Confessions of a Political Addict

My name is Lea Wait and, I could measure my life by elections. 

My family bought their first television set to watch the 1956 political conventions. I remember lying on my stomach on the floor of our family room in New Jersey, fascinated by the banners and voting. In early 1960 my grandmother took me to Washington. She was trying to get a passport so she could return to Scotland, where she’d spent time as a child, but all proofs of where she’d been born had been destroyed in a Boston fire. She was unsuccessful, but I fell in love with Washington. I remember every minute of that trip, but two places stand out. First, the National Archives. Seeing the actual documents I’d read about in history classes, with the real signatures. Not just the Declaration and the Constitution, but (OK, I was a geek,) but I remember standing in awe in front of the actual Gadsden Purchase.

But the highlight of the trip was sitting above the Senate Chamber, seeing it in action. Senators Bartlett and Gruening from the then new state of Alaska were presenting a bill. No; I don’t remember what it was for. But I decided at that moment that some day I wanted to work in Washington; maybe even be a Senator. 

That summer I watched the 1960 convention sitting on the floor in front of a TV in the house we owned by then in Maine — the same home I live in today. I begged to stay up as late as it was on. The Democratic convention was one of the most exciting conventions ever — votes and more votes. Compromises and negotiations. I loved the roll calls and kept my own talleys. My parents and grandparents were Republicans, but that didn’t matter. I loved the theatre of it all. 

It was after that convention that I began collecting political memorabilia — buttons, tickets to conventions and inaugurations and impeachments, signatures, and other campaign miscellanea from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (I sold my collection a couple of years ago, but somehow the inaugural ball ticket pictured, escaped.)

Ticket to 1973 Inaugural Ball (Nixon's 2nd Inauguration)

I wasn’t as active in politics as many Baby Boomers were — but the Civil Rights, Peace, and Women’s Rights movements of the sixties and early seventies were the background of my life, as they were for many people my age. As I think back, I wish I’d done more. In high school, I had a friend whose family actively supported south and central American revolutionaries, and I met many of them. (I often wonder exactly who they were. I was trusted to know where they were, and in some cases what they were doing, but was never told their names.) 

I was involved in a lot of late-night discussions. I took part in some demonstrations for the causes I believed in. I handed out leaflets at a steel mill in Pittsburgh, where I went to college. I registered to vote as soon as I was 21 so I could vote for George McGovern in the Democratic primary and after college joined the Village Independent Democrats in New York City, passed out more leaflets, and stuffed envelopes. Many of my friends were Vietnam Veterans Against the War, but most of them wore suits to work. 

One of my high school friends’ sister was on the FBI’s “most wanted list” (for actions related to Civil Rights issues) for a while and neighbors in Greenwich Village told me I was being investigated by the FBI. I considered that an honor. It was that kind of time.   

But I believed in working within the system. Sometimes it worked. A speech I wrote started Bell System retirees’ reaching out to poor, predominantly African-American, areas, and tutoring in schools. More often, the system didn’t work. Or worked too slowly to make a real difference. But I never missed voting in a presidential or mid-term election. 

When I had children I took them with me to the polls, to show them how important it was. Now that I work at home, my husband (who has an interest in politics similar to mine,) jokes that CNN is our best friend; we watch it for a couple of hours each day. Sometimes (yes, I’m confessing) more. 

When I moved to Maine full-time, one of my first steps was to go to our Town Hall to register to vote. The town clerk, who I already knew, informed me, with a smile, that I didn’t need to worry about that — I could register on election day. “Just come on in. We’ll get you registered, Lea,” she said. “No problem.”

Used to states where you had to register at least six weeks in advance of an election, I insisted on registering early anyway. When I went to vote in Maine for the first time I was secretly delighted to find that, as usual, Maine did it their way. For the first time in my life I was handed a paper ballot and a pencil. After I’d marked the paper I was instructed to fold it, and put it in the large wooden box on the table in the center of the room. The same box they’d used for over a hundred years.  After the polls closed, the box would be opened, and the votes counted by hand and the totals called in.

