Confessions of a Would-Be Anarchist On Election Day

Posted by Guest Writer on May 15, 2012 under How | Be the First to Comment

by Colin Miller

[Editors note: Here are some comments on first time election day activities from my son. For those who have never spent part of election day passing out literature or knocking on doors for your favorite candidate, you will see that it is not so frightening... in fact it can be fun. Whoever you support... get out and support your man or woman.]

Last week I got a call asking if I would help Ron Paul by working a poll on election day handing out little cards promoting the delegates who support Dr. Paul at the convention. It was not something I was planning on doing and that sort of political activity is not something toward which I am naturally inclined. There were things I really should get done at work that day and coming home and having dinner with my wife is something I really do look forward to. Well, they talked me into it by saying that even if I could get there by 6pm (the eleventh hour) and work until closing that would be a help.

On Tuesday I got there about six and first went inside and took care of my own business in one of the two little booths. There was no line and after showing ID and signing my name I was directed right in. I am in Doylestown (PA) District 1-1, the belly of the county beast, so to speak, and the polling is done in the Bar Association building, which is about as comfortable and amenable venue as one is likely to find. In almost every room it seemed that there was someone thanking me for coming out to vote.

Once back outside I paid more attention to the half dozen or so people standing around the door handing out papers that I had rushed by on my way in. I introduced myself to those there and learned who they were and what they were doing. Those on my left were promoting the democrats and had their lists of suggested candidates. Those on the right were doing the same thing and had their own lists. Now it was time for me to take my place. If I were to follow this scheme I suppose I should either be blocking the door or wandering around the parking lot somewhere, but I decided that since the delegates I was there to help were trying to get into the Republican convention I would stand on the right.

My fellow right-siders (actually we were on the left as you entered the building) were friendly, as were the folks on the other side of the sidewalk. One was the local committeeman, who looked at my cards and said I was welcome to hand them out. Another fellow, probably senior in years but not official rank was a lawyer and was the one I conversed with the most.

I learned that turnout had been light, about 250 so far out of about 1000 registered for this polling station and there apparently was not going to be any last-minute rush. Voters straggled in, mostly in couples or even as families in a few cases. Earlier in the day it was probably more individuals out on their lunch break or on their way to work. There was plenty of time for conversation between the times we offered our suggestions to the voters. As the letter that accompanied the pack of cards I received from the potential delegates suggested, I positioned myself so I would be the first to offer the voters something. Of course, those who were interested enough in voting for Republican delegates took the card I offered, were then handed a big sheet of paper by the other right-siders saying, “This is the same thing but in bigger print.” That is politics and carnivals, I guess. I let it slide.

The letter from the delegates also suggested that this setting was not best for debating the opponents. I agreed with that and was hoping the talk did not turn toward anything too political. As sure as I am in my thoughts on the subject, these people were in their element and held the higher ground tactically. Most people’s political views have been shaped such that no matter how deep and viscerally felt, they can be contained by identifying themselves to some degree with the “right” or “left”, just as if the range of all sane political thought could be expressed by taking a sheet of paper from one side of this sidewalk or the other and being funneled into the same door to give their consent. Many would say, “Of course that is how it works, that is part of what we call civilization.” Well…

For the most part, the politics that entered the conversation came only by way of a few comments here and there mostly from the right side that did not escalate beyond a small assent by those on the same side of the sidewalk. The closest I got to this was when a fellow was pulling out of the parking lot in a new Escalade “pickup” and the committeeman commented something like “Those are nice but I just couldn’t bring myself to get one after Obama bought the company.” Wanting to at least find a little common ground with this fellow I said “I’m with you there” although I thought it completely unnecessary to consider Obama the one primarily responsible for the bailout crimes and I cannot really see any use I would have for a vehicle like that. I guess that was my nod toward most democratic political debate, oversimplification of issues that should not be “issues” at all, made to get something from someone else that you think you will not get unless they think that you think you agree with them. Or something like that.

The strongest political expression came from the other side of the sidewalk by a couple of voters who stopped to chat with an acquaintance working there. The topic of having to show a photo ID to vote starting with the fall election. Their analysis of this, arrived at in about three sentences, was that requiring this would give the Republicans some short term gains and that it was intended to keep the urban people down and it really was racist. [I will just allow the reader to finish this paragraph themselves.]

I think I had established a little bit of credibility with my fellow poll workers in friendly small talk and telling them that although I had little experience in politics myself, my father was a county chairman for the party down in Virginia a few years ago. After a bit a woman came down the sidewalk and first to greet her, I offered her one of my cards by saying politely “Republican Delegates?” She smiled and shook my hand and said something like, “Oh, no thank you. I already voted.” The lawyer next me gave me a little nudge and told me with a smile “That is your mayor.” “Oh, I guess not then. Nice to meet you.” I said with my usual smoothness, thinking that she had looked somewhat familiar– it must have been from that parade…

That may not have added to my credibility. “I guess that shows how much I have been paying attention to that kind of thing.” I said. According to my thinking, of any sort of government, the local level should be the one that concerns me most, the one closest to my “little platoon.” Yet I have spent much more time studying much more distant powers because they seemed to be a much bigger threat. The most face to face interaction I have had with my local authorities recently was getting shaken down for a permit to take down a tree that was threatening to drop some limbs on my neighbor’s house by the chairman of the borough shade tree commission who lives down the street. The most speculation this inspired in me was to wonder how the shade tree preservation committee with the power to levy fines was dealing with the “Green” initiative I read about in a recent borough newsletter guaranteeing residents access to sunlight. I just never felt compelled to get involved with this sort of thing for some reason. Somebody coming into your yard telling you what you can do with your trees should be the worst of your problems when it comes to politics.

Yet there I was, focused at the other end of the scale, where, if one is to believe much of what one is often told, solutions can be found. If however, one believes that much skepticism is warranted in these conditions, the best one may be able to do, politically speaking, for now is limit the damage done by the greater forces and try to do good on your personal scale.

To finish the story. Two hours does not seem like a long time, and is indeed much less than the thirteen some others along that sidewalk put in, but it was an experience that put faces on things I had been thinking about.

I did pick up a bit of local history in the talk that evening. It was a very brief account of a prominent resident, Henry Chapman Mercer, seceding from the borough with his home, Fonthill, and his Tile Works. This would have taken place back in the early twentieth century sometime and was connected to the reason my neighborhood, just across from him and the normal boundary of Swamp Road (Rte. 313) was added to the borough in some sort of land swap. The mayor’s comment on this was something like “At least now we don’t have to mow his grass.”

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