Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Last Time I Voted, We Thought This Was the Worst It Could Get

The last time I voted in a Presidential election, it was 2012 and I was in a college undergraduate production of Chicago at my all-women's university.

Rehearsal doesn't stop for election day (although I seem to remember several of the company making half-hearted pleas for the night off). It was a tense election cycle. Benghazi had happened on September 11 of that year. People hadn't moved on to being nostalgic for Obama yet; many resented him and felt he'd fallen short of the promise of his first campaign. It's difficult to countenance now, but in 2012, there was a real fear that he would not be elected to a second term. 

I want to talk about that election night tonight because I've wanted to for a very long time. I've held back before, because it's not a feel-good story, but let's be real, nobody in America feels good right now. 

We were in costume: black and red lingerie, 20's dress, the works. Every time we left the stage, we rushed back to the computer-lab-that-doubled-as-our-low-budget-women's-dressing-room to check on the election results. The election had been the center of conversations for weeks. As women, people of color, queer people, and lovers of the arts and education and general hippy-dippy liberal arts ideals (I say with love), the stakes were extremely high for everyone in the room. 

There was a lot of fear in that room. The excitement of the rehearsal only heightened everyone's emotions. People were near tears as we watched the progression of the vote. I felt numb and detached, not really in my body at all. And when Obama finally won reelection, someone sprinted from the room to inform the director.

But it wasn't a sure thing. And feeling that fear now, multiplied a thousand times, I'm reminded of 2012.

I recall one conversation I had with a castmate before election day as we were walking back from rehearsal one night. She went off on the state of healthcare in America, relating her previous attempt to get coverage. "They won't cover me now because I'm single, but they'll cover me if I get knocked up?" she fumed. Healthcare reform was one of the few things she liked about Obama.

But remember, Benghazi had just happened. The country was still reeling from the scandal. "I went into that voting booth and I sat there," she said. "And I finally voted, but I was not happy about it. There was no reason those people had to die. But, you know, I have so many gay friends. And I had to vote for their lives."

I remember that conversation, and I remember the same-sex couple in the cast sobbing and hugging each other with relief in the dressing room after Obama won the presidency, and it is so, so difficult to be patient with my friends who preach high and mighty about voting third party on principle. Or voting Trump because Hillary is the devil. Or, or, or. 

It is so hard to listen to anyone who has never experienced that fear talk about this election. It is very difficult to watch my friend post about how they're terrified to make a road trip alone through Trump country because they're trans, and to run down the laundry list in my head of trans people murdered this year, and then to see some clueless, well-meaning do-gooder sing the praises of Gary Fucking Johnson in the comments. 

Voting on principle is a powerful argument. Voting for the candidate whom you feel best represents you and your values, even if it's just throwing your vote away, feels good. It feels like you have the moral high ground. It's a choice that, in a free and fair and equal world, would be absolutely compelling and right and just. 

But we don't live in a free and fair and equal world. 

Fuck, I used to be a libertarian. But gradually, I came to realize that it's not enough to just leave it up to the states and the corporations to decide whether all people deserve equal rights and equal treatment under the law. I came to believe that we have a moral responsibility to vote in a way that will protect our most vulnerable citizens from the irrational hatred of the "silent majority."

Hatred for the "other" has only grown during the Obama presidency, and we are in the grip of a so-called "alt-right" reactionist movement to a Black president and the strides towards equality made under his term. I'm not naive enough to believe that electing Hillary Clinton will fix all the problems. But we have a chance here to say, "No. This level of open hatred is not OK. We will not tolerate it."

That is the hope I cling to tonight. And watching the neck and neck Florida race, and seeing third party votes take the edge away from a Clinton victory there, I feel that hope slipping away. 

This post focuses on LGBTQIA+ rights because that was my big takeaway from the memory of the 2012 election night. But I could talk about other things. About being a female-type person, about the inhumanity of mass deportation and threats of mass bans on entire religions, about the economy, hell, about nuclear weapons. 

But some fears are more remote, and some are personal. And if you've never felt that fear, I don't want to hear your opinion on this election, because frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. 

Sincerely, a liberal who lives in a Southern swing state. 

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