Worth waiting in line

October 23rd, 2020

I Voted

(published in The Daily Memphian)

We’ve all suffered lines.

Movie lines and concert lines and game day lines and theater lines and concession lines and restroom lines – remember those? Restaurant lines – now mostly turned into drive-thru, drive-up and drive-by lines. Teller lines and cashier lines – now spaced out at six-foot intervals. Lines for licenses and registration and tags and Real ID – now made longer. Lines on the phone waiting for somebody, anybody, in customer service to answer. Lines to buy tickets and pay tickets and show tickets. And all the lines posted online about lines. And all the tired pickup lines given a rest during COVID.

I waited in line today.

All sizes, shapes, and varieties were in line with me. Daughters spoke to mothers, sons to fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends to each other. Husbands, wives, partners, and strangers visited. Individuals kept their own company. There were a few children and the occasional dog wandered by, but this was an adult line, an adult event at the end of it, a privilege afforded to everyone in it, the envy of the world.

It was long. I was getting both thirsty and in need of a bathroom. My legs hurt.

It was beautiful.

This was the longest line of its kind I’ve ever stood in, and I’ve stood in them all, never missing this opportunity in 50 years. If that sounds like a self-congratulatory pat on the back, so be it. I’ve missed a lot of birthdays I should have recognized, anniversaries including my own, God knows how many meetings and appointments, dinner parties and cocktail parties, kids’ games and performances, and, in the time of plague, I’ve misplaced entire weeks – make that months.

I’ve never failed to vote.

I’ve voted Republican, Democrat and Independent, leaned to the right on this, to the left on that, split tickets, and held views conservative to progressive, libertarian to socialist. I have never considered a single vote of mine to be wasted, because it was my vote, mine alone to make, and proof of my participation as a citizen of this city, state, and country, and of the privilege and resp[omsibility of that citizenship.

Colleagues here and media across the country have provided statistics about the impressive turnout for early voting. Predictions have been made based on the turnout. Warnings have been issued about those predictions. Analysis has been offered.

The beauty of the length of this line was in the larger meaning, at least to me:

We, the people, will not denied the right to vote.

Those who would arbitrarily close polls, those who would limit early voting and voting by mail, those who would artificially limit voting stations or machines, those who would sabotage the post office physically or by propaganda, those who would impose draconian standards on registration and voter identification, those who would send “watchers” to intimidate voters – all those who would suppress the vote have missed the angry irony of their actions.

By declaring voter fraud where there is none, they themselves are guilty of voter fraud.

By keeping eligible people from voting and others from registering, they themselves make those people even more determined to vote.

By threatening a free and open election and refusing to agree to a peaceful transition of power, they themselves assure a majority electorate even more dedicated to those cornerstones of American democracy.

They assure long lines like mine here and around the country waiting to vote. 

America’s exceptionalism is independence. Anyone, right or left, who attempts to take that away does so at their own peril.

A week or so before early voting began, I overheard a story. Seems a Memphis couple in their early 80’s was on their way driving to their place in New Mexico to remain through Christmas.

“It’s 17 hours out there,” the storyteller quoted them, “and we should have our early voting form waiting for us. If it’s not there, we’re turning around and driving 17 hours back to vote.”

That’s what I’m talking about.

I’m a Memphian, and you haven’t already, go get in line.

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