Thursday, November 09, 2006

Did Y'all Go and Vote?

We are in the South, so we "go and vote." a

Usually, I bring some knitting along, for standing in line. Of course, I bring knitting almost everywhere, but that's not germane to my point. It's especially nice to have a sock in progress tucked in your bag on a fine fall day while you wait your turn to cast your vote. Something feels right about that.

Here's what I had in my walking bag on Election Day -- clockwise, from left: sock in progress, completed sock as reference for second sock, apple in case I got hungry, calming aromatherapy spritzer (in case I was beseiged by overly enthusiastic campaign workers en route).

Of course the ID is tucked in there too.

On Tuesday we went at an odd time, and few people were there, so I didn't even get to crank out the usual three or seven rounds on a sock while we waited.

But we went and voted, and that's what's important.

All Southerners double-verb sometimes, regardless of accent or educational level. But it's especially important to double-verb on election day.

If you're from Atlanta, you put on your best Scarlett O'Hara voice and you say, "ah gotta go an' vote, honey." If you're from New Orleans, you say it in a Brooklynese voice: "Hey boss .. I'm goin' out fer a toikey samwitch at lunchtime, and I need to go an' vote while I'm out dere."

But either way, you go and vote.

Even Southerners with PhDs from Hahvahd, who have divested themselves of every other double-verb or triple-negative, go and vote.

It somehow sounds more deliberate and purposeful than just "voting."

But it's okay if you live in a place where you just "vote" -- as long as you hollered out Tuesday night before the polls closed, "Honey, it's getting late, get in the car, we have to vote."

If you don't like the outcome, and you didn't vote, don't bitch at me (or anybody else).

We went to the polls and we thought about a lot of things when we voted, especially the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and this miserable war that too many young people are dying for and nobody fully understands.

One thing I thought about with a great deal of sorrow is how many of my fellow Louisianians still can't walk down the street to their familiar neighborhood school to go and vote. Most people who have returned to New Orleans had to cast their vote in a different location in town, because their neighborhood polling place remains unrepaired. Last week, there were billboards all over the city reading, "Need To Know Where To Vote?" and a number to call.

Many New Orleanians are still far away, and wish their polling place was across town instead of across the country.

Some are gone forever, and will never go and vote in New Orleans again.

It is painful to imagine how I might feel on Election Day if I were displaced from my home, with important things going on here that needed my input. Things going on in my state, my city, my school district, my neighborhood.

I would be paralyzed with depression if I lived in an apartment in Houston or Denver and I couldn't be home, to go and vote at the American Legion hall, and say "hi" to Mrs. LeBlanc and Mrs. Washington, who have been checking off names and re-setting the voting machines since God had baby teeth.

Don't get me wrong, all you other 49 states. Y'all are nice and all that. In fact, you've been terriffic. Most people around the country have taken in our displaced neighbors with open arms and incredible generosity, and we're grateful.

But it's still not home.

It's hard to re-birth your culture someplace else. The food isn't the same, the music is different, and the way people interact with each other feels a little bit off. It's different when you can find only a few families in your new community who share your culture, when you're accustomed to sharing it with half a million people. We have our own rhythmn in this corner of the world, our own way of letting our hair down at night and getting up in the morning.

It makes me think of that old reggae song ... I think the Melodians wrote it originally, but Peter Tosh popularized it...

" the rivers of Babylon,
where we sat down,
and where we wept
as we remembered Zion...

...they carried us away to captivity,
required of us a song,
but how can we sing the Lord's song
in a strange land?"

On Tuesday night, I imagined the people I grew up with, scattered all over this sprawling country of ours, watching the election results come in. They've been in their strange new towns for over a year now. They have found new jobs, made new friends, and enrolled their kids in new schools. Most have never lived anywhere else but New Orleans, and are voting in an unfamiliar place for the first time, pushing the electronic button for candidates with last names like "Walinsky" or "Martinez," instead of "Broussard" or "Jackson."

Each time the news anchor said, "and in Louisiana ..." there was a collective intake of breath, and they felt that curious little skip-crunch underneath the solar plexus. In apartments all over Houston and Raleigh and Los Angeles, kids were shushed and adult heads swiveled to see who went and voted for who, back at home.

"Home" is still in a shambles.

But, as always, the local politics are interesting.

Particularly important for New Orleanians is a state amendment to have just one tax assessor for the City. Right now there are seven of them, and they each make $90,000 a year. This is an astonishingly ancient and screwed-up way of doing things, and it needs to change. I'm glad most other people agreed.

