I loved the collective jump-and-kick-your-heels together feeling that few Americans could resist proclaiming after voting this week. My own moment of glee included a sense that I had fulfilled my purpose as a human being for the day (enough to justify shirking all other responsibilities to stay home, eat leftover Halloween candy and nerdily watch election coverage on tv? No?)
On Election Day, all voting adults get to revert back to elementary school, earning a sticker for participation and wearing it proudly for everyone to see. Self-congratulatory as it may seem to heap praise upon ourselves for fulfilling an essential civic responsibility, I was warmed by the collective “Ahh” that scattered across Facebook, as even people who never post anything shared the joy of casting their voices into the polls and universe.
Yep, universe—and you don’t have to be a floaty idealist to say it. As a teacher in a classroom and online this election season, I have been fascinated by the various perspectives about our process from some international students from countries that do not elect their leaders.
I experienced this election from the most divided state in the country (Florida, where the candidates were still within 1/2 a percentage point two days after the election). Especially here, the campaign was so negative and omnipresent that at times I just wanted to crawl under a rock until it was over. What a curious thing our behavior must be to a student who is witnessing the messy, sometimes crazy and “shouty” process of democracy first-hand and for the first time. Some wondered about whether this is the right way to operate a country. So much yelling and vitriol, a lack of civility in public discourse; to one, it rang too fragile to be sustained beyond our relative youth as a nation.
And yet, when I voted, voting-line etiquette was not just intact but cheerful, opposing viewpoints respected and voters buoyed by the gratitude that for one moment your voice would squeak out into the collective, even if only as ink on a bubble sheet rewarded with a sticker.
Of course, it’s more than a sticker if we believe it matters. If we believe in the ripples of our small and large decisions across our relationships, laws and lives.
The day after the election, I received an email from a student from a country who had witnessed our election process for the first time. It was not an assessment of our system compared to his or a reflection on our process. Not knowing the way I had voted, he delivered a sticker of his own in his sincere wish of “congratulations for the 2012 elections,” along with his compliments on President Obama’s speech.
As we move to other news − from lower-than-desired voter participation rates to the challenges of a divided Congress working (we hope) to avert a fiscal cliff − my student’s good wishes linger. Can we, for just a few more seconds, hold on to the happy zip of voting, the admission that yes, something light and hopeful sprinkled over even the most snarky among us in the voting booth this week? Diverse and opinionated, messy and yelly and complicated as we are, we chose a president together. The process, though familiar to the point of cynicism for many, is not a given. Though we sometimes lack the grace of Gene Kelly the ways we express ourselves, our participation is worth the loud click of our collective heels.