— John Van Buren
This is a tough year for democracy. My Republican friends long for the good old days of the Bush era. My Democratic friends are already longing for the good old days of the Obama era.
Election stress disorder is a thing. I’ve gotten mail from readers telling me that they’re fighting with their spouses, and they’re ashamed to have their children watch the debates and listen to adults yelling about “bad hombres” and “nasty women.” The American Psychological Association revealed a survey stating that 1 in 4 American workers were stressed out by political discussions.
There is only one cure for election stress disorder: the vote.
My father’s mother, Grandma Sadie, was the only Irish woman on a German block in Glendale, New York. So of course she worked for the Democratic Party, and her neighborhood had the highest turnout in Queens County for Roosevelt, and then Truman. Grandma Sadie said, “Everyone votes in Glendale.” Then she looked knowingly across Myrtle Avenue to the Cypress Hills Cemetery and repeated, “Everyone.”
Now I’m not recommending that, but I will tell you that Grandma Sadie taught us that voting was our responsibility. She took it seriously because when she was born, women were not allowed to vote. Her parents were born in Ireland, where Catholics had been denied the vote for years by British property laws and gerrymandering. Grandma Sadie died soon after John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the first Catholic elected to the American presidency, but she left us with this one value.
There is only one cure: the vote.
Growing up in South Ozone Park, voting was a religious experience. Literally, as the polling place was in St. Anthony Church. Nurse Vivian and Pop took me into the booth, and I watched them pull the levers that make this society work.
When I met Brian in 1985, he had just voted for a president whom I would never have chosen. But we fell in love anyway and moved to San Francisco, and election day became our date night. We opened the voter pamphlet as soon as we got it, and researched and argued over each and every proposition.
The San Francisco Department of Elections, in its infinite bureaucratic inefficiency, keeps sending me a mail-in ballot. I’ve walked down to City Hall more than a dozen times to tell them that I am not an absentee voter. I am a presentee voter, and on that Tuesday in November, my husband and I walk hand-in-hand to the polling precinct. We take our sons with us because we want them to see that this is how we make our voice heard. Some years we cancel each other’s vote out, but we still walk out together.
Representative government is a terrible responsibility, because each of us is, in part, responsible for the result.
I belong to a political club, but I won’t discuss that in this column. I won’t tell you whom to choose, but I am telling you to vote. Get out there and make decisions about America. If you don’t like the top of the ticket, then go down ballot, as there has to be someone worthy in all this, one of the longest ballots in California history. The paradox is that only by actually showing up do you start to care about the results.
Zane and Aidan have sat in the living room as we watched each of the debates, and they’ve come to their own conclusions, some of which were non sequiturs: “Daddy, if Pence is from the red states, then why is he wearing a blue tie, and if Tim Kaine is from the blue states, then why is he wearing a red one?” and some were insightful: “Daddy, you would blow the roof if I ever spoke to a woman that way.”
If our leaders cannot be inspirational, then democracy requires that we be the ones to motivate. Take my friend Stephanie Boone. I’m not sure that she likes either of the candidates, but she’s taking her daughter to Nevada to campaign because that state could swing either way, and she wants her daughter to know, that even when you are lukewarm about a candidate, you stay engaged.
What values do we teach our children? Vote, even when you don’t want to. Vote because we want our children to be proud of us, even when we’re not proud of our candidates.
Editor's note: This post was originally published as Cure for election stress disorder by the San Fransisco Chronicle and is re-published with permission here.