Four years ago my husband was one of those who counted the ballots. Tonight our next door neighbor will be taking a turn. Then he’ll be joining his wife and daughter and another couple at our house to await the returns from the rest of the country. On CNN,of course.

Here in Maine we’re voting for a senator, with an independent candidate a strong contender with the Republican and Democratic candidates to replace Olympia Snowe. We have a ballot issue on approving same sex marriage. We have local elections. And, above all, there’s the presidency. Of course, I have strong opinions about each of those decisions.

Not all of us waiting in my living room tonight will have voted the same way. But we’ll talk, and nosh, and have a few drinks. I predict more than a few, if the night grows long. Some of us will no doubt end the evening happier than others. But we’ll still be friends tomorrow. And the world — and the United States – and the State of Maine – will continue.

After all. There’s a mid-term election in only two years. Another presidential election in four. We always have another chance. That’s the wonderful thing about our country.

So — no matter who you’re voting for, if you haven’t cast your ballot already, now’s the time. Of course, I hope your preferences are the same as mine. I could tell you why. A lot of reasons why. But you have your own reasons. Now’s the time for all of us to stop talking, and let our ballots speak for us.

 

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8 Responses to Confessions of a Political Addict

  1. Deanna says:

    We still vote on paper ballots with pencil and the ballot is hand cranked into the box! Dee

  2. MCWriTers says:

    When my boys were little, I took them with me to the polls. We were standing in line and my younger son said, “Mom, I don’t see any boats.” I said, “Max, what do you mean?” He said, “Well, mom, you said we were going to boat.” We’ve called it boating ever since. I can’t wait to go and boat today.

    On a class trip to Washington when we were seniors, we were able to glance through a door in the Capitol building and see Senator Edward Kennedy giving a speech. There was sun glinting off that marvelous head of Kennedy hair and he looked like he was wearing a halo. Never respected him as a person, but I think he was a great senator. And when I was little, I wanted to grow up to be Margaret Chase Smith. I got to be her in a school mock election debate. I won on ideas but lost the election.

    Kate

  3. Olivia D'Alessandro says:

    Lea, you have no idea how much I enjoyed this post. It brought back so many memories for me. Most importantly, though, it was KINDLY written. A soft voice among so many strident ones. Thank you.

  4. John Clark says:

    Great post! I remember the 1968 days of rage in Chicago. That convinced me that I would NEVER miss an election and I haven’t. This time around, I agreed to be press secretary/PR person for a young man running as a democrat for the Maine house in a heavily republican district. We’re excited by the response to his knocking on over 2000 doors. I’m sure I’ll be bleary eyed come tomorrow.

  5. Lea Wait says:

    Oh, Kate, I wanted to be Margaret Chase Smith, too! We’ll have to share her memory. I was so excited when she was nominated at the convention. One of many memorable moments. And I love “boating.” And, Dee — a crank for the ballots! Your town must be very up-to-date. If tonight we hear of any states where voting machines are breaking down … I’ll think of places like hours where people are still counting by hand, slowly — but surely. John — how exciting. Hope your man wins. I suspect there will be a lot of bleary eyes tomorrow … this one looks like a close one …

  6. Joan Emerson says:

    In the aftermath of the storm, we have folks voting by e-mail or fax, using provisional ballots, or even requesting absentee ballots as late as five o’clock this afternoon . . . our local voting place was packed — so good to see everyone turning out. Like John, we never miss casting our vote in an election . . . .

  7. Lea Wait says:

    That’s wonderful, Joan! The more people come out to vote — especially under difficult circumstances — the prouder we can all be to be Americans. So many people live in countries where they can’t vote — or their votes don’t mean as much as they do here. Not to use the right we have to vote is to hand that responsibility to others. Which is exactly what the United States was founded to protest.

  8. Barb Ross says:

    I waited in line for an hour to vote today–but there are countries where people walk for days to the polls just for the privilege. It is a wonderful right and I never miss a chance to exercise it.

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