Tuesday September 13, 2005 – sometime in the afternoon – Bushwick Polling Station
What is the sound of hope? what kind of beast grating its underbelly against the sand is the sound of something changing?
Today I am working a nightmare job for the Board of Elections. I got to the polling station at 5:30AM and I have to be there till well after the polls close at 9PM. Most of the voters coming through are Puerto Ricans, many of whom command little or no English, part of the old Puerto Rtican neighborhood not quite gentrified out of East Williamsburg and Bushwick. But that of course is not why the job today is a nightmare. I’ll get to that.
There is a continuous believeing that has to be in place to allow 70-80 year old abuelas to leave their houses and come out for a Democratic Primary (and I do believe it’s more than just Fernando Ferrer). In a media driven pseudo-reality we are often told in one way or another that these immigrants; the ones who will not learn English, who will not integrate are the hindrance to America’s eventual vision. Still, in my district, in the polling station in which I work, they are the only Americans who are coming our consistently and demanding voice. They argue about how long they’ve been voting at the same polling station and that it shouldn’t take forever to find their names on the ledgers. They fist withering voting cards – some with registration dates as far back as the 70s – out of almost-as-old-wallets. They inquire after the candidates names. The Portalatin family all came together; mother, father and two grown daughters. Others bring their young children and took them into the booth with them so they could see what they were doing (the polling station coordinator prevented one mother from doing so – whole ‘nother story dem people I’m working with).
What is the sound of hope? what is the weight of a collective buying-in? selling out? Is this fighting, dogged determination or blindness?
I have something of a pinched nerve in my back and I’ve had to sit here so long I’ve finished all 340 pages of Esmeralda Santiago’s 3rd memoir “The Turkish Lover”, and have began Li-Young Lee’s memoir “The Winged Seed” again.
Every now and then, the very rosy, earnest face of a young, liberal hipster, will also come by, and it is almost a surreality then, that even the dreams and beliefs that live in these voting booths are being gentrified – not that one judges the votes but you can almost see the promise of a bullshit American dream passing out of vogue.
Now for the shit-talk. So the woman next to me, in that ultra self-officious way that folks will sometimes have if they feel they have a spot over you in some mysterious totem-pole, informsbme early in the day (like I give a fuck at 6:10AM) that not-to-worry, she has a lot of experience doing this and she knows that this is my first time, but she been doing this so many years… (doesn’t it already sound like dialogue from a porn scene?) and it’s easy. She then proceeds to not be able to find a Vargas in a haystack of fucking Smiths or a Johnson in a haystack of freakin’ Valderramas and she’s fucking up forms (I fucked up one form myself) and the count card and the order card and I’m on absolutely no sleep, so I don’t even have the energy to tell tell her she’s fuckin’ it up, because after all she’s got a lot of experience doing this in her shiny flowered-ass shirt. So then she decides “you fill out the cards and I’ll look for the names” but I have to look for the names over her shoulder anyway, because she’s staring directly at Paula Villareal and shouting “we got no Paula Villareal on this list” and I’m like “uhm, uhm, excuse me… her name’s… like… right there…” and this is a 15 hour freakin workday…
Later in the afternoon…
So it’s about 5PM now, so check it out. There’s just been a major dust-up at the polls here. So this older dude, Mr. Johnson is showing a woman and her daughter into the booth. He directs them to swing the lever over to the position where they can make their voting choices. Over comes the poll station co-ordinator shouting “No no no!!! they can’t vote now. they’ve already clicked the lever twice so they’ve made a selection!!” Mr. Johnson says “No, they’ve only swung the lever over once. look at where it is now! You have to let them make their choice!” Co-ordinator lady grabs the lever and says “No, it’s over! they’ve voted!” The woman and her daughter back away but start arguing their cause in Spanish. The co-ordinator woman is cussing them back out in Spanish and Mr. Johnson, is like… “C’mon now, this nonsense. You gotta let the people vote…”
I’m rolling on the floor laughing, partly out of the delirium borne of fatigue. I finally get up say excuse me and start reading the instructions on the voting booth. I finally stop giggling enough to say “ uhm, uhm, excuse me according to the instructions here, I think that when the lever is in the position it is now they can vote. I believe we have to let them vote.” The co-ordinator lady has been holding onto the lever all this time. There are American citizens waiting in line to vote and witnessing the entire debacle (including the part with me rolling on the floor). Co-ordinator lady throws up her hands. The people vote. Long live America. Democracy is in action!!
Also here are pictures of me on the bike in the costume in Seattle. They're great!!
There are more Seattle pictures to come.