alaska can export, Palin isn't one of them. We dressed her up in nice clothes and gave her a great tour of the Country. We were gracious hosts. But please, KEEP HER.
    Thank You.

    I hear she is already thinking of running again. (shivers)

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  4. Well done and well written. I am glad you stood up.

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  5. I am often cynical about voting. But I do it as an obligation that gives me the right to complain. Either put up or shut up I say. I also lived in Utah for some time. Talk about a place where one can feel completely disenfranchised.

    I have been a voter for over 30 years. Yesterday was the most emotional voting experience of my life.

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  6. Good for you for voting.

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  7. Hey Jill,
    I read your posts daily. Thank you for this one...

    Ruby Topaz

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  8. Yep, I cried to. But they weren't tears of joy. Its sad to see so many people delusional brought on by one man. I just find it funny that he promised "change" but he never put on his signs change for the better. It's a sad day for unborn children in America

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  9. Anonymous6:22 AM

    So what happens now with Ted ?.

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  10. dinglearm6:31 AM

    makr: Perhaps it is best that politics be left off the blog...it can only get ugly. Jill's posts are inspiring no matter what party you are and we all enjoy biking.....

    Thanks for the post Jill.

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  11. Anonymous7:26 AM

    It's great that this election inspired so many American's to take action and utilize one of the valuable aspects of our freedom (the right to vote), which is one of the things many of our grandfathers died at a very young age to defend. I hope that all those who were engaged in this election were also well-informed on what both sides want to do, prior to making a decision. Inspiration will only get you so far, but following through and having a complete understanding of what you want to accomplish with that motivation is what actually gets something done. Nothing good is easy. Free-wheeling it down a mountain pass feels so much better once you've spent a couple hours earning it on the way up. I wish the best for our country these next four years. Glad you voted, Jill. My grandpa would've been happy too.

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  12. That photo is so moving. Thanks for showing it to me, Jill. And I am so glad you voted - didn't it feel good?

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  13. Gump in SLC/UT8:40 AM

    I blame NPR for starting my Up in Alaska addiction. I hold you blameless, Jill.

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  14. I am glad you were inspired to vote. Welcome back to the voting world!

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  15. i didn't vote. but i did go to a post election celebration party. it's a big deal, my kid will grow up thinking that all presidents are african-american.

    well, at least alaska gets palin back. ha ha

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  16. Good for you for voting, Jill.

    I think that if you don't vote, you don't get to complain about the results, or the government or their actions for the length of their term of office.

    Vote so you can complain! :) What a slogan! :)

    Seriously, though. Voting is one of those civic duties one shouldn't shirk.

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  17. Anonymous11:09 AM

    I understand your antipathy.

    I too live in Alaska, but am politically progressive. Thus, my vote seems to be just swallowed up by the sea of conservatism/libertarianism.

    But I look at my vote more as my way of going on record with how I think the state and country should be run.

    By going on record I am entitled to express my disagreement with how government actually gets conducted.

    This is the same rationale that motivates me to write letters to our senators and congressman each time the federal government gets set to toss the coin on opening the arctic refuge to oil and gas drilling.

    There is no way my letter is going to change Don Young's vote on the issue, but it puts me and my opinion (and reasoning) on record and shows that not all Alaskans feel the same way on the issue.

    Anyway, just another way to look at elections when you are a member of the political minority in places like Alaska (or California for that matter).

    Can you believe we re-elected Don Young!? and maybe even Ted Stevens!?

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  18. I live in New Jersey, which I knew would go to my candidate, but I voted anyway -- because voting makes me feel great. :)

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  19. All the photos of other people crying make me cry. I just can't imagine how African Americans must feel about this moment.

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  20. Mike from Melbourne1:00 PM

    Well done America, I think you made the right choice this time.

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  21. Julie in Alaska1:00 PM

    Jill, I also cried during Obama's acceptance speech. I cried because as a schoolchild when Martin Luther King was shot down, it wasn't proper to mourn him if you were white and middle class. But I did...because of him I learned about tolerance, non-violent demonstration and the need to stand up, stand up and be counted. I cried because he wasn't with us yesterday...and yet, he was. I was just 7 when Pres. Kennedy was shot, and then watched in horror when RFK and then MLK were shot, too. If the world seems baffling now, it was really baffling and hard then. Rioting in the streets, bombs over Vietnam and all the rest. Little girls like me getting napalmed in their homes in North Vietnam. Students shot at Kent State. They stood up. The interest you see around you is the interest in democracy and voting is not a phony thing. It is real, it came at a cost and our duty is to honor all of it. I always vote because my two dear grandmothers were born without the right to vote. One was over 30 before she could. Imagine, if you can, to have no say. Be grateful. We can vote. We can stand up and vote! It's a place to start.

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  22. Thank God all the BS is over and we and the government can get on with things.

    Hopefully our new president will make a difference. However, it will take more than him alone.

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  23. By 7:00 A:M this morning I was in the company of people working tirelessly to fight child abuse and child trafficking in FL so respectfully to cynics who don't believe in CHANGE, get off your asses and get to work.

    Bravo America! Bravo!

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  24. I think a lot of native born Americans are unable to appreciate the intrinsic value of the right to vote because it isn't an instant gratification result ("My candidate didn't win! Waa!!) . I'm an immigrant and I always vote and will gladly sop up your indifference which makes my solitary vote go further...It was fun though being surrounded for a change, as it were, by a sea of fellow voters at the polls.

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  25. Alaska's voter turnout actually fell this year, to 57 percent, down from 66 percent in 2004. My theory is a lot of disillusioned Republicans did not come out to vote because Sen. Stevens and Rep. Young are corrupt, and they just couldn't bring themselves to cast a vote for the Dems. And, either way, Palin and McCain were a shoo-in for this strong red state with three lousy electoral votes. I've only ever lived in Utah, Idaho and Alaska, three of the reddest states in the nation, so I've never viewed my possible presidential vote as very important, although, I have to admit, I did feel a tinge of emotion filling out the ballot this year.

