Our New Orleans columnist, queuing at the voting booth, opens himself up to taking the full measure of the moral and political bluster around him
The weather has turned in America. And the situation has nothing to do with global warming. Or icebergs melting. Or seas rising.
Weather goes beyond metaphor these days. This past week a tropical storm that insanely spawned snow rushed into the eastern seaboard. “Tropical”. “Snow”. There lies a word pairing I would have never before thought possible. This tropical invasion up north was followed down south by a pervasive cold front that pushed aside the Gulf of Mexico’s usually balmy warm air and wafted in my own windows. After sleeping under only sheets for a full year, I had to pull blankets from storage. The fruit on my banana trees stopped ripening.
And then there was this deep, damp chill that followed all across the region, a frigid personal-attack thermal penetration that disregarded protective clothing. I live in a very warm place. This is not normal, not seasonal. Not here. Not now, I reasoned.
Then I remembered: it is all-too-suddenly November. An Election Day is coming. A political freeze is imminent.
So I chose to consider the weather as poetry, meteorological verse that philosophically alludes to a depressing realization. That humanity, no matter its overwhelming intellectual rationale, can never ever turn back the winds of a world gone feral.
The week has progressed, and I have begun watching old sci-fi series from my DVD collection for an evening’s entertainment. Fantasy fiction, you see. I have had regular TV turned off for weeks now, as I can no longer bear broadcast or cable programming. Not The Nightly News. Nor the 24/7 Headline News. For months the organized fact-benders have each and every one been infected with screaming rants, political venom, outright lies and twisted finger-pointing. I will not have my emotional life tainted any further by the same exact sort of unthinking malevolent force that a few days ago assaulted the country physically via actual atmospheric movement.
Interestingly enough, I once thought I would always be able to recognize the Good Guys. And good weather. But in 2012 that has become exceedingly difficult. Possibly some scientist will soon invent an emotional weather satellite, equipping it with radar that will allow a graphic on those recurring news programs, a moving illustration that will electronically detail the whereabouts of intense storms of hatred or intolerance or untruth. I would watch that show on a regular basis, especially because I am a sucker for avoidance.
I think there is actually quite a formidable avoidance demographic in America in these days of political tsunami. We avoiders watch old sci-fi.
* * *
The last week of hot-winded blustering has finally passed.
This morning, shortly after the doors opened at 6am, I waited in a room filled with dozens of my neighbors, queued in front of voting booths at St Paul’s Lutheran school, four blocks from my home. We were all dressed more warmly than usual against the modest chill that arrived yet again over the weekend in sub-tropical New Orleans, well too early for this latitude.
I was voter number nineteen to sign into the line for Ward Eight Precinct One. Famed Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, who lives around the corner, was just in front of me, waiting for his own chance to pull the lever. I had not had coffee yet, and was foggy from staying up late to watch this year’s ill-fated version of the New Orleans Saints football team somehow dominate Philadelphia on Monday Night Football.
Nothing to do, decisions long made, and no real emotional weather satellite yet on-line, I tried to open up sensors and take measure of the moral and political temperature around me.
I am proud to say that mine is a working neighborhood, not “working” as associated with class, but rather an area where people are always doing something, on one level or another. There are chefs and mobile vegetable vendors, canvas painters and house painters, wood sculptors and cypress shutter makers, glass blowers and corresponding political pundits blowing as they do. There are hundreds of gardeners, and dozens upon dozens of ethnic, religious and racial definitions. We seem to get along just fine.
The Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, and the City of New Orleans, voted overwhelmingly for Barrack Hussein Obama in 2008, even though the overall state went oppositely Republican. And, astonishingly enough, that GOP majority indicated that they wanted a gadfly named Sarah Palin to be positioned a mere heartbeat from the presidency’s nuclear weapon option, with only an aging veteran Senator between her and the trigger to the End of Days.
