I sent the following to Andrew Sullivan this morning. I know this is long, but I wanted this documented for perpetuity:
I live in Germantown, a Philadelphia neighborhood northwest of the city, about 15 minutes from the Art Museum and its famous steps. It’s a neighborhood that’s largely working-class African Americans. Lucky for me, I was a mere 500 feet from my polling place, the church on the corner.
The first thing I noticed was the box of magazines. I’ve never seen things like that at a polling location before – only at places where you expect the wait to be interminable (dentist’s offices, etc.) But the location was even more telling – it was outside, about 50 feet from the entrance. The line at 8:10am was coming out of the doors and just about reached the box of magazines.
I prepped myself for a long wait and was about to reach for a magazine when I was approached by one of two polling supervisors (not sure if that’s the proper term, I can’t recall). Wearing a tag indicating that she was associated with the Obama campaign, she asked me which precinct I was in, then directed me inside to where there was a completely separate area for my line (I was in the 22nd, the line outside was for the 21st.) Saved me a bunch of time.
Getting inside, I got into a line that was about 50 folks long. There was a TV there with fuzzy reception, broadcasting CBS. (During my time in the line, I noticed the recent 527 ad about Obama and Wright – “Too Radical…Too Risky” – and wondered how people could be harassed for wearing an Obama t-shirt or button while that kind of filth could very easily have influenced a vote in a less reliably liberal area. Careless on the election workers’ part.)
That aside, the place was running like clockwork. All of the election workers were very good at expediting folks into their proper lines (A-L, M-Z) and getting them into one of the two booths allotted for each of the two precincts voting in the church. I felt there was something somehow poetic that I’d be casting a vote for an African American for president in a church, thereby answering so many prayers of those on whose shoulders I’ve stood.
Slightly behind me in line was an elderly African American woman who’d anticipated a longer wait: she had a Philadelphia Tribune and a walking stick that could collapse into a chair. I first struck up conversation with her after I heard her discussing dirty campaign tactics with a young brother in line and referring to a “her” all the while – I wasn’t sure if they were referring to Hillary or Palin. They did get on to the Palin-Sarkozy prank call, and to say that she was horrified would be an understatement. It wasn’t going to sway her vote, which was already Obama’s. But it did give me a strange sense of relief that after today, all the bollocks would come to a close.
I’m a devout Christian, but for whatever reason, prayer has never come naturally to me. But before my finger pressed the button next to Obama’s name, my hands came together firmly. I imagined later that the ghosts of the trailblazers held them together, knowing that my heart would know what to do next. I sent thanks up to my forebears, the Black (and White) freedom fighters without whom there would have been no opportunity for me to vote at all, let alone for a man that looks like me. Then I pressed the button.
After finishing the ballot, I said “thank you!”so loudly that I’m sure everyone in line heard me. Never has the phrase in Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” been more salient:
“I am the hope and dream of the slave.”
I was done at 8:42am.