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Posts Tagged ‘voting’

I know February is a short month, but it has felt long. (See also: pandemic winter, etc.) Here’s what I have been reading:

The Reluctant Midwife, Patricia Harman
Nurse Becky Myers is much more comfortable setting broken bones than assisting women in childbirth. But when she returns to rural West Virginia with her former employer in tow, she’s called upon to do both. I’ve read this series all out of order, but I like these warmhearted, compelling novels. Also a fascinating portrait of life in a CCC camp during the Great Depression.

Arsenic and Adobo, Mia P. Manansala
After a bad breakup in Chicago, Lila Macapagal is back working at her Tita Rosie’s Filipino restaurant in small-town Illinois. But when the local self-styled food critic (who happens to be Lila’s ex, and a jerk) dies in their dining room, Lila and her family come under suspicion. A smart #ownvoices cozy mystery by a Filipina-American author, with lots of yummy food descriptions (and a dachshund!). I received an advance e-galley; it’s out May 4.

The School I Deserve: Six Young Refugees and Their Fight for Equality in America, Jo Napolitano
Refugees who come to the U.S. often face multiple barriers to education: language, culture, financial hardship. But they should be given every chance to succeed. Education reporter Napolitano follows a landmark case in Lancaster, Pa., in which six young refugees fought for the right to go to their district’s high-performing high school instead of being shunted to an alternative campus. A bit dense at times, but compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 20).

The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman
Coopers Chase may look like your typical retirement village, but it’s full of brilliant minds, several of which meet on Thursdays to discuss old murder cases. It’s a fun intellectual exercise until a local developer and builder are both murdered–and naturally, the club takes on the case. Witty, a little dark and so very British. Recommended by Anne.

All-American Muslim Girl, Nadine Jolie Courtney
Allie Abraham is used to being the new girl, and she’s (mostly) enjoying life at her new Georgia high school. She even has a boyfriend–but there’s a problem: his dad is a conservative talk-show host, and Allie’s family is Muslim. A lovely, earnest YA novel about a young woman grappling with her faith and heritage. I loved how Allie’s family members and friends expressed their faith (or lack of it) in so many different ways.

The Beauty in Breaking, Michele Harper
I posted the dedication to this book on Instagram; I loved Harper’s tribute to the truth-tellers and truth-seekers. She’s a Black ER physician in a male-dominated field, and she weaves together stories of her patients with her journey to overcome her own challenges. Some striking anecdotes and some truly stunning writing. Powerful.

The Voting Booth, Brandy Colbert
Marva Sheridan is so excited to vote for the first time–she’s spent months working to help people register. Duke Crenshaw just wants to vote and get it over with. But when he runs into problems at his polling place, Marva comes to his rescue, and the two spend a whirlwind day together. A fun YA novel that tackles voter suppression (along with a few other issues). Marva is intense, but I liked her, and Duke is a sweetheart.

The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
Valancy Stirling has always done what was expected of her, with the result that she’s had a dull, narrow, lonely life. But one day she gets a letter that impels her to change things–and she starts doing and saying exactly what she wants. I love watching Valancy find her gumption, and her carping family members are positively Austenesque. A fun reread for long winter nights.

Links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Last Tuesday, I did something entirely new to me: I spent 15 hours (yes, basically my whole waking day) serving as a poll worker at my neighborhood high school. This year, many veteran poll workers, who tend to be older, are stepping back due to coronavirus risks, so I signed up to help fill the gap.

As an experience, it was both eye-opening and at times mind-numbingly mundane. We did a lot of counting: blank ballots, tally marks, voter lists, early-voting ballots, all the scanned ballots at the end of the night. There was a lot of recounting and double-checking, to make sure the numbers matched the tabulations on the electronic machine. The smell of hand sanitizer hung in the air (with the universal funk of high school gym underneath). I wheeled my bike out of the gym at the stroke of 9 p.m., too tired even to pedal down the steep hill toward home.

All day, I kept thinking of something I heard Elizabeth Gilbert say a few years ago, in a podcast interview: some of the most important things in life are “ninety percent boring.” Writing is this way, she said, and marriage, and certainly raising children. And it occurred to me that this is true of democracy, as well.

Voting is, typically, modest and understated: you go to a school gym or City Hall or the Knights of Columbus clubhouse, give your name to a neighbor or a stranger, mark a ballot with a few dark circles. No one who came to vote on Tuesday was doing it to call attention to themselves. But what I loved was the aggregate: the mosaic, taken together, of all these people of different races, ages, genders and walks of life.

There was the young Hispanic mother in scrubs, holding her two children by the hand, who came to vote after work. (We made sure both kids got an “I Voted” sticker.) There were the retired couples, thin white hair and thick Boston accents, who came together in their sensible shoes. There were several women in hijab, alone or with their husbands, and a few men who walked straight in from their construction job sites, chunky boots and jeans smeared with dust.

We saw a number of first-time voters, young people feeling shy about feeding their ballots into the machine, unsure if they were doing it right. One woman rushed in at 7:45 p.m., saying she’d been on a deadline all day but was determined to come vote. The one that nearly made me cry was the biracial family with two tall teenage sons. One was voting for the first time, and he smiled shyly when I congratulated him. The other one wasn’t old enough to vote yet, but he followed his mother to the booth, and I knew: even if he didn’t act like it, he was paying attention.

Signing petitions, serving on a jury, ensuring free and fair elections: these things are ninety percent boring. Even protests can get hot and dusty and dull, though they’re fueled at first by passion. But these small levers of democracy are the ones that move it forward.

