My friend Lisa arrived at the nine a.m. class this morning fresh from voting. “I did something I’ve never done before in my life,” she announced, one eyebrow cocked naughtily. “I voted in the Republican primary. My little stake in the ground for sanity,” she said. She voted for John Kasich. More accurately, she voted against the Donald. In Massachusetts, “un-enrolled” independent voters like Lisa (and me) get to choose which party’s primary to vote in, on the spot. Some diehard Democrats even changed their party affiliation to un-enrolled just so they could cast a vote against Donald Trump.
Here in our nation’s birthplace, we are unapologetically progressive. But we are also sensible, pragmatic Yankees. We’ve elected any number of fine, moderate Republican governors: including our current governor, Charlie Baker, who has a statewide approval rating over 70% and is as practical and hard-working as his name suggests. So we’re not exclusively kneejerk liberal scum, is what I’m trying to say here. Yes, we gave you the Kennedys and Liz Warren (you’re welcome), but you may also thank us for Mitt Romney if you are conservatively inclined. I’ll wager we are more capable of being fair and balanced than many states.
I was impressed that Lisa went for it and took the Republican ballot. Hamlet-like, I’ve been chewing on the question for a couple of weeks: Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the cognitive dissonance of casting a vote for some Grumpy Old Patriarchy grouch, even if only as a protest vote against the Trumpeting tide; or to weigh in on the Democratic side, where I am reasonably confident my candidate of choice (I’m with her) will ultimately prevail.
In considering the possibility of being a Republican for a day, I’ve been paying closer attention to the GOP candidates’ visits here in Massachusetts. I’m actually okay with this fellow John Kasich. I heard him interviewed yesterday by the local NPR station. He was thoughtful and unpretentious. The reporter asked if Mr. Kasich intends to go on the attack against Trump, playing the dependable labrador retriever to Rubio’s Jack Russell terrier-on-crack. (In this analogy, Trump is a preening Afghan with flowing locks, and nose held high.) Anyway, Governor Kasich responded to the question this way: “No. I am not interested in trading insults. At the end of the day, the ones I have to answer to, whether I win or lose, are the people who love and trust me, my friends and family. Will they say I conducted myself with integrity?” I see why Lisa chose him for her protest vote. If I have to be a Republican for a day, he’s my guy.
I love voting in the town where I live. Lincoln, Massachusetts is wedged between her more famous neighbors, Lexington and Concord. Little known fact: Paul Revere was captured here. Half of Walden Pond (but not Thoreau’s cabin) is here, too. On the fourth of July, members of the local Minuteman militia don revolutionary garb and read the Declaration of Independence aloud, against a backdrop of stone walls and fields rolling away for acres. They fire their muskets in a volley of respect at the end of the reading. One year, the shots took an elderly lady by surprise, and she fainted and tipped off the stone wall she was sitting on, right into a lawn chair on the ground below.
We are a small town with a population of roughly six thousand. Since I’ve lived here for over twenty years, I know most of the people my age and older, and feel disconcerted not to recognize the young parents I see in the grocery market or post office. Our senior citizens’ community comprises folks who were social activists in the sixties and seventies. I’ve met people who marched on Selma, and some who picketed the Vietnam War. They may have protested against the government then, but now they are the backbone of the town, modeling engaged citizenship for the rest of us. They work the polls every election, Emily and Joanna, Barbara, Jeff, Sandy and Susie, to name a few.
The polls are set up in the elementary school. You walk past the kindergarten hallway and a first grade classroom to get to the polling place in the gym. We have two precincts; I head straight for the welcome table for Precinct 1. Emily is working check-in today. She and her lovely husband Graham are members of our church, and in their retirement, they board dogs for a small circle of lucky friends and neighbors. I’ll be seeing her on Thursday when I drop Westley off at her house while John and I go to New York for a few nights. Emily is one-of-a-kind: vivacious, opinionated, sweet, and hilarious. I get to the front of the line and she checks the box next to my name with her red marker. The moment of decision has come for me. “Which ballot do we want, dearie,” she asks, her hand hovering meaningfully over the pile of ballots with red banners – ironically, these are the ballots for the Democratic ticket. “I’m thinking,” I tell her, as I consider the blue-labeled GOP ballot (who decided on this color coding, I wonder) with Kasich’s name on it. Emily raises a cautionary eyebrow, as if she knows that if I do this, if I vote as a Republican, even this once, even only in protest, some small part of me will wither and die. I am aware that someone else is stepping up to the check-in desk, that we haven’t got all day. “Democratic, I guess.” I am a little disappointed in myself. “Good girl!” says Emily briskly, like I’m one of her furry guests who’s just peed in the right part of the garden.
With my black Sharpie, I fill in the oval by Hillary Clinton’s name and I am unexpectedly filled with a rising sense of pride and hope, much as I felt when I voted for Barack Obama in the primary against Clinton, eight years ago. I just cast a vote for a woman for president, for the first time in my life. She has issues: she’s hawkish, she’s cozy with Wall Street, she’s status quo, she’s shady. But she’s also whip-smart, battle-tested and she works so damn hard. I identify with her path, the compromises she’s had to make, the scars in her psyche from bumping her head against the glass ceiling. Like me, she’s probably sick-to-death of a parade of men who pass laws telling her what she can do with her body, while refusing to enact legislation that pays her equally for her work.
I cast my vote today in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I count myself lucky.