Ray Charles, Democracy and the US of A

I watched Scott vote today. Went into the polling booth with him, pulled the curtain behind us, and watched him pull the big lever at the bottom from right to left, which turns on a light outside the booth to say there’s a-votin’ going on. Then he flipped little levers in a long column to indicate his choices for president, senator, and a whole raft of other stuff. When he was done and had checked it and doublechecked it and then checked it again, he pulled the big lever down the bottom all the way back to the left to make his vote good and turn the light off, clearing the way for the next voter.

It was nothing like how we vote back home. We Australians are a primitive people who rely on paper ballots and pencils; not polling booths that look like a cross between the Tardis and some kind of high-faluting time machine from the 1930s.

The polling station was doing a steady business. There wasn’t much of the crying and laughing and general high spirited this-is-the-most-important-election-of-modern-US-history vibe I’ve been hearing about from my friends in other parts of the country and reading about all over the web. I mean this is the East Village in New York City where everything is a foregone conclusion, but, hey it was still pretty nice. One of the women working there—her job was to take your voter card thingie just before you go in the booth—she couldn’t stop smiling. She asked me if I was feeling it. I said sure, but I’m foreign and not voting so I’m feeling it for you. She laughed out loud. I wished her and her country luck. She grinned and said it was going to be just fine and luck had nothing to do with it.

Out on the street, Scott yelled, and I yelled too cause his exultation was contagious. I’ve never felt exultant about voting back home where it’s compulsory and if you don’t vote you get fined. But Scott voted and we both got tears in our eyes. How about that?

Then we went home and obsessively surfed and read hundreds of fabulous voter stories from all over the country. Of people who always get to the polls early so they can be first to vote and suddenly found themselves behind a queue of fifty people. Everywhere people were turning out in record numbers and dancing when they voted, declaring that voting had never felt so good.

It wasn’t all good news: I got an email from a friend who’d had their right to vote challenged in New Jersey and had to vote provisionally (provisional votes very often get thrown out on technicalities). This makes my head spin. Like I said, back home you have to vote.

Today all anyone can talk about is voting, the unprecedented turnout, the election, what it all means. No one can sit still. I sure as hell can’t. I didn’t even try. Instead I left my diligent hard-working husband and went to the movies.

I saw Ray the new biopic about Ray Charles. Unbelieveable. I cried pretty much the whole way through. It’s extraordinary. The movie summed up everything I adore about this country. There I said it: I love the US of A. It also hit everything I hate about it too. The racism, the myopia, the—well, you all know the list. Who cares? Today I’m seeing the creativity, the music, the strength, the blind black man refusing to play in front of a segregated audience and getting banned from ever playing in Georgia again (a ban not lifted until 1979!). I just see the people getting out and voting despite all the obstacles placed in their way, despite the fact that it’s raining, or that some other folks are trying to stop them. They’re just going about their business of getting out the vote.

I love this place.

New York City, 2 November 2004