On Tuesday, there was a lot of sitting in hard chairs and watching people come through the line, one by one. There was a lot of pacing back and forth, answering the same few questions over and over, handing out stickers and pens, putting my limited Spanish to use (East Boston has a large Latinx population). It was, perhaps, ninety percent boring – though I truly enjoyed chatting with my fellow poll workers, and my guy came in to bring me dinner. But that made it no less important: in fact, possibly more so. And at the end of the night, we left satisfied that we had done our part to ensure that everyone’s vote counted.

I’ll be working the polls again this November. If you’re able, I’d urge you to consider joining me.

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jfk jr forum balloons hks

It’s been a bruising week, y’all.

On Tuesday, J and I left the house early to stand in line at our local polling place, and cast our votes for a candidate we believed in. I was thrilled to have the chance to vote for a female president for the first time. (That’s not the only reason I voted for Hillary Clinton, but it’s an important one.)

voter selfie k j

I believe in the democratic process, as I’ve written about here before, and I was glad to see many people I know – in many states and yes, at various locations on the political spectrum – exercising their right to vote. I spent a tense, hopeful day with my colleagues and a tense and increasingly worried evening with my husband, watching the news and the election returns.

And then I woke up on Wednesday morning to heartbreak.

I’ve never considered myself especially political, until this election cycle. I come from a deeply conservative state (I grew up in West Texas) and my political leanings have gradually shifted left over the years, but I don’t usually start conversations about them. I live in a deeply liberal state now, and I work at a place that is focused on public policy, but we are an educational institution and therefore non-partisan. We have students, faculty and staff from dozens of states and countries, who hold wildly differing views. We encourage open dialogue and respect for all beliefs; it is fundamental to our mission.

And yet: I am appalled that our country has elected a man who has repeatedly made bigoted, insulting and uninformed comments about Muslims, women, immigrants, disabled people, African Americans, the LGBT community and other groups. I am shocked at the extent of the deep divisions in our country, and deeply troubled by the bitterness and hatred that have come out into the open.

I don’t expect to agree politically with everyone I know or even my close friends and family members, but I am so sad that we seem to have lost the ability to have reasoned, respectful dialogue with people with whom we disagree. No candidate or party is solely responsible for this division, and it didn’t start with this election, but it has become shockingly visible, and it breaks my heart.

The top photo above is from Wednesday, when the HKS community gathered to hear words of empathy and encouragement from our dean. We dropped the balloons, silently, to mark the end of a bitter and vengeful election season, but there was no celebration in it at all. As they floated down to the crowded floor, someone began to sing “Amazing Grace.”

Afterward, we filed quietly back to our offices and classrooms. At least in my office, there were tears and disbelief, venting and anger. We are asking lots of questions for which there are, at least now, very few answers. And, gradually, we are getting back to work.

There is a lot to do, and I am not the person to direct any of it: I don’t even know where to start. Right now I am simply trying to listen, hug my people, check in on the ones who live too far away to hug, and take a hard look at my own life. That is a small beginning, and I know it’s not enough on its own, but we all have to start somewhere.

I’ll be lighting candles, both physical and metaphorical, for peace this weekend. (Advent cannot come soon enough.) And I will be listening. If you want to have open and respectful conversations, or need a shoulder to cry on, I’m here.

Take care, friends.

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On voting.

voting sticker

Yesterday morning, I left my house a little earlier than usual, walking down the block to a plain, unadorned brick hall that regularly hosts community events ranging from AA meetings to meat raffles. (The latter, apparently, are a real thing here in New England.) I walked through a hallway that smelled of stale coffee, into a large, bare room with two tables of cheerful volunteers and a dozen or so voting booths, standing against the wall in a neat line, balanced on spindly legs.

I gave my name and street address to the women at the first table, in exchange for a ballot and an information booklet. After spending a couple of minutes filling in circles in a booth (no one looking over my shoulder), I fed the ballot into the big gray box next to the second table. The volunteers there gave me a sticker (which, as we all know, is just as exciting for adults as it is for kids). I thanked them and headed out to catch my train to work.

Every time I exercise my right to vote, I marvel at the quiet, peaceful simplicity of the process: register, show up, give your name, make your choice, submit your ballot to be counted. Everyone has a say; no one’s vote carries more or less weight than anyone else’s.

Especially in these midterm elections, when the electoral college does not come into play, the process is beautifully, humbly straightforward: one citizen, one vote. In town halls and libraries and even grocery stores across the country, my fellow citizens – rich and poor, male and female, of every ethnicity and political persuasion – can exercise this fundamental American right. (And receive the stickers to show for it.)

I am as sick of campaign ads as the next person, already bracing myself for the firestorm of political rhetoric that will start long before the 2016 presidential election (and which, some would say, never really ends). I grow weary of the personal attacks, on Facebook and elsewhere, that attempt to reduce a person’s identity and character to the box marked on his or her ballot. I won’t tell you which candidates I chose on Tuesday, and I won’t ask you which ones you chose. That information belongs to each of us and no one else.

But I will say this: I hope you voted.

I hope you voted, because the system of a democracy depends on its citizens’ willingness to participate, to decide for themselves which laws they would like to uphold or repeal, and whom they would like to serve as elected officials. I know democracy is often a complicated thing, shadowed by back-door deals and mutual political favors and the byzantine processes of government. But I believe it still works, and it still matters. As a woman, I am particularly aware that I owe my right to vote to a number of brave women who fought for it – and I have a responsibility to exercise it, to honor their work and their sacrifice.

As Ann Patchett noted recently in the New York Times, “voting is like brickwork – the trick is to keep at it every election season, laying brick after brick.” I am not naive enough to believe that one vote on one day will repair all the problems that plague this (sometimes shaky) edifice of democracy. But I believe the act of showing up, trowel (or pen) in hand, is a worthy start.

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