by Marian Exall
The name Red Wheelbarrow Writers is from the iconic poem by William Carlos Williams. They are a loose affiliation of Bellingham based writers. Meeting at least twice monthly to support, encourage and learn from one another — creating community, building skills, and having fun. They can be found at www.redwheelbarrowwriters.com and the Facebook page, www.facebook.com.
I got my U.S. citizenship the old-fashioned way: I earned it. I filled out reams of forms, listed every address where I’d slept more than one night, studied hard for the test, and sat for hours in the corridors of the Atlanta Immigration and Naturalization Service offices as my 9 a.m. appointment slouched towards noon. And that was just the culmination of a decade-long process.
I came to the States in 1977 as a dependent on my husband’s intra-company transfer visa, good for a year, renewable for another year. By 1979, we had a second baby and faced the fact that we were no longer a globetrotting couple with a two-year-maximum horizon. We applied for Permanent Residence — a Green Card. We didn’t retain an immigration lawyer – how hard could it be? We were both college-educated native English speakers. Months later, after humiliating medical examinations, and laughable English language competency tests, we found ourselves waiting with burkha-clad women and nervous students for our INS interview. It was the height of the Iran Hostage Crisis, and every Iranian in the U.S. had been called in to verify their immigration status.
I could have jogged along happily with my Green Card forever, I suppose. Other ex-patriot friends have done that. But I ached to vote! I was always interested in politics. My undergraduate degree is from the London School of Economics, or “the London School of Bloody Commies” as my conservative father was pleased to call it. I doorbelled for Harold Wilson in the 1974 election that returned the Labour Party to power in the U.K. I marched against the Vietnam War and boycotted South African fruit at our local greengrocers.
So in 1991, I stood proudly with several hundred other new citizens from all over the world in the Atlanta Civic Center and pledged my allegiance to the United States of America. I have voted in every election since. Not just the big ones, the once-every-four-years presidential, but the mid-terms, the primaries, the judicial (I’m still at a loss why state judges are elected not appointed), the school board, the water board, the dog catcher. Yes, I’m a voting junkie, and I do my research. I read the Voters Pamphlet, I go to the League of Women Voters’ candidates’ forum, and I take notice of endorsements.
I don’t expect every citizen to be as gung-ho as I am, but for God’s sake, people, vote!
In the recent presidential election, only 60 percent of eligible voters did so. Over 92 million citizens eligible to vote couldn’t be bothered. (Figures from the United States Elections Project.) Couldn’t shift their sorry asses to find out where their polling place was, or, in Washington State where mail-in voting makes it super-easy, lacked the energy or interest to fill in the blanks and wander down to their mail box.
I looked at other places I’ve lived to see if voter apathy is a global phenomenon, and found that U.S. voter participation is abysmally low by international standards.
In the recent first round of the presidential election in France, 80 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot: four out of five Frenchmen and women were engaged enough in the democratic process to vote in the equivalent of a primary election. And that was down from the last presidential election in 2007 when 84 percent of eligible voters voted. Belgium saw an even higher rate of voter participation in the most recent national elections: 87 percent. I was appalled at the results of the recent U.K. referendum on leaving the European Union, but at least that decision was taken by 72 percent of the electorate, a slightly higher percentage than had voted in recent parliamentary elections. (Figures from the Pew Research Center.)
Like many who were disappointed at the November election results, I have progressed through various stages of grief. I can’t say I’ve reached acceptance, but I’m certainly not going to hide under the covers for the next four years. At sixty-seven years old, four years represents a substantial portion of my future. Life is too precious to waste. There are too many wonderful places to go and experiences to savor. I know how privileged I am to be white, wealthy and living in this beautiful Fourth Corner of the U.S.A. However, one thing still keeps me seething with anger: the apathy of Americans who didn’t cast a vote.
“In a democracy, voting is the least we can do.” Gloria Steinem.
Can I get an Amen?
After a career as an employment lawyer, Marian Exall now writes what she loves to read: mysteries! Like her heroine Sarah McKinney, Marian was born and raised in England. She lived in Atlanta for thirty years before moving to Bellingham where she hikes, gardens and does grandparent duty. www.marianexall.com or www.facebook.com/mysterymarianexall