Today, I had the opportunity to exercise my right to vote. In eager anticipation of Election Day, I created a white sash with the words "VOTES for WOMEN," as a nod to the historical significance of nearly 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment (which happened in 1920). Mine was a glue-gunned, puff-painted version of this, as immortalized in my wife's favorite film-for-when-she's-feeling-sad-or-sick, Mary Poppins.
According to state polling laws in Connecticut, as dictated by the National Association of Secretaries of State:
"On the day of any primary, referendum or election, no person shall solicit on behalf of or in opposition to the candidacy of another or himself or on behalf of or in opposition to any question being submitted at the election or referendum, or loiter or peddle or offer any advertising matter, ballot or circular to another person within a radius of seventy-five feet of any outside entrance in use as an entry to any polling place or in any corridor, passageway or other approach leading from any such outside entrance to such polling place or in any room opening upon any such corridor, passageway or approach.... (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-236)."
Because I wasn't advocating for a political candidate or even commenting on any current political hot topics (as women's suffrage has not been up for debate for nearly a century), I didn't feel that I was violating any law by wearing my sash to the polls. Man, was I wrong! Thank goodness that someone was at my polling place to let me know I was being "too political" with my attire. Thank goodness he could stop me immediately before my ID was checked, demanding that I raise my arms and "show [him] what [my sash] says," tell me to remove it, and continue to berate me, even after my immediate compliance. Thank goodness that he graciously decided that I would still be able to vote, once I put the offending accessory in my pocket. Thank goodness he could make an example out of me, a woman wanting to honor the women who ensured she had this right to vote, in front of so many people in this community.
I'm sure this man felt completely within his right to exercise his authority on this matter, and in truth, I understand his concern. Maybe he didn't understand this nod to suffrage, and interpreted my sash as a bold declaration that "This Democrat Votes for Women." Maybe this older white man didn't realize that loudly demanding in front of a large group of silent onlookers that I, a young, queer woman of color, raise my arms above my head so he can inspect my body (to accuse me of a crime I didn't intend to commit) trapped me in one of my recurring #BlackLivesMatter nightmares. Maybe he has no idea that I didn't take a picture of myself with an "I Voted" sticker immediately after submitting my ballot, because I couldn't hold back the tears streaming down my face from my shock at being visually searched and verbally reprimanded in a public place. Maybe being okay with the attitude fueling these actions is just a symptom of the sexist, racist, ageist, elitist, bigoted society in which we find ourselves, and he, like so many others, was simply acting with the authority and confidence that we've all instilled in him.
Look, I'm not saying his interpretation of my little homemade she-rah sash was inappropriate, or that he was wrong for upholding Burson v. Freeman. What I am saying is that in most situations, there is no need to meet people with guns (metaphorical or otherwise) blazing, when a simple request in a private conversation would suffice. Although I felt that I broke no law in my actions, I immediately complied with this man's demand, because I was raised to be a good, obedient girl, and because I knew that there was no need for me to fan the flames of emotion on this tense day. I chose to keep quiet and do as he said, fearing my right to vote would be taken from me if I tried to explain myself. But this unintentional rule-breaker wants to know: when is it the responsibility of the rule-enforcers to stay calm and listen? When can we, the tax-paying citizens of this community, demand discussion and not dictation? When can we, all of us, approach each other with respect (kindness, even) and assume the inherent innocence of the accused? When will I have the opportunity to verbalize my thoughts without fearing that something will be taken from me if I do?
No matter your political affiliation or moral convictions, I hope you vote today. If a woman's right to vote is too political a topic to celebrate in 2016, there's still a whole lot of work to be done in this country, and filling in a bubble on a ballot just may be the easiest and most effective way to do it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Ouano is a naturopathic doctor and writer. A fierce advocate for health equity and rights of the marginalized, she frequently writes about the intersection of naturopathic medicine and public health, throwing in personal anecdotes and tasty (and practical) recipes along the way.