My Patriotism, Who Knew?

For almost a week now, creeping unbidden into my brain is the image of me early voting. I keep seeing me walking across the voting precinct floor. I pause, touching the arm of the poll worker who is leading me to my machine. He is older, African American, and he pauses too.

“I feel like I did when I voted for President Obama,” I tell him, trying to explain my emotion.

“It’s important, voting is,” he says.

I wipe my cheeks, and we proceed across the floor.

In my mind’s eye, as we walk, I am almost blind with tears. He is leading me with the touch of my fingertips on his arm. When we arrive at the booth, I fumble, confused about what to do next—after all, I’ve only voted for forty years—and he points to where I should insert my voting card. I laugh at how rattled I am, but, together, we get it done.

“You’re good to go,” he says and steps away, almost like an usher escorting one down the church aisle. Making sure I slide into my seat. Then retreating, his job complete.

It’s hard to ignore, this succession of our first Black president with possibly our first woman president. As I told the poll worker, I did tear up when voting for Obama, I was so joyful.

But I didn’t blind myself with tears. I didn’t fumble on how to work the voting machine. I didn’t dress up in my lawyer clothes from 1982, and I didn’t pause before pressing “CAST VOTE,” wanting to make sure this was really, really real.

Nor, when I voted for Obama, did I insist on stopping outside the polling place so I could take a photo.

When I’d planned my early voting experience—another thing I didn’t do when voting for Obama—I’d envisioned a voting site swamped with campaign workers waving signs on the sidewalks. I anticipated finding a Clinton worker and asking if I could pose with her sign while I took a picture. I’d forgotten we were early voting, and campaign workers wouldn’t be present.

So when we got outside, I scanned for a place to take a photo. And my gaze landed on the flag. The good ol’ Stars and Stripes. The “I’m not really a fan of flag-waving, rah-rah, American patriotism” flag.

I wanted to take my photo with that flag.

I stationed myself beside the flag, and my husband waited until those crossing in front of us departed. As I posed, I felt myself lifting my chin. I wanted to say, “THIS is America. Me, voting for our first female president.”

Then I knew. There’s nothing wrong with my patriotism. The problem is, my love of America has been tainted by the gap between what we claim for ourselves and who we really are. I’d never thought that before. I’d thought my values were different—I don’t like violence, and everyone waves the flag so militaristically. I didn’t realize my ambivalence about my country was because, over and over and over again, it had personally failed to show me it considered me equal to a man. 

She might lose, I don’t know. But the political system gave me an opportunity to vote for her. So I thank you, America and Hillary Rodham Clinton, for giving me a moment of unadulterated patriotism.

Me and the Flag

Me and the Flag—reusing this picture because I didn’t tell y’all how odd it was for me to snuggle up to the flag


Comments

My Patriotism, Who Knew? — 2 Comments

  1. Nothing wrong with your patriotism, Ellen. We are the values voters (along with those wise black women) who live the aspirations of a country founded on freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness.

Your comments change this post from words hanging in the air to a conversation. What do you think?