There isn’t much about this current election, at least to me, that inspires hope.
I’ve always been someone who considered Voting Day to be a celebration, knowing that voting is a gift and a privilege that is denied to so many people around the world. I vote in every election, even the primaries and the low-attendance run-offs and the ones where very little is at stake. When my son was growing up, starting before he was a year old, I brought him to every one of my election day votes, hoping to impress upon him the joy and the responsibility of being a voting citizen.
This year, however, I’m having a hard time finding my joy about voting. I think this is due to two things. Probably the biggest thing is that this year, for the first time I’ve known, so many candidates have refused to agree to accepting the results if they lose. To me, that really uproots the very foundation of American democracy. It is hard to be enthusiastic about voting when people have declared beforehand that they intend to ignore the voting process if it goes against them. And to be clear…my votes are probably for the side that such people want to invalidate.
Secondly, although this has been a growing trend, this year’s election campaigns seem to focus more on HOW TERRIBLE the other candidate/side is rather than promoting a positive vision of the candidate’s own vision and plans if elected. It’s especially bad because most of the negative campaigning is speculative at best and outright fiction at worst. I’m so tired of tossing postcards and flyers straight into the recycling bin that contain what I KNOW from, like, actual FACTS to be complete lies about the incredibly articulate, accomplished, and compassionate black woman who is the Democratic candidate for the US Senate, former Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, Cheri Beasley. She has enough going against her as a minority and as a woman; she doesn’t need falsehoods piled upon her as well.
Another great example is the race for school board respresentative for our distict. Most of the discussion I’ve seen on places like Next Door is about how terrible the main female candidate is (school board respresentatives are supported to be nonpartisan, although this woman’s candidacy is being heavily supported by the Republican party) for her extensive history on social media promoting some radical beliefs. Of course, the woman purged all that from her record before running, but many others have copies of her statements and have been sharing them, either in support or opposition.
Now, I find many of the things she promoted to be morally repugnant, and I am opposed to her positions about what she would advocate if she were elected. For example, although she is running under the buzz words of “Parental Choice,” she actually wants to do the exact opposite. That is, she wants to eliminate the choice of parents to choose for their own children to check out books in the school library that she finds objectionable by banning them from the schools. I disagree with that policy.
The problem is that all this discussion about how terrible she is overshadows what a GREAT candidate with have with one of her competitors, Tyler Swanson.
He is a young, positive, and progressive black man who used to work as a special education teacher in the school system he now seeks to lead. I went to an event to listen to his vision, and he is an educator’s DREAM! Instead of broad and vague promises like “Parental Choice” and “Focus on Academics” (really? do any candidates think public schools SHOULDN’T focus on academics?), he talks about the substance of what is hurting local schools. He kept referring to the state’s Leandro case, a decades-long court case in which the NC Supreme Court declared that a good education is the constitutional right of all North Carolina children and thus the state was required to give more money to the school system, but has been held up for decades by subsequent court challenges from Republican legislators. He knew the research shows that students perform better and stay in school longer when they have teachers, role models, curricula, and other resources by and about people who look like them–same race, same religion, same country of origin, same gender or sexual orientation. He argued that Wake County’s diversity requires that diversity to be reflected in the schools. He advocated for some nitty-gritty issues, such as restoring merit pay for teachers who have a masters degree in their field and for hiring more nurses and counselors and other support staff so that teachers can focus on ACADEMICS instead of having to be nurses and counselors and everything else to their students.
So it is disheartening to have all the discussion centered around how awful someone is rather than how well-suited someone else is. I just feel that is terrible energy to have around selecting the leaders of our schools and our government. Which is not to say that I won’t vote; in fact, I already have. Apparently my years-long plan worked, because my son spent some of his precious time during his TWO DAYS Fall Break to go vote. I went and voted with him, which at least gave me a boost from sharing this civic activity with my son.
But in general, I’ve been kind of bummed out about this whole election period.
This morning, however, I listened to one of the short videos by one of my heroes: writer, educator, philanthropist, and so much more John Green. John is that rare combination of someone who is a deep thinker but also a deep feeler. His videos are often so profound and so powerful and so unique that they bring me to tears, as this one on hope did when I watched this morning.
This video reminded me of an email I received this week from another hero, Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. It was unique first because it was the only one among what must have been at least 100 emails I got from politicians that day that wasn’t asking for money. Secondly, it had a vision of hope and a reminder of our shared humanity, which is why Senator Booker is one of my current politican heroes.
