After engaging in many conversations about the plight of this country and the world over the weekend, I felt a little worn down. All of the issues that surround the Presidential election combined with sifting through all the misinformation can be exhausting and dejecting at times. I woke up early Saturday morning to attend a mandatory class on working the polls as I will be doing on November 4th and was pleased to find the class packed with people of all ages anxious to spend their time helping others vote on Election Day. Viewing the election through your television screen for the past two years can wear you down and seeing active members of your own community eager to participate in the process is a good feeling. Coming out of that class I felt partially recharged and so today, I decided to ride that wave of optimism and go down to the Board of Elections to vote early.
I arrived a little before two o’ clock and took my place at the end of a long line that stretched out onto the sidewalk. People were handing out fliers with the hope of swaying any last minute voters who had yet to make up their mind. I saw literature for voting yes on Issue 8, No on Issue 5, for Todd Portune, against Issue 6, and so on. Many of the people gathered outside had brought their younger children so their kids could be introduced to the voting process. There was a family in front of me where the mother was explaining to her young son why it was important to vote and why there were so many people in line. People of all colors and creeds were in generally good spirits as they exchanged smiles and engaged in small talk as the line snaked up the stairs and into the main section of the BOE. Election officials were on-hand directing the voters to empty voting booths and explaining the layout of the ballot.
As I shuffled through the line, I was reminded of a quote that I once heard from folk musician and activist Utah Phillips during a 2004 interview. In that interview Phillips said:
If I look at it [the world] from the top down, I get seriously depressed. The world’s going to hell in a wheelbarrow. But if I walk out the door, turn all that off, and go with the people, whatever town I’m in, who are doing the real work down at the street level, like I said, there’s too many good people doing too many good things for me to let myself be pessimistic about that. I’m hopeful, can’t live without hope. Can you?
As I was standing there today watching an elderly couple struggling to climb the stairs to get into the BOE, as I watched that little boy ask his mom questions about voting, as I watched a blind woman receive her ballot, I felt hope. I felt the hope of an active citizenry cut through all the sound bytes and negative ads and permeate through the racism and hatred of this campaign. I, like Utah Phillips, was forced to view things from the ground up and it gave me hope in what a unified people and in what an active citizenry can do. This hope and faith in people is important in times like these when we live in a world that bombards us with media sound bytes, sensational news stories, and views from the top; it is enough to make anyone pessimistic about the direction that we are headed. It is during those times, when the negativity is driving us to the point of insanity, that it is so important to take a step back and view the world from the bottom up. There are people who are doing very good work to move this society forward in the face of all that is stacked against us. That is what gives me hope and it is this faith in people that we all must depend on. We all have our vision of how we would like to make our community, our country, the world a better place, but these visions all must stem from the fundamental faith in people to unite, take action, and implement the changes necessary to move us forward.
Mark Johnson is filmmaker who just finished a documentary entitled “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music”. It is a film that took Johnson ten years to make, but his belief that “No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, we are all united through music” carried the project forward. Johnson was on the Bill Moyers Journal this past week discussing the film and why he chose to take on this project. Johnson said it quickly became evident that those involved with the film were representing the eyes of the children on the planet. He went on:
Because the truth is, they need us to inspire each other and to create a better world. I mean, there’s so many problems now with the economy and with war and a lot of depression. But at the end of the day, there’s also so much hope because I can assure you, all over the world, people are beautiful and they want to unite together.
Johnson traveled all over the world recording street musicians, viewing the world from the ground up, and uniting the world through music. He traveled to some of the most troubled regions of the planet and when Bill Moyers asked him what took him to those places of the world, Johnson responded:
Well, I think that in order to really unite people, you know, we have to show that in our darkest situations and in the places with the most struggles in the world, that we can find a way of uplifting each other out of it. I remember hearing somebody that said, you know, “The last person who knew why we were fighting died a long time ago.”
We all know the world is changing. And we get to decide if it’s changing for the better or if it’s changing for the worse.
Hope during dark times is not idealistic, it is necessary. Faith in a united people is the foundation for moving us forward and bettering our lives. As the election draws closer, as more bombs are dropped overseas, and as the economy continues to slide, let’s take a moment for a deep breath and look at the world from the ground up.
Below is a clip from the documentary referenced above with a brief introduction by Bill Moyers. The song is “Stand by Me”, the musicians are from all across the world, and hopefully it will do a little bit to restore your faith in a unified people.