28 April 2014

I am in the famous Mystic Pizza, in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, where a young, unformed Julia Roberts grins from a fading movie poster. Out the window, the late November sky gathers cold, grey and moist, wanting to snow. Townspeople, bundled up, hurry in and rush out with sizzling pizza in boxes.



Against the wall, serenely oblivious, gold and silver and rainbow colored fish shimmer and wiggle and dart in the warm water of their tank. I recall my first time snorkeling, after running a terrible marathon in Hawaii. There I was, just a gal from Ohio, glimpsing creatures underwater so exquisitely beautiful and diverse and beyond my imagination that my eyes teared.



And now, on my walks through this centuries-old New England village, I pass an old, squat, one story red brick building. It sits apart from the surrounding three-story wood structures. No filigree porch or widow’s walk. Above the door a flaking brown sign states in white: Fourth District Voting Hall.



I imagine the first generations of Mystic Seaport citizens, men named Asa and Clark and Erasmus gathering in this one story room. Squared-jawed, strong smelling, hardy whalers, boat builders, proprietors, farmers, even the town ne’er do well, stomping the mud off their boots, nodding a terse hello.



Perhaps it was a fine meeting or fraught with conflict. No matter what, I must imagine that in that small room, if a citizen didn’t show to vote, he was missed. Raising one’s hand or not, in agreement or not, they looked around the room for consensus to direct the future of their town and our democracy.



They felt entitled to a say and damn it, they said it. A village that’s been around since the rebellion from King George has a cellular, generational memory of the struggle for self-rule. This Hall is a unyielding assertion and protection of the Mystic people’s most fundamental right in a democracy; the right to vote in mortar and brick.



As part of the Los Angeles Citizens Election Protection Task Force I read the reports filed by Poll workers for Democracy and voters' calls made to the EP hot line (866 OUR VOTE) on election day, 11/07. Outrage and confusion as folks on the rolls for years are suddenly not registered to vote. Others spend hours in search of a familiar polling place that has moved without notice. Callers are worried because blase poll workers are pitching their ballots into an open box, or the machines have failed to register their votes. Conversely, others fear that the machines are working all TOO well and their votes will be glitched.



The Voting Hall has vanished. But our urge to be counted, thank the heavens, still burns. We still hitch up the horse and search for the old brick voting hall. Why else do I read that a man takes half his day to relentlessly ping- pong from one purported polling place to another? Why else does a young woman tearfully argue for her right to vote on a real ballot, not a provisional one? Why else do the newly trained poll workers passionately fight for the voters to be treated fair and square and not like second class citizens?



This is the amazing beauty of our species that glimmers and catches the light.



For once and all, we have got to address the systemic failures and the anti-democratic thugs, or to be kind, the willful amnesiacs, who deny their fellow citizens’ fundamental right to enter the Voting Hall. It is an indignity so primal I feel generations of Americans standing with us, to shake their fists in righteous indignation.



This is our shame. Not the kind of shame to tick our heads a little and sigh. This is a shame that has darkness in it. It is dead wrong. It demands we act.



We the people must resurrect the Voting Hall.



“I am up between what’s right and wrong.”

- Nanny, Lakawanna Blues