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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

‘This country is your home’

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They sat around the classroom with tears in their eyes, looking very distraught and staring at us university professors, looking for answers. It was Wednesday at noon, and I had stood by a ballot machine for 10 hours the previous day, delicately answering questions about straight-ticket voting and non-partisan positions, helping people who had their ballot rejected because they slipped it in the wrong precinct machine, and handing out stickers that said, “My Vote, My Voice” to all the little children who had accompanied their parents — some parents even had their children slide the ballot into the machine. One woman raised a fist in the air and shouted, “Yes!” as she saw her ballot counted in the machine, which made me laugh. “You don’t understand,” she told me, “I am 81 years old, and I have voted 44 times and waited many years for this moment.” I could only muster a “Wow!” as she slowly headed toward the exit, her blonde hair perfectly curled. She looked a little dressed up, and I wanted to give her a big hug, but I was on to the next voter. 

That Tuesday evening after the polls closed, I worked with a group of tireless women to make sure everything was perfectly aligned before we went home. Needless to say, we were exhausted. 

It would be an understatement to say the outcome of the election did not go as I had hoped, and, quite frankly, I didn’t even want to get out of bed the next morning and “go teach.” But I thought about all of my fellow citizens who don’t have a choice but to get up and go to work, often in the face of insurmountable adversity, so I took my puppy for a long walk, and then I headed to the university.

It was a pre-planned gathering; the students wanted to get to know the Political Science Department faculty better, so we arranged a lunchtime gathering for the day after the election. We introduced ourselves, and I asked the students to tell us who they are and what they are studying, and then here it came … that dreaded question: “How did this happen? Why?” Many of them had voted in their first general election.  We explained the complexity of the two-party system, the media, identity politics, history, etc., but what these young adults were really seeking was comfort. 

I assured them they are not alone, and I mentioned organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, of which I am a part, that fight for the individual protections guaranteed — or that should be guaranteed — in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, and then I mentioned the recent Spirit and Place Festival, which had a very timely theme of “Home.”

I told them, “This country is your home, our home, and you have to think about what that really means, especially at this moment from a collective standpoint. There are events with people right here in Indianapolis, happening right now, who are having thoughtful, welcoming and inclusive conversations, and who will be happy to have you there with them.” They needed reassurance that they are not alone, and that there are ways for them to get involved in the greater community to work toward common goals and values with which they most identify. I mentioned the Spirit and Place Public Conversation at the Indiana Landmarks Theater, which I was to moderate, that featured three remarkable individuals — Executive Director Allison Luthe of our Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center; Christian sculptor Timothy Schmalz; and Harvard sociologist and author of the book Evicted Matthew Desmond — and encouraged the students to continue to imagine a world of possibilities. Then I headed to my office and cried alone, before I had to go and teach.

 

Dr. Terri Jett is an associate professor of political science and special assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity at Butler University. Comments can be sent to tjett@butler.edu.

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