Coffee with Mimi: Appreciating, revering and guarding it
The ancient Greeks introduced the concept of democracy. Certainly it is a disservice to attempt to tell the story in a few hundred words. The short version is that in the very old days, when there was a question affecting the public good, the guys all got together and talked. I’m sure the word hardly describes the discussion. After all, in ancient Greece, words were more than lightly chosen and not casually tossed around. The decisions of these gatherings carried the force of law.
The practicality of the system was bound to need tweaking over time. Populations increased, centers of activity grew, women and other constituencies demanded to be included and government structures evolved. The great experiment we all live everyday was painfully and laboriously put down on paper.
In the early days of this republic, residents of small towns came together to discuss and decide issues which mattered to them each and every day. However, the country grew and became more interconnected. It became necessary to trust our governance to those we chose to mind our matters for the good of us all.
The Greeks must have loved the process of decision making. Getting together, visiting, debating and partaking of refreshments afterwards conjures up civilized compromise and civic engagement for the good of the community in which they all lived with each other.
There are just about 326 million citizens of this country. Of that number, roughly 75 percent are old enough to vote. Of course, it would be impossible to gather all those individuals together each time we needed to decide where a road should be built and when to widen or repair it. Even with the advent of the internet and Google Docs for sharing, few people have the time to study the ins, outs and nuances of the federal budget or local ordinances pertaining to cable TV contracts.
So, we trust others to work for us.
We don’t give up our Greek heritage. At least twice each year, sometimes three of every four years in Kentucky, we gather to choose the people who will work for us. We call these gatherings elections. We make a big day out of the whole thing.
There is a saying that all politics are local and the Greeks knew that. Despite the difference in definitions and magnitude of the number of eligible participants, it is still the way it is done. We chop the population into bite size numbers, train ordinary citizens to oversee the proceedings and open the doors of churches, schools and other regular spots to welcome local citizens in.
Through my adult years, I exercised my constitutional right to vote. As a teacher, my students worked through the academic aspects of their future civic responsibilities. We analyzed voter turnout trends, pertinent issues, constitutional history, etc. But, I never worked at the polls on election days.
In my last teaching year, I ditched the professional development activity scheduled for election day in favor of working at the polls. I did so with permission as I had fulfilled all my professional requirements for the current year and didn’t need to plan for the next one.
Poll workers swear an oath of office. This is serious stuff. It is also a bit daunting. There are laws, procedures and mountains of forms to be understood. In our precinct, there are three different pieces of electronic equipment to be physically set up and prepared to check in voters and record their votes. Before 6 a.m., on the dot.
The polls are open for 12 hours. Poll workers may not leave the space assigned to the precinct during this period. You must think ahead about sustenance. There can be no call for pizza if you forgot to pack provisions. At 6 p.m., on the dot, the polls close. If I thought setting up was stressful, but closing down is much more so.
There are a bunch of anxious candidates, families, friends and interested citizens packed into the county clerk’s office waiting for the tally tapes which must be printed and signed in each precinct, the machines correctly shut down and locked, and the tapes hand delivered to the courthouse to be checked before the precious numbers can be read out loud.
Throughout the day, there are innumerable incidents requiring discussions, research and phone calls to election officials at the courthouse, all to ensure that everyone who should gets to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote.
Also there are innumerable chances to visit between residents and poll workers, some of whom see each other everyday and some who catch up once or twice a year on election day. Not all poll workers are assigned to their home precinct. Some, such as myself, are imported because every precinct must be staffed with an equal number of persons from each political party who work side-by-side.
What fun. Turn off your TV, or electronic device. This is American democracy at work. I can’t imagine who, how or why someone would not appreciate it, participate in it, revere it and guard it.
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