Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Reflection on the Body Politic

I was reflecting back upon this recent election process that has left so many jubilant and others feeling as though the end of the world was drawing near. It would seem that this democracy often leaves so many at extreme odds with one another, as it does in Washington, where a consensus on anything is a rare thing indeed. But there is something so raw and real to the passion people have in expressing their opinions, both for and against the issues that plague our country. And the loyalties that engenders is most remarkable.

My husband, son and I took a trip to Peterborough, NH to have breakfast the Saturday prior to the November elections. We love Peterborough for its creative vibe and friendly atmosphere. Plus, the Toadstool bookstore is located there, and in this world of uninspired, bland box stores with such strong and dare I say it, invasive national presence, it is frankly refreshing to shop and support local, small businesses.

While eating, there was a flurry of activity as an entourage was making its way through this very tiny diner to the backroom where we were seated. It turned out to be Maggie Hassan, who was running for Governor, shaking hands and chatting with people as they ate breakfast. It is not an unusual occurrence here in NH, a state where wanna be presidents from all across this nation flock like migrating birds in an effort to sway the votes for this very watched primary election. For some reason, seeing Ms. Hassan at this diner made me so aware of how rigorous and tiring the schedule is for these political hopefuls. So much so, that they are barely aware of where they are or where they are headed. This was clear when my husband made mention to her that she was to come that Monday to his place of employment to do a meet and greet with the employees there. She had a faraway look in her eye with just a touch of confusion, as she admitted not really knowing what was on her schedule. Just a cog in the wheel in perpetual motion I suppose. 

After breakfast, my son and I strolled over to the bookstore where Ms. Hassan and her team of smiling supporters were just exiting. We said our hellos to one another like old friends greeting on the street, as I asked how many more stops she was to make that day. She thought for a moment or two,  and said only 5 or 6 total, we both laughed, and off her crew swept out the door, signs held aloft, with cameras filming all the while. It was easy to feel, as well as see the excitement on the faces of her team, the literal body politic. They moved together with such enthusiasm and passion, almost hypnotically charming you to join them, with Maggie as their Pied Piper! They were honored to be part of this political spectacle and were willing to give up their mornings, afternoons and evenings to see it through to completion. Their joyful band was infectious and made me wonder how many votes are gained, or perhaps even lost, by these forays into the world of "normal" folks? Hmm?

Case in point: some years ago when George W. Bush was running for President I had been invited to attend a $500 a plate political fundraiser  in New Jersey held at a "swanky" hotel. At the time, I was interning as a photographer for then Governor Christine Todd-Whitman and all interns were invited as her guests. I went for the experience of it all. There was such a collective buzz of activity when he took his place at the podium with the Governor. After his obligatory speech, and subsequent jokes, they came down from the dais to meet the throng. People swelled forward in a circle around them as the presidential candidate and the Governor made the rounds shaking hands and talking to us all. I recall, quite vividly, how he placed  one hand very firmly on my back as he shook my hand, looking directly into my eyes as we spoke briefly for a moment or two. Dare I say it; I was completely awestruck  by the shear power this man carried about him! There was an expectant air of important things to come, and despite whatever my personal feelings for the man were, I sensed how easily it is for people to be swept along in the tide of his or anyone’s political machinations. There was a presence to it that was undeniably there. In fact I talked about it for so long afterward with both family and friends that my husband began to tease me that perhaps my loyalties were shifting. (Ah, but that’s a secret best well kept!)

I was again moved by the power of politics as I entered the polling location in my hometown a week or so ago. People were lined up in a circuitous route that took me all around the building in a maze like manner to find the end of the line. It took just over an hour for me to finally cast my ballot and it was hard not to be touched by the high voter turn out, despite the long wait. Granted, I live in a community that is a bastion of conservative values and most people were coming to cast their oppositional vote to the current administration in control. I saw so many people I barely knew or recognized and thought it was surely a sign of how passionate people felt right now.

So, as I reflect back on this time I am once again reminded of how truly wonderful it is to live in a country where choice, for the most part, is still allowed and if you have an opinion, no matter how oppositional it is to the "norm" you can express it without fear of retribution (Although, I guess TV personalities and media are held to a different set of standards sometimes!) And, it is amazing to see the passion people have for their candidates. While it must be so hard to admit defeat for some, it never-the-less is a fact of life: someone wins and someone loses.

So despite your own political truth, we all can agree on one thing perhaps,  it is  nice not to have our mail boxes stuffed with political ads. I cannot help but wonder if the cost to produce all that "junk" mail was directed toward a cause of greater value, like education or health care, instead of landfills or recycling centers, maybe votes would be earned a more meaningful way. Jut a thought.

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