After the midterms, we had our writers and editors reflect on what the election meant to them.
I cast my first ballot ever on November 6, 2012. I woke up early for a college student, but normal enough for me, a morning person, and scampered across the crisp dorm lawn to the enormous structure serving as a gym and all around activities center for a campus of over 55,000 students, faculty, and staff. I don’t recall, even roughly, the number of such individuals in attendance sweating it out that morning (and I would join them soon enough), but the line to vote was nonexistent. Awkward and unsure, I entered the designated room that less than twelve hours prior likely hosted a Zumba or yoga class, or perhaps that energetic something I’ve heard called BODYPUMP™ (one word, all caps). At 6:30 or maybe 7 or maybe 8, the air was still but not stale, cleansed and scented by the janitorial staff made invisible at University volition. I walked in and voted as Democrat as one central Illinois ballot could allow, walked out and began my workout. I commemorated the occasion with a photo of my left hand, the errant site of my merited “I VOTED” sticker. My nails were pink.
My nails are black today as they were on election day, another November 6th, when I deigned once again to vote in a nation and for a party that continues to consider votes from people who look like me less than useless—rather, null and void. I stood in line among people who mostly look nothing like me because I live among these people, which means voting during the pre-9-a.m. rush hour took about an hour and not over four hours as in Fulton County, Georgia, where so many black folks lined up to vote in the first black woman governor despite the aggressive voter suppression campaign instituted by its current Secretary of State Brian Kemp—also, coincidentally, Stacey Abrams’ opponent. When white people lament apathy as the real problem plaguing eligible voters, I wonder if they have any idea what it takes to be black and vote. I don’t just mean spiritually or ethically, but physically. Coastal elites—sounds much less ironic than it used to—spend so much time castigating the South entire for the measures of its white elites it’s no wonder they can’t see the sweat and tears of the very black rank and file turning out remarkable outcomes under the most duress. White people cannot even perceive when black people are in pain, so, of course they can’t tell the difference between apathy and exhaustion. As I, under the least duress, held my as-yet empty ballot, the white woman ahead of me in line offered me luck in “voting for the first time.” Sigh.
My memory of the 2016 election is vivid. Millennial that I am I see and remember the world through social media and so, more than lines at the polls, more than an election party (an abhorrent concept), more than the gamified real-time results turned off at an early 9 p.m. bedtime, I remember the Instagrammable face of assured progress. I remember seeing that face returned to me over and over the next day by the cruelty of an algorithm craving engagement over ethics. I remember the mourning, but also the energy as (some) friends and peers leapt headfirst into the grassroots sensibilities, awakening for the first time to the idea of meaningful political change beyond the grounds of civic duty. But the civic is there, much as it so often fails us (on purpose), much as it resists the real sweeping tidal wave required to free people. But the civic is there. Illinois’s very red, very white, very benevolently racist 14th District—carrying my very red, very white, very racist hometown in its bowels—just voted Lauren Underwood with her afro and blue dress into Congress. If that can happen, I’m ready to believe in anything.
—Lauren Michele Jackson