My 3-year-old woke up around 3:30 Wednesday morning, and after I settled her back to sleep, I turned on the television. I'd gone to sleep at 11:30 p.m., with California just in and George W. Bush and John Kerry almost tied. But at 3:30 a.m., though the race was still too close to call, the future was evident. For about 15 minutes, I let myself get sucked in to watching heads talk, numbers change and percentages stay the same. Then I turned off CNN and lay awake, wondering how I was going to tell my daughters that Bush had won the election.
We're an activist family here in Ohio. The kids are regulars at peace rallies in our little town and the big city just south of us. After attending our first legal lesbian wedding in Massachusetts last summer, my 8-year-old daughter wrote to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, telling him that gay marriage should be legal so kids can have families and people can do what they want. This fall we stuffed envelopes and put together signs in the Kerry headquarters, and canvassed remote districts of our county, seeking to persuade undecided voters. Who knew that a 3-year-old could bring such life to a campaign office or an 8-year-old could be such an effective canvasser?
How could I tell them that their enthusiasm, their effort, all of our enthusiasm and effort, had not been enough? How could I explain to them that George W. Bush, one of the few people our family officially hates (the others are all connected to a certain New York baseball team), is going to be president for another four years, and, worse than that, is going to shape the political and economic world that will define their lives?
But then I realized that I had something else to tell them as well. I spent much of Tuesday at the polls. The county Democratic Party had organized dozens of "defenders" in response to the threat of Republican "challengers" who were supposedly going to be trying to stop voters at the polls. It turned out there were no Republicans in the precincts I was assigned to; I'm not sure there were even any in our county.
We stayed anyway. There was lots to do. Two precincts were voting at one site, so I steered people to the right line and helped those who didn't live in either precinct figure out where to vote. I turned the ballot pages for a disabled man, and I set up a voting machine by a bench so a pale and gasping elderly woman could vote sitting down. I held a baby while her mother voted, and I taught first-time voters how to use the punch-card machines. I chatted with neighbors and joked with people waiting patiently in line.
What I saw was inspiring. People wanted to vote, and they were thoughtful and serious about it. If they had to wait, they waited. If they had to come back later, they came back. If there was a problem with their registration, they took the time to fill out the paperwork for a provisional ballot. The poll workers calmly and politely explained how to find the right precinct, how to operate a voting machine, why and how to fill out a provisional ballot.
One of the precincts was made up largely of college dorms, and we had 18-year-olds thrilled to be voting for the first time. There were also middle-aged women voting for the first time, and Mexican immigrants, and local teenagers dragged in by their parents. Some people held tight to their Republican sample ballots; some clutched their lists of Democratic candidates; others clearly deliberated over each choice. Both precincts had significantly higher turnout than any of the experienced poll workers could remember.
Lots of those voters voted for candidates I opposed; many of them, no doubt, voted for reasons I find abhorrent. But, like me, they were exercising their right to participate in the political process. And that was truly inspiring. The people voted, and this is the result. We may not like it, but from the heart of Ohio I will say that it was a clean result.
Lots of my friends are apologizing for Ohio today. I'm not. Ohio is a complicated state that mirrors our national conflicts and tensions. We have dedicated progressives and powerful fundamentalist churches. We have strong African-American communities and libertarians who don't want the government to take their money or tell them what to do. We have thousands and thousands of ordinary people who worked day in and day out to get their candidates elected. And it was close. Almost half of Ohio voted for Kerry. Shouldn't Idaho be apologizing? What about Georgia? I'm sad about Ohio's results, but I'm proud of Ohio's passion.
So what am I going to tell my kids? I'm going to tell them that Bush won. I'm going to tell them that the electoral process worked. I'm also going to remind them that voting is only part of the process. The next part is to do everything we can as citizens and activists to rein in the havoc that Bush and his cronies are prepared to wreak, to find strong progressive candidates who will win the next elections, and to remind the world that here in Ohio, as in the rest of the country, there are lots of people -- half of us for sure, and probably more -- who want our country and our world to be different. We're here, we voted, and we're not going away.