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The Case Against Cynicism: A Dispatch from Colorado and Florida

"Whatever victory means to you," write the authors, "please vote." (Photo: Getty)

We live in an age of cynicism. We’re not going to tell you what others might — which is that cynicism is a privilege. While it is true that some people don’t have the same set of options or resources to sit elections out given what’s at stake for them and their families, we’re going to take a different approach, because whether or not it’s a privilege, cynicism is real and we should engage with it.

"Our democracy is a living, breathing thing. We give our democracy life by participating and when our democracy is strong, it breathes life back into us."

First, we’d like to introduce you to Morelia Belem. She’s originally from Mexico, but has lived in the United States for 14 years, mostly in San Francisco. She works as a housecleaner and it’s fair to say that she’s got cleaning down to a science. If you check her Facebook profile, it’s populated with a highly curated series of photos, including one of a stunning pink flower and several nieces who are her pride and joy. One image is a meme announcing an upcoming celebration of the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California, because she was a part of the 10-year effort to make the legislation to provide caregivers with overtime, permanent law in California, and she can’t wait to celebrate.

Morelia recently became a naturalized citizen, just in time to vote in this election. She voted early by mail, and believes that she is a good luck charm for Hillary Clinton, because it is her first time voting and Hillary could be the first woman president. After she dropped her ballot in the mail in California, she boarded a plane to Colorado where we met up with her. She, along with thirty caregivers and domestic workers from California came to Colorado to volunteer with GOTV efforts in Aurora, where a growing immigrant community is finding its voice, and will be critical to the outcome of this election. She’s tells us she’s proud to do her part as a citizen, and will be knocking on doors until the polls close in Colorado on Tuesday.

Flora Green with four generations of her family at the newly opened early voting location.

Anyone casting their first ballot is always good news, but Flora Green’s was particularly special. Ms. Green turned 100 years old this year. She’s the oldest living member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. She was four years old when women won the right to vote. Though she’s been eligible to vote her entire adult life, she’s been on the inactive voter list because like many Native Americans, her polling site was hours off the reservation. After a pitched legal battle, a recent ruling by the District of Nevada Federal Court (which is within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) issued an order requiring the state to provide satellite voting stations for the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute Tribes — and enabled Flora to cast her vote on her tribal land. On Saturday, Flora went to cast her vote, early, and for the first time.

And then there’s Ms. Desiline Victor, the 106-year old Haitian immigrant woman who waited in line for 4 hours to vote in 2012. She migrated to the United States at 79, and worked as a farm worker in Florida for ten years before she retired. In her own children’s words, “She came to work, and she always did her best.” At 102, she was determined to cast her ballot and refused to go home until she did. “When I saw the big lines I thought I was not going to be able to vote. But I persisted because that day I wanted to vote. It’s not that I wanted to lose all of that time voting for a Democrat; it was about being a part of the democratic process.” Some people saw what was happening and stayed with her for the long wait. Legend has it, they erupted in cheers when she finally put on that familiar sticker that declares, “I voted.” In response, she said, “I’ve got the victory.”

As we traveled the country, we’ve come to realize that cynicism is a choice. And we can choose otherwise, just as Ms. Belem, Ms. Green, Ms. Victor and millions of others who have voted early have. Frankly, these women seem happier than the cynics we meet. Or, they certainly feel a sense of meaning and a part of something important, which may be what we’re all looking for in the end.

Our democracy is a living, breathing thing. We give our democracy life by participating and when our democracy is strong, it breathes life back into us. When we don’t participate, it withers, which has real consequences for all of us. Yesterday in South Florida, we participated in a ceremony to name the polling site where she waited all that time, after Ms. Victor and accompany her to vote once more. After all the dignitaries made their remarks, they handed the microphone to her. At age 106, Ms. Desiline Victor simply said, “Vote. Victory is ours when we vote.” Whatever victory means to you, please vote. For those of us who believe in democracy, we can’t win without you.

Ai-jen Poo

Ai-jen Poo

Ai-jen Poo is is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, co-director of Caring Across Generations and a 2014 MacArthur fellow. Follow her on Twitter: @AiJenPoo

George Goehl

George Goehl

George Goehl is co-executive director of People's Action and People's Action Institute, a national organization of a million people in 30 states fighting for economic, environmental, racial, and gender justice.

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