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November 2, 2004

Los Angeles, 90034

the doom & gloom, the naysaying, the hysteria, the apocalyptic portraits of a divided America -- i admit to somewhat feeling a bit dragged under by a vague sense of dread regarding today's elections. yes, leaving the country for a little while and eating immense amounts of fresh mozzarella cheese definitely helped. but even Italy's newspapers were full of elezione Americana, and the locals i made friends would have discussions about whether Presidente Bush is simply buffo (a clown) or actually bufala (a trickster).

so it was with some grey-cloudiness-of-the-heart that i got up this morning and walked to my neighbourhood polling place, clutching my version of a breakfast burrito in one hand, and a thermal mug of very strong coffee in the other. it felt a bit like going to the dentist, or to the DMV: you have to do it, and somehow it's good for you, but it will most likely be not the most pleasant of experiences.

even though it was relatively early, there were substantial lines. i clutched my coffee security blanket more tightly as i signed in and took my place. and as i stood there, watching the residents of my corner of the 90034 zip code come and go, i experienced the unique vertigo of having my entire perspective shift: suddenly, i felt a wave of true appreciation for this country of my citizenship & current residence, America.

all around me were my neighbours: the young Jewish mother with four small boys in yarmulkes. the Fat Albert look-a-like wearing a punk rock T-shirt and reading a huge hardback science fiction novel to pass the time in line. the blonde, pimply kid in the Quizno's uniform who kept dropping his voter pamphlet. the older Asian gentleman in highwater pants and fishing hat. the posse of African-American ladies who seem to all go to the same Very Long Elaborate Nails salon. the gigantic father with the tiny tiny giggling daughter (who was clearly hapa!). the Filipino grandma with an impressive polka-dotted headscarf. the designer-suited coiffed woman with at least seven large rings and a very furry leopard-print handbag. the Latino couple in front of me who asked me several times about "punching," which confused me until i realised they were talking about the ballot.

the longer i stood in line, the happier i became. here were MY neighbours, getting up early, standing in line, all to do the exact same thing: make their voices heard. i realised that for all the discussions of how broken democracy is in this two-party, money-driven country, the actual act of casting one's vote is still a beautiful equalizer. our race, age, social status, income, job, religion, first language, style, car... NONE of the usual categories that make it so easy to box up people with neat suppositions mattered. all of us, a true cross-section of Los Angeles, in one small elementary school auditorium, were simply citizens with one vote each.

as i turned in my ballot to the multiple piercings pollworker wearing a strongly feminist T-shirt, i remarked on the turnout. "you know," she told me with a big smile, "the last few elections i've worked -- even 2000 -- it was dead until after 5pm. this is really great." even better, i replied, was the diversity present. she looked over her shoulder at the line and shrugged. "that's America." she said.

walking home, i waited at the corner for the light to change with the Elaborate Nail Posse. they were so proud of our little 'hood too, they said, and wouldn't it be fun next time to have a big barbeque beside the polls so we could all get to know each other?

you go, neighbours.

Posted by hadashi at 9:00 AM | Comments (1)