Way Past Sufferin’ Till Suffrage

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I hope you use your wisdom for Election Day 2016, today. Mine was honed at my mother’s knee. And eventually hip. That’s as far up as I probably came on Election Days 1972 and 1976, respectively. Assume your own intermediate heights for me for the unstated midterm and municipal elections of my New York City youth. Measure of my former diminutiveness irrespective, my mom always took me with her to vote.

A child of the 1970s—all of them—I grew up on Schoolhouse Rock‘s educational music videos Saturday mornings on ABC. Sure, they interrupted the flow of cartoon Superfriends and cartoonish Land of the Lost and Sigmund (which carbon-dates me as a peer of dirt.) But they were inescapably fun.

Among my favorites, Sufferin’ Till Suffrage (see here. The rock-anthemized story of women gaining the right to vote fifty years before my birth. It was more than a history lesson for me, though. The giant, curtained, voting booths, complete with a huge panel of choices and click buttons—and a boat-rudder-sized lever to pull to record your vote. In a 21st century that has experienced a steady march from such 1890s-era lever machines, to punch voting, to early voting via touch screen, those gray-green monsters were a part of my hometown’s election experience until only a few years ago.

I knew exactly what they were in the video because I got to be inside them at my mother’s side every time she voted. Taking me with her to do her civic duty made women’s suffrage real. Made the importance of voting real. Made me eager to participate myself.

And it did something more. It made this election very, very real, as well. My mother—my first-generation Hispanic mother, with a gay uncle, living in an NYC neighborhood of multiple creeds and colors—voted in New York City every time it was her duty to do so. Many voting this year would negate the rights she and those she knew exercised four decades ago. The misogyny. The xenophobia. The homophobia. The religious intolerance.

I know we’re past that already. I know those who are calling for allegedly making America “great” again are really cultural dinosaurs who yearn for a return to the days when it was acceptable in public in America to hate again. No matter who wins today, that will never happen. We’ll just belabor the culture wars another four years. But to the younger generations in this country—the increasing majority of this country—the hate which made some of their parents and grandparents feel a sense of safety make most of their children feel disgusted.

The times change and you change with them or your become a bookmark in history. No matter what your deeply seated biases tell you. No matter what your irrational fear tells you. No matter what you think Jesus tells you. (While the rest of us are pretty sure Jesus is rolling his eyes at you.)

That was a lesson I learned four decades ago on Saturday morning children’s television. It’s amazing that some adults still haven’t learned it all these many years later. Some of them may never learn. But one thing is certain. They’re not going to get their way.

When they’re done being angry and scared and acting out, they deserve embracing. But no matter what, the bigot who screams the loudest no longer gets their way in America. That’s not the way that has ever represented wisdom, or courage, or honesty, or fairness, or love. It’s usually just a symptom of being left behind by the times.

You’re free to choose yesterday’s hate over tomorrow’s love and fairness. But if you do, the rest of us aren’t waiting around for you anymore. While you’ve been digging in your heels, the rest of us crossed that bridge years ago.

And nothing that happens today will ever change that.

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