I grew up well below the poverty line. I’m not special. I know a lot of people that grew up like that. The majority of my neighborhood lived like me. I say the majority because in every poor neighborhood, you have that one family that is the “rich” family, even though they’re still poor.
What I think is interesting about being poor is that while you may not have basic necessities the one thing you do have in you…is hope. You hope that things will get better. You hope that ONE DAY it won’t be this bad. I remember having nights where my family would sit in the dark and talk because our electricity had been cut off. We’d sit around and laugh in the dark. I remember laughing so much. I’d like to think that those were times when you could actually feel the hope that things would get better.
It’s very easy for someone like me to be cynical. When you see your mom working herself to death and yet somehow always falling short, the cynicism can start growing. There is a bitterness that you start feeling when you see how hard people work and yet end up not moving ahead. How can this happen in this country? This is the country that talks about The American Dream. The constant imagery we associate with it is having opportunities with streets paved in solid gold…not gold plated metal.
I want to talk about hope, especially on the eve of one of the most important elections of my lifetime. I’m not here to tell you who to vote for. I’m here to tell you why I was willing to wait 6.5 hours yesterday to vote.
First of all, let me say that I love to vote. We always talk about white privilege online. I see countless of articles/blogs calling it out. Well, for me…voting is my brown privilege. It’s my right as an American to vote for what I think is best for the country. Notice I said what is good for the country, not for me. I believe that my duty as an American is to pay the country back for all the amazing opportunities it has given me. I’m willing to put my brothers/sisters interests in front of my own because I don’t need anything. When I go vote, I try to not think about what’s necessarily best for me; I think about what’s the best for everyone. I am willing to vote for me to pay more taxes than others to ensure that our children have a shot at succeeding because I want them to have the kind of opportunities that I earned (and yes, I earned them all). I want to vote so that my friends that contribute to this country and can’t vote have a voice. I want to make sure that my brothers/sisters that feel scared for their lives because of what they are know that this is not the direction this country should be taking. I vote to give the poor a voice.
I stood in line for 6.5 hours yesterday to cast my vote. I live in California. We are not a swing state. My polling place was at the North Hollywood Tujunga Public Library. The polls opened at 8 AM and when I got there at that time, the line was already wrapped around the block. A local news station was there, covering the long line and said they estimated there were about 600 people. My friend Steve and I got in line, wondering if we were going to be done by the time the Dallas Cowboys game started at 10 AM. Little did we know we were going to get out in time for NEXT WEEK’S Cowboys game. We weren’t prepared for the wait. We had coffee, I had a croissant, he had a blueberry muffin and we each had a bottle of water. That was it. We figured it would be a 3-4 hour wait. About 90 minutes it, we realized we were so ill-equipped for the day.
The people in line started befriending each other. I started hearing people talk about why they were there. There were so many stories about people that felt a responsibility to endure whatever was necessary to vote. It really felt like each person standing in that line thought their vote was the most important one of the election and that’s how it should be. There were occasional bursts of laughter as we stood there incredulous about how much time we were spending in that line. About three hours into the waiting, we started hearing people cheer on the other side of the building. We realized that people were so excited when they finally got to the end of the line to vote that they were all cheering because it was FINALLY their turn. We had people that would finish voting and run towards the long line to give us encouragement. They’d yell, “DON’T LEAVE! STAY! VOTE! IT’S WORTH IT! WE HAVE TO VOTE! DON’T LEAVE! WE HAVE TO DO THIS! IT’S SO IMPORTANT!”
Hours into this, hundreds of people stood in line, baking under the hot sun, some fanning themselves, sitting on the ground, wanting water, wanting to go to the bathroom. They didn’t leave. We all just stood there, telling each other how important it was to stay in that line. I saw people that gave up and walked away, hours into waiting but it was a small amount. Whenever someone would leave, you could tell there was a disappointment in the people that were standing near them. A woman said, “I can’t wait anymore. I have my daughter with me and have to go work.” I hated hearing this because I know this is a problem. Working class people that can’t take time off to go vote have to depend on people like me to make the right decisions for them because they don’t have the time.
Five hours into me waiting in line, I was in a bad mood. Tensions were high. Steve and I had gotten in a fight in line and had made up because we nothing else to do. I felt upset and annoyed. I kept thinking about all the things I had to do. I’m traveling on Election Day, which is why I had to vote early. I could’ve voted by mail but to be honest, I was afraid about the ballot getting lost in the mail… I’m so paranoid about THIS election specifically that I wanted to make sure my vote was taken care of. I was upset, I was tired but most importantly, I was motivated to stay in that line and vote. I was not going to leave. I didn’t care how long it was going to take.
Once you got to the end of the line, you didn’t just get to go in and vote. You were given a ticket (like a raffle ticket) and you had to wait for it to be called for you to go vote. This part didn’t make sense to me because the numbers were called randomly which meant some people ended up waiting longer than others. At least, they had set up a tent with chairs (which was the first time I got to sit after standing in line for 5.5 hours) so that we could sit while we waited. I ended up sitting next to these African American twins that I kept making eye contact with in the line. We’d look at each other like, “Yeah, we’re still here.” They were carrying Queen Sugar tote bags and we chatted about the show. We started laughing at how excited people got when their numbers were called. We also started laughing at how excited WE got when someone else’s number got called. I kept saying that people got so happy, it was like they were being called down to The Price is Right. After another hour, our numbers started getting called. Steve went first, then the twins and then me. When my number got called, I screamed and jumped up from my chair. I ran up to get my ballot. The twins were waiting to get their ballot when I walked up there….we were so giddy; I think I might’ve high-fived one of them. I ran to the booth and voted in minutes because at this point, I had all the propositions memorized.
Once I voted, I asked Steve to take a picture of me with my sticker. I wanted a memory from that day. The day I waited 6.5 hours to make my voice heard. I wanted to exercise my privilege as an American to vote because as a brown woman in the United States, I rarely get a chance to feel privileged. Yesterday, I got that chance. The chance to exercise my brown privilege in the form of a ballot.
Go out tomorrow. Wait it out.
The crowds tomorrow might be big.
Let your conviction be bigger.