Walking into my building tonight I saw a cluster of people heatedly talking in front of the community room door. Their presence reminded me in a flash that it was election day (the retirees in my building take civic duty very seriously, voting is sacrosanct even on the off years).
Last year on election day, my old supervisor and I closed our office at 1 pm and went to the Germantown Home to volunteer. We were there to help the residents navigate their way to the multi-purpose room, and assist them at the voting machine, if they needed help. When we arrived there were only a few people who hadn’t voted yet, and within half an hour, just about every ambulatory or semi-ambulatory vote in the place had been cast. We reported back to the volunteer station and asked if there was anything else we could do to help. The woman staffing the table said that there were a few people who were interested in voting, but they were bedridden and couldn’t come downstairs and cast their vote. Could we possibly find out if there was a way to take a ballot up to them?
Last year was the year of the provisional ballot, for all those people who had been “cleansed” from the rolls inadvertently, and so we were given several of those to use to collect the votes.
I live in a building with a lot of elderly people, but nothing I’ve experienced here prepared me for what it would be like to spend time on the residential floors of that home. Germantown Home is mostly populated with elderly, infirm African-American men and women from the surrounding neighborhood. They have experiences and histories that I can never begin to imagine, and now, well into their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s those histories and experiences are really all they had left, as their bodies crumble and fail. For those who’s minds have stopped working, they don’t even have those.
I walked in to Mr. Brown’s room, gently knocking on the door, trying to get his attention over the sound of the television. He was a large man in his 80’s. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and seemed embarrassed about it, but his body didn’t work well enough to do anything about it. I asked him if he wanted to fill out a ballot and he said yes. I asked him who he wanted to vote for, and he told me he wanted to vote the straight Democratic ticket, like he had done all his life. I rolled the table across his bed and positioned the ballot so he could sign it. I left his room, feeling more connected to the democractic process than I ever had before. As a undergrad politics major, I studied the process, the policies, the strategies and the history. But I never felt more connected to the democratic process than in that moment.