He wrote it on the 10 year anniversary of the day Hurricane Sandy devestated New Jersey when Booker was mayor of Newark. Entitled “Where do you stand in the storm?,” it tells the story of Booker and his two officers driving around to assess the damage as strong winds shook their big SUV. First he gets a call from US President Barak Obama to check on things, and then from NJ Governor Republican Chris Christie (who, at least in my opinion, showed his highest and best qualities during the Sandy crisis and recovery). Booker then tells this tale:
I hung up with him and at that point, we’re driving up a hill. My officers and I immediately see that all the telephone poles have come crashing down at the top. It was a mess of wire and wood and there through the storm, in the sheets of rain, we see a beam of light swinging frantically at us.
As we got closer, we could make out a man in the rain. So we pull over and I roll down my window. I’m upset he’s out there and I raise my voice over the wind and the rain, and I yelled: “What are you doing out here?” And then he looks at me as if I’ve just asked him the stupidest question in the world. He says back to me, “Mayor, look at all of those wires, it’s dangerous. I’m standing out here to make sure no one gets hurt.”
I just talked to the President of the United States, to the Governor of my state, I’m the Mayor of my state’s largest city, but the greatest example of service, of goodness, of kindness I found that night was the man standing in middle of the savage storm and dark of night watching out for other people.
Today I’m thinking of that man, and so many others who stood in the storm that night and throughout the recovery days, weeks, months, and even years after – emergency responders, essential workers, friends, and neighbors.
That’s a beautiful story and a beautiful lesson that sometimes it is when things look the darkest that people’s goodness and kindness and common humanity shine the brightest. That lifted my spirits.
Booker’s story about an average man being his hero made me think of a small incident in my life that also represented the kindness of strangers. Several weeks ago, I bought a pumpkin at the Farmers Market for my Halloween decorations. I opened the back of my station wagon and started lugging my purchases to my front door. I heard a “thud” and saw my pumpkin had seemingly launched itself out of my car and was now hurdling down my long and steep driveway, picking up speed with every foot. I could hear traffic coming, and although I started heading towards the driveway, I knew I would never get to the pumpkin in time.
I was already consoling myself that it was only $10 and I could go back and buy another one and the money would support my favorite farmer when I got a shock. The car I had heard swung into my neighbor’s driveway and a young man on the passenger side sprang out and grabbed the pumpking before it smashed itself against my neighbor’s curb. I was still heading down towards the road to thank him when he called out, “That’s OK, I’ll bring it up. Where do you want it?” I pointed to the top of the stairs to my front door, and he brought it up there. I thanked him and he remarked he was amazed the pumpkin had survived such a journey at that speed. I told him it was an organic pumpkin from the Farmers Market and that those Farmers Markets were TOUGH. He laughed and said he would have to get one for his house, then got back in the car and they headed off.
MY ROGUE PUMPKIN!
So while it’s not standing outside during a hurricane to keep others safe, it is a closer-to-home story of strangers looking out for each other.
A little later, I was reading some of my local Next Door posts. Several people had posted Halloween videos from their front door cameras that showed teens and even adults emptying the entire bowl of candy into their bags.
But then, there was something different.
This video also showed some teens emptying a bowl of candy left out for the trick or treaters and running off. There was a younger boy in a costume down on the street watching them. After the teens left, the boy ran up to the house and took some of his trick or treat candy from his bag so that the bowl was no longer empty.
How sweet is that? Even writing it now, it makes me cry. I take it as a demonstration of my long-held HOPE that I’m helping to raise a generation of young people who will do a better job of running the world when they grow up than my generation has.
So all this is to say that even when things appear bad, there is good available. We only need to look for it. When I get discouraged by current events, it is my responsibility to find the example of goodness in the world that also happening but not getting much attention. Not only will that make me feel better, but I also believe that what we give attention to grows. So I need to be focused on what I want, rather than complaining about what I don’t want.
I’m going to end with some art. Politics and disagreements, even warfare, come and go. But what most of us know the most about of ancient civilizations is their arts and artifacts. Few people can cite the names of more than one or two ancient Egyptian pharaohs, but we all know about their magnificent mummies (or actually, the gorgeous sarcophagus that held each mummy), their hieroglyphics, and their mighty pyramids. That is, their arts and culture, not their politics.
My favorite modern epic, The Lord of the Rings series, offers two quotes that state this more beautifully than I can:
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Then I wanted you to have the full poem quotes by John Green in his video above. I made a little graphic of it so we would have some visual art as well.
Then we come to my final hero: the Rock Poet of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen. I love Springsteen because not only is he a fantastic artist, but he seems to be a really good human being. He never left his blue collar roots behind, and he tries to make music that helps and uplifts people and generally makes the world a better place.
This is his most famous song about hope, entitled “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Click here to enjoy his performance of the song at the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief, which raised over $30 million dollars in ticket sales alone/ to help repair the lives of those who lost so much during the Hurricane Sandy that Senator Booker was talking ab
Enjoy! And Choose Hope! And, of course, Vote!