Here I might mention that much of the northern half of the state of Louisiana is overwhelmingly conservative, a population that prides itself on still adhering to the mores and values of its greatest days, those of the mid-nineteenth century Confederate States of America. So, if a moderately attractive Alaskan female said she hunted elk, fished for salmon, and could spot the Commie fatherland from her front porch, well that was good enough to put her in Washington as far as they were concerned. And of course give her the keys to the bomb.
But further to the true south in 2008, residents of the Marigny created a sense of joy and purpose in this same room, the place where we again gather to vote today in 2012. In 2008 parents were carrying their small children into the voting booths to see Mom & Dad participate in an historic act. There was a great deal of seemingly unwarranted laughter filling the energized atmosphere, like someone was handing out pinkly puffed cotton candy -- we had all won prizes at the democracy fair. It was an exhilarating experience, the instilling of a deep-set belief in each of our hearts that we would come out of the day as winners all. Rather like the Saints last night.
There was this “Hope” thing.
I fear I may not again visit such a feeling in my lifetime.
Especially this morning, 6 November 2012, there is an altogether different vibe filling the polling station. No one wants to be here. I can tell. Glances at one another are few and quickly averted. It is as if, even in winning, we failed four years ago. Today we are brought back here again to this place to atone for that failure, even though it was orchestrated far from us geographically and spiritually.
Shortly after January 2009, Americans of all ilks quickly found that they had no power in the government of the United States beyond that initial token vote, no matter the side they had taken in the election. After an all-too-brief period of functionality, the mechanism had swallowed its own tail, and was not to move forward for four long years.
We must now affirm that we do indeed wish to go there. Forward. That is the theme of the day, we have been told by those we put in place. But Barrack’s new “Forward” banner is a hard read. Where else would we go after all? Unless, of course, we go forward into backward. With Romney and his hyperactive young partner, a badly-coiffed political wannabe hoping that he may one day become an even more strictured Dick Cheney, Jr., minus the bad heart valve and gay daughter.
Obama’s 2008 call to “Hope”, originally on banners rendered in colors and design the same as this new “Forward”, means something a great deal different this time around. Plain, honest hope has been shown to hold no power against goose-stepping truth-shy moralists and sexual revisionists. The tea-totallers ask: “Hope” for what? What is out there that we do not have already?
These are people who have recession-proof bank accounts. In the Caribbean, near the resorts. Who have logic-proof religious beliefs. In the Contemporary American Abridged Edition of the Bible, near the index. They have world-views that maintain absolutely no connection with the real world around them. And that blindness serves them well as they govern.
Strangely enough, some of them are women, females of the species who have decided that their place is, after all, in the home. They have accepted as fact that aging white protestant males living with servants in lavish government-funded housing on the urban, far eastern side of the country do indeed know what each woman must be required to do with her body in Montana, and Nevada, and California.
The folks standing in lines around me today, my close-at-hand neighbors, live much simpler lives, have much less liquid capital and much more self-worth. But today no parent has a child in hand to bear witness. There are no real smiles being exchanged. We are doing what we must. Even though we know that -- with this state outside of New Orleans doubtlessly again going Republican red, and with the convolution of the Electoral College awaiting just beyond election day to complete the dissolution of the popular will -- our votes are meaningless.
Still, we must vote. And we do. At six ten in the morning, it is both a relief and a profound burden to pull the lever. I walk home trying to flood my mind with what I must do in a few hours in a university classroom. I must teach about vision. I must speak and act energetically to keep a room full of young people excited about their future. I must stay focused there, and not worry about my own.
I do not want my heart to harbor what I know to be a serious possibility: that not only will my vote not count here in Louisiana, but that on the larger stage, across America, the real majority of the people who voted for change four years ago will be as disheartened as I am. And not vote. And that we will face a new, different brand of change come tomorrow.
The entire nation changed this weekend, from daylight savings time to standard time. I can only hope that American government does not follow the same rule as the clock.
Fall back, said time. Then moved forward.