To Yard Sign or Not to Yard Sign

Unlike what seems like the rest of the country outside of D.C., I love politics. It’s as dramatic as a reality show, but smarter (and real-er).

Dramatic, because instead of sex, drugs, and sparring… That is, in addition to sex, drugs, and sparring, there are Big Deal issues like freedom, justice, prosperity. Dramatic, because of the history of this country—the founding principles, suffrage, slavery, death, war, love, hate. Every human emotion is tied up in politics and policy. Not even to mention what’s tied up in campaigns and elections–it’s as competitive and aggressive as football but without the concussions and literal chest-thumping.

Smart, because policies are complex. Because we field hundreds of bits of information thrown at us and figure out which are facts and which are opinions, what is true and what is false. Smart, because we have to have the self-awareness to know what we really care about.

That’s not to say I always love politics. I have to turn off cable news for months at a time. But I always find myself drawn back to it because at heart I’m a patriotic American. (And you thought the right-wing had hijacked that phrase.) And I love a good debate.

Also unlike what seems the rest of the country, I think we should talk more about politics, not less. If we all talked–and listened–a bit more we would force the few at the top doing most of the squabbling to squabble smarter. And truthier. We’d raise the level of the conversation.

However, I’m not the type to make the first move. I (usually) don’t babble on about politics at parties unless someone else brings it up first. I volunteer for campaigns, but I’m the one who makes calls to supporters simply to remind them to vote. I drop off yard signs to those who’ve requested one.

Every election, I delay putting a sign in my own yard declaring whom I support because it feels like I’m drawing a line in the sand:

Here I stand : There you stand. Aren’t we different.

I also worry it too-strictly defines me to my neighbors who vote otherwise. Sure, I love a good debate, but some of my favorite moments in a debate are when those I disagree with get me to think twice about my opinion, when they make me stop and reconsider. (My husband will say this absolutely never happens; don’t believe him.)

In the end, I always put up a sign because of this: if politics is as important as I say it is, I should do what I can to help elect the person I support. And if I can’t openly declare where I stand and what I believe in, then what’s the point?

For this Monday–Meet: My Yard Signs

Meet Alice, Maceo, & Dorothy

On November 15, 1917, a group of women picketing the White House for the right to vote were jailed for blocking sidewalk traffic. In prison, they were punched, kicked, and beaten unconscious. One of the women, Alice Paul, went on a hunger strike but authorities tied her to a chair and forced a tube down her throat, pouring in liquid until she vomited. This continued for weeks.

On July 16, 1946, Maceo Snipes became the first black person to vote in Taylor County, Georgia, since Reconstruction. He’d just returned to his family’s farm after serving the U.S. for several years in WWII. The day after he voted, a group of white men in a truck pulled up to his home and shot him in the back, killing him. No one was convicted of the murder.

A dummy hangs from a lamp post in an attempt to intimidate African-Americans and keep them away from the voting polls in in Miami, Fla., May 1, 1939. (AP Photo)

In August 2012, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper applied for the new mandatory voter ID card in her home state of Tennessee. She supplied her birth certificate, a copy of her lease, and her voter registration card. But she left her marriage certificate behind. So Cooper, who was on the voting roll, was denied the ID.

So my questions are: Do you think Dorothy Cooper shrugged and said, “Oh well. It’s just my vote. They’re all a bunch of sneaky politicians anyway”? Do you think Alice Paul would care whether we’re sick of politics? Would Maceo Snipes understand that we don’t want to see one more commercial so we don’t listen at all?

I don’t. I think they’d say, “You just don’t want to get your hands dirty. Easier to wipe them clean of it all and stand on a false platform of moral indignation.”

We’ve got five weeks, people. Five weeks to sift through the dirt and find the gold. It can be backbreaking work. That’s why Ben Franklin, when asked by a woman as he left the Constitutional Convention whether we had a republic or a monarchy, replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Yes, there’s too much noise and too much bickering. Sort out the crap and take what’s left. For each of us, what’s left is different. Figure out what’s left for you, and use it.

Vote.

The April 1994 election in South Africa marked the end of apartheid and was the first election in which all adults, regardless of race or gender, could vote. 

 

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