I was the first voter at the polls in my precinct yesterday. My wife insisted that we get up early and brave the seasonal chilly air to avoid long lines and makeshift parking places in the unlikely event that the crowds showed up at our polling station. When we pulled up to the community center and saw that we would have won gold if this were a race, my son decided that he had enough time to get some breakfast from a local fast food restaurant. Not wishing to come back to a transformed scenario, I decided to stay behind and hold our place.
Before my wife and son returned, three other men joined me and we engaged in small talk, trying our best to avoid anything political. As we chatted about family, sports and the weather, one of the election workers came out to put up a sign forbidding guns in the polling station. He casually suggested that if any of us had guns in our possession we were required by law to leave it in our vehicles. As he returned to the warm building, I noticed the standard “buffer” sign: “No Campaigning Within 30 Feet of the Polling Station.”
Although it would be thirty minutes before polling would officially start, one of the workers felt compassion for the four of us who were stuck outside in the frigid Alabama weather (I swear it must have been at least 48 degrees!) and invited us to spend the rest of our waiting time on the cushioned couches in the warm lobby. As we settled, I was the first to break the obvious tension once more by calling attention to the fresh evenly spaced lines in the recently vacuumed area mat. I know, that sounds like taking small talk to an even more diminutive level. However, it’s all I could do to stop me from saying something about the fact that in the middle of the comfort area in this campaign free zone was a television tuned to FOX News.
Only those who’ve experienced it can know how I felt at that moment. It’s the feeling I get every time I snake my way through the TSA line at the Huntsville-Decatur International Airport and am forced to stand in the shadow of the massive Jumbotron channeling the terrorizing propaganda of Hannity, O’Reilly and Carson. The very fact that government workers could promote their bias with impunity in public space is a not so subtle reminder of the Southern Strategy’s success. By feeding into the deepest reservations ofthose afflicted by ethnophobia, the purveyors of hate and mongers of fear have strategically established multiple outposts of the renewed Confederacy throughout the contiguous United States. Their unstated message is simple: “We must hold on to our White privilege at any cost!”
Just in case you’re wondering if I contradicted myself in the previous paragraph, I did not. The Carson to which I refer is the famous Dr. Benjamin Carson, who has become one of the more effective proponents of the White privilege platform. He probably would have been very comfortable in the lobby of my polling station listening to the anti-Obama vitriol as it fueled the rabid hate of the masses in my right-wing electoral district who can’t see past our President’s father.
Taking a Stand
I didn’t stay in my seat for long, more people started coming and I wanted to secure my place without the latecomers accusing me of jumping the line. I called my wife and son who by that time were sitting in the parked car and they joined me. As we waited, my son and I discussed the implications of the amendments, which included one that strengthened the “rights” of gun owners. However, I could not fully concentrate on our discussion because all I could hear was the negative FOX News commentary in the background.
It was then that I made the decision to do something about it. After consulting with my wife, I made my way to the main office and found the person who appeared to be in charge. He was sitting behind a big desk watching a television that was tuned to—you guessed it—FOX News. I politely reminded him of the “No Campaigning” policy and suggested that the viewing choice they had made for voters appeared to be a form of campaigning. Fortunately, he not only listened, but also heard and changed the channel to a more neutral one—to the apparent chagrin of a fellow voter who wondered aloud why anyone would change from FOX News to “QVC”!
The American Nightmare
I have no idea if the television stayed on QVC after my departure—I would be very surprised if it did. However, I did register a formal complaint at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. In this professed land of e pluribus unum, people lining up to vote or to go through airport security should not have to feel as if they are in a state of besiegement. They should not have to endure the type of explicit propaganda that lulled a generation of Germans into an indifference so dispassionate, that they did nothing about the deprivation of the rights of fellow citizens, who just happened to have been “different.”
I don’t expect those who are drunk with the wine of White privilege to understand my fear. As Sojourner’s Jim Walls rightly pointed out in a conference I attended on Monday, those oblivious to White privilege have no idea that everyone’s America is different. The truth is, there are many genres of dreams, and for many who have been victimized by America—both historically and in the present—the “American Dream” is a living nightmare.
Before I left my house to vote yesterday, I knew that the majority of candidates for whom I would caste a vote had no chance of winning in my district. Nonetheless, I voted anyhow—if anything, to make a statement. I may live in a state of besiegement, but as long as God lends me breath I will continue to exercise my God given freedom to do the right thing, whether or not it is protected by the constitution. My fear is real, but my faith is stronger.
Indeed it is this faith that buoyed me to the polls yesterday with a song on my heart:
“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round…,
Ain’t gonna let voter suppresion turn me ’round…,
Ain’t gonna let police brutality turn me ’round…,
Ain’t gonna let gerrymandering turn me ’round…,
Ain’t gonna let FOX News turn me ’round….
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round….
I’m gonna keep on walking, keep on walking,
Walking to freedom land!”
As you reflect on your chosen side in our besieged and increasingly hostile society, always remember that, “a tree is known by its fruit.”
Keith Augustus Burton is the Director of the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University. He is also on the Advisory Board of Adventist Peace Fellowship.