    I'm still in dull shock that Young was re-elected and Stevens is likely to return. I guess I'll just have to keep on voting.

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  26. Thank you, Jill. Like you, I'm inclined not to vote, especially when confronted by some school board candidates.

    Confounded as I was this year by the electronic voting, and completely unable to abstain (not make a choice) on any issue, I was compelled to vote (no) even on the most ridiculous of issues.

    We the people ...

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  27. Craigaroonie12:52 AM

    Nice photo, Jill.
    Is that a deliberate Statue Of Liberty shadow you're casting?
    Good timing.

    Can you see Russia from there?

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  28. I think it's awesome that you decided to vote. Well done, and welcome back.

    I suppose I'm not superlatively gung-ho about voting (ie I don't vote in every possible election, though I know I should) but I do vote at the 'major' elections, and usually every or every other fall.

    I suppose most all of the votes I've ever cast were "wasted" because the people I really wanted to win didn't - at least where it counted, in the states I've voted in (Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho, Alaska). And the candidates/measures that I supported that won/passed usually did so by healthy margins. So I could say that my votes haven't had any effect.

    But that I possess this magical power to vote, to put my chips in to what happens to my community and nation at all, is such a powerful thing...I truly can't imagine not doing it, no matter what.

    223258 people voted in Alaska so far according to the AK Division of Elections. That's still less than 50% of approximately 460000 that are eligible to vote. (OK, I just read your figures, Jill, which are probably better - my total is from 2007 census - but they're similar.) How different could have the outcome been if more and more and more of those that are apathetic, undecided, uninformed, or otherwise disinclined had cast their ballot?

    Perhaps it still seems only to be an exercise in futility. Is my voice heard? Is it acknowledged? Yes and no...and yes! Regardless, I still have a voice! For me, to not vote would mean that I've given up on believing in the power of democracy and the nation in which I live...might as well move to Afghanistan, really. I just can't give up.

    And, for the other commentors here, I don't think we need to worry about Palin running for prez...she was so unpopular (even among many conservatives!) this round that I don't see anyone seriously funding that effort. They'll dig up some new gem. Besides, if all goes well this term, hopefully Obama will serve a 2nd. Hillary 2016!

    Several GOP members and even Palin called for Ted Stevens to step down if elected. The votes aren't all in, but the race has been called for him, by a narrow margin. If he is elected, I can't imagine the Senate not voting to dismiss him if he doesn't just resign...but who knows how long he'll drag it out.

    Today I was insulted by having to listen to Rush Limbaugh (while at a doctor's office)...there are a lot of people that are working towards this administration failing. The rest of us are going to have to work quadruply hard to make sure it doesn't...to make the hateful eat their words...I hope, and I believe, that we will.

    And I just can't resist: essentially none of us can see Russia from here - ridiculous!

    *soap box dismount*

    Cheers, Jill!

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  29. By voting you became part of history instead of just watching history being made.

    Good for you.

    ;) (Palin Wink)

    -B

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  30. Jill the picture with the stunted trees in the foreground is simply beautiful. The mountains are just so 'there'. Congrats on you and all of our southern neighbors that got out and voted. Canadians watch your election as close or closer than our own, yours probably has more to do with our future than ours anyway. Good luck to Mr. Obama, he will need it but it looks like he is the man for the job

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  31. Let’s fight back on Proposition 8. Let’s boycott California wines, produce and travel. Let’s publicize it. Let’s embarrass them. It worked a few years ago in Colorado. What do say?

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  32. Suburban dyke- THAT is an excellent idea. Florida needs the same treatment.

    Sponsored by grumpy straights for suburban dykes a bigringcircus PAC.

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  33. Jill, your camera shots are terrific, what type and make of camera do you use?

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  34. Hey Jill,
    I have a question for you: What type of shoe covers do you use? I know you use "neoprene covers" as stated in your blog posts, but are they waterproof? How warm are they? I need something waterproof and warm as I commute year round, but I also use platforms exclusively- and don't want to carry around galoshes! Any help is appreciated, and love the blog!

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  35. Hi, I found your blog a few weeks ago. I live in hawaii and while Hawaii is a blue state (with a republican governor), and one of Obama's homestate, voting dropped by 4 percent over 4 years ago. I wonder if republicans here felt the same as democrats in Alaska felt? I thought Hawaiian politics was screwy and corrupt, wow, Alaska sure has us beat this go around.

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  36. Welshcyclist - I use an Olympus Stylus 770SW. I've talked about it a few times on my blog before if you want to do a search.

    Joey - I wear neoprene when temps are above 40 and wet. Between 30 and 40 and wet, I often wear a pair of overboots called NEOS. They are completely waterproof and fit over almost any shoe. They may be a little close to what you refer to as galoshes, though. Below 30, things get quite a bit easier, because there isn't as much of a wet factor. I wear winter hiking boots with varying layers of wool and synthetic socks.

    SD - thanks for mobilizing people on this important issue. I think if anyone objects to government withholding of rights, they should pay attention to what states are doing because the country is next.

    D - Thanks for your insights. We've had quite a bit of dicussion tonight about the possibly of election fraud in Alaska - the low voter turnout, the fact that every single pre-election poll was so far off the mark. It just doesn't add up. Maybe I just really, really want to believe that we couldn't have possibly re-elected Stevens. But as more people start to ask these questions about the "fuzzy math," it will be interesting to see what comes up,

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  37. Thanks, Jill, that was what I thought you might use. I have been looking at a pair of the Neos Villagers.

    Much appreciated!

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