In November 2008 I took my then 18-year-old daughter to vote for the first time. We went to the South County Library. It was early voting so the line wasn’t too bad. When my daughter got to the poll worker’s table, the poll worker asked, “First time voter?” She nodded. Then the poll worker announced in a loud voice: “First time voter!” And the whole room broke into applause. She was mortified, but I couldn’t have prouder if she’d discovered a cure for cancer. In that historic election, my daughter was one of the voters who helped to elect our first African-America president.
A few days later I took my elderly mother to the same early voting site. She couldn’t walk so a poll worker came out to the car and handed her a ballot. “I’m so glad that damned George Bush will be gone,” my mother informed the poll worker and gleefully checked the box beside Barack Obama’s name.
That was the last election she would ever vote in. This election vindicated her lifelong passion to create a country where merit counts far more than skin color.
In 2016 my daughter was living in Los Angeles. She hadn’t registered to vote before the deadline, and she was suddenly terrified she wouldn’t get to vote. She had voted for our first black president twice, and she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to vote for the first woman president. Of course, it was just because Hillary Clinton was a woman. It was because she was a woman we both deeply admired. So she flew home to Charlotte where she was still registered and we made a day of it. We had lunch with a friend at that cute little Irish pub on Trade Street and then we went to vote at Mt. Moriah Church. There was almost no line. She was in and out in a few minutes. That evening we went out to dinner with her dad. We laughed and drank wine and forgot.
We forgot until about 11:00 that night when we realized the unthinkable was happening. By morning it was clear. We would not be cheering for the first woman president. To say we were devastated is an understatement. When we went to breakfast that morning (though neither of us had an appetite) a woman who was a complete stranger came up and tried to comfort us. But we were in shock. We were numb. Depressed? Not depressed. We were in despair.
She flew home. I went back to work and tried to get on with my life. But I couldn’t sleep. It was hard to do anything but stare at the news. And then interestingly enough, though we were nearly 2500 miles apart, we both remembered how the women in our family cope with trauma — from the trauma of my grandmother’s Great Depression to the trauma of my mother’s terrible marriage to an abusive alcoholic to our own private turmoils. We turn to our art. My grandmother painted. My mother composed music. I pick up my pen and write. My daughter dances.
Within a few days we found our joy again. The next few years will be a struggle for people who think and feel as I do — those of us who believe everyone has the right to healthcare, who want to welcome the oppressed and the weary who come to our shores, who believe it is unacceptable to disrespect an entire gender. But as long as we have our joy, we cannot be defeated.
This is the anthology I created in the wake of this election: https://www.amazon.com/Howl-2016-Poems-Essays-Election/dp/0989806669