A remarkable state amendment passed -- to exempt art on consignment from property tax. The current tax structure is way more Byzantine than I care to go into (I do want to keep what readers I have), but right now the short version is that the owner of art that hasn't previously been sold is responsible for property tax on it, so this amendment is a good thing for the arts community, including knitters. Can you imagine having to pay tax on your consigned work if it didn't sell? It may seem like a tiny thing in a big election, but art happens here in a way that is very different from most parts of America that I've seen. New Orleans is a city where art belongs to the people. Art is not something that happens mostly to high-end gallery owners and the people who can afford pricey, edgy art. New Orleans has artists and street musicians like Maine has lobsters and Chicago O'Hare has airplanes. Sure, there are painters here who gallery their work for the price of a house, but the city is mostly populated with artists who rely on storefront galleries, coffeehouses and taverns, and these are the people who can least afford to pay tax on their unsold work.

A couple of other good amendments passed, giving veterans a break on property tax, and removing taxes on leased hospital medical equipment for rural non-profit hospitals.

Like most people in this country, our polling place is in the gymnasium at our neighborhood grammar school. People lined up and signed in, and chatted with the familiar election day workers. We learned some things about people around the neighborhood who we don't see often: who moved, who died, who is remodeling their house.

Then we went into the booths, to push the electronic buttons that still feel strange to me. I miss the satisfaction of flipping the levers, and I miss the "ka-chunk!" when you pulled the lever to cast your vote and the mechanically operated curtains parted dramatically.

It made you feel like something real had happened.

Now you have to push your way in and out of the booth through a plastic shower curtain, and the machine beeps when you're done.

Not the same.

After we went and voted, we came home and ate some beans and rice.

If anybody reading this is from Louisiana or the Mississippi Gulf Coast and you're living someplace else now, I hope you get to come home soon.


p.s. -- Shamu has reminded me that y'all are worried about my well being. I am uninjured and the car is not severely damaged. Details later, and thanks for your concern.


At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I voted, and I must say I am ecstatic about the results: we threw the rascals out!


At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Barbara-Kay said...

I not only went and voted, I got there at 5:30 am! Yes, I'm an Elections Comissioner. I planned to work on a EuroFlax linen shawl, but y'all kept coming and coming - too many voters to knit. They said it would be a light turn-out. Hah!

At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Robert said...

" the rivers of Babylon,
where we sat down,
and where we wept
as we remembered Zion...

...they carried us away to captivity,
required of us a song,
but how can we sing the Lord's song
in a strange land?"

Well, the Melodians might have set it to music, but I think it goes back a little further than that - try Psalm 137.

Barbara-Kay (aka DW) says to tell you that it applies to places other than Zion and New Orleans, too. Almost anyplace that you call home, and are then taken away from, will resonate with this beautiful psalm.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous oneken said...

a long time ago i went and decided i wouldn't cast a vote if there were no real choices on a given ballot. there are times when one conscientiously chooses not to vote. you might ought to consider this saying attributed to huey long:

"Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."

glad you are okay and still cruising about albeit in a loaner...

went to a nearby shelter in a neighboring parish to adopt our fourth rescue-- she's a superb dog ( )but had dominance issues with our home pack. i was saddened to take her back....*sigh*

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Dez Crawford said...

Robert, of course you are correct. I figured everyone knew that. The melodians COMPOSED the tune, and slightly modified the psalm for music.

Oneken, thanks for the quote from Huey P. I'm sorry about the return on the dog. That's always hard.

I'm amused that people expected a light turnout Tuesday. We happened to go at an off-time, but most of the day our street was choked with cars going to and from the school.

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Toni said...

The Secretary of State here in Oregon says we had a 70% voter turnout. Of course, we all vote by mail, so weather isn't a factor. :-)

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Gae Fenske said...

Well, I would have 'gone and voted' but let's face facts - we are not likely to be on the electoral rolls - just a tad too far south 'Down Under'!!

But I crossed my eyes and fingers and toes, and concentrated like crazy, and I reckon I managed to influence the outcome, anyway. There were a lot of us here in Australia doing the same !!

I often keep my self awake at night wondering 'what if?':

What if the 'Coalition of the Willing'
had spent only half as much on boring stuff like educational aid, social aid, practical rebuilding aid and generous food and health aid. But that would not suit that part of big business that makes its profits from things that go bang, would it??

At 4:59 AM, Blogger Flemisa said...

Today is our municipal voting day and I am off to vote. Like you, I believe that you have to vote to be able to complain. Too bad more people don't feel the same but we have a set schedule for municipal elections and whenever they want for provincial and federal. Maybe there would be more interest if they were scheduled.
Hope you are not too shaken and the car repair/replacement is proceeding quickly.

At 6:42 AM, Blogger erin said...

Sorry about that auto, Mambo.

Here in Tennessee one would allow, "I'm fixin' to go and vote." Ah, that Tennesseean verbal troika.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger noricum said...

There's property tax on art?!?


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