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election anxiety countdown

3 Days: Hold Steady

The election is in three days. All reports on early voting suggest turnout is high and climbing. High turnout usually helps Democrats. Surveys suggest Democrats are far more enthusiastic about voting. But it isn’t over until it’s over. Hold steady for three more days. Then we can dive in to what comes next: responding to Trump’s reaction. There will certainly be more legal maneuvering and more scenes of vote-tampering contrived for the cameras and turned into viral misinformation.

But since today is Halloween, I’m picturing Trump and his followers like the Wicked Witch of the West dissolving into a puddle, shrieking as they disappear. Or as ghosts being sucked into an electronic trap in Ghostbusters, monsters reacting uncontrollably as they realize their unthinkable demise has come.

It probably won’t be that simple. I expect we’ll be in the streets of D.C. protesting. Hopefully, we’re just out there celebrating, but it might be tense until it is all sorted out. Businesses are boarding up their windows again. Although, some of that is because cold weather is coming. Several restaurants have announced their intention to “hibernate” since the little income they were earning from outdoor dining is drying up with temps now dropping into the 40s after sunset, and Daylight Savings Time ending tonight.

The pandemic has been escalating in recent weeks as activities shift indoors and fatigue erodes the precautions of formerly vigilant followers of epidemiologists’ recommendations. Much of the country is now seeing the worst Covid caseload since the pandemic began. Hospitals are at or near capacity in several states. We are eight months in. There aren’t a lot of actions an ordinary person can take beyond remaining vigilant, socially distancing, wearing masks. This insane and all-consuming election may be a helpful and productive distraction from it all. What if the pandemic had come one or two years into Trump’s term, with no hope for a change in sight? Right now, we can at least collectively chip in on this one project, solve this one thing: the leadership vacuum. Even if the replacement won’t be in power until January 20, we’ll know we’ve done what we can to bring about some improvement in our chances. It’s a way to begin restoring trust in this collective project we’re all a part of (whether or not we choose to participate) called government.

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election anxiety countdown

4 Days: Interview

Early in the year — in pre-pandemic times — I wrote about why I hadn’t read Little Women until then, prompted by the release of Greta Gerwig’s excellent film adaptation. It was a chance to examine my early reading habits. But yesterday’s post about alt-weeklies had me rethinking the story I told there. It’s true that I didn’t read many novels in my teens and twenties, but I devoured anything I could get my hands on that had to do with music and later art and film. Newspapers, alt-weeklies, music zines, college texts on art and cultural theory.

What was it about music coverage that I was so fascinated by? Why did I read so many interviews with bands I’d never heard (this was long before music streaming services). Often, the band photo drew me in. What is a band photo but a group of friends (sometimes frenemies) posing after having made something together, a creative collaboration, art. Style mattered: pose, setting, clothing, hairstyles, instruments. Together, these suggested attitude and genre: grunge, goth, synth, funk, mod, punk, hip-hop, folk, etc. Each has its visual tropes. But there was also a suggestion in every band photo that this group of friends were going somewhere together. On an adventure. Supporting each other. No wonder I was so drawn in.

Music interviews tend to focus on origin stories. Where did you grow up? What was it like there? How did you discover music? How did you meet your bandmates? Hearing many versions of these stories, you begin to piece together the world. Some people grow up rich. Some people grow up in decayed industrial towns. Some people have professors for parents. Others were raised by session guitarists, tobacco lobbyists, traveling oil derrick maintenance workers, addicts, drunks, or by no one at all.

These aren’t much different from the stories I listen to now in podcast form. Profiles of writers, artists and thinkers more often than musicians these days, but the path is the same. Geography, religion, lifestyle, accidents and chance meetings all conspire to shape your life’s work.

Last week, I wrote about the wall of my apartment that serves as a studio for art-in-progress and a collage of inspiring scraps. It occurred to me that this kind of wall is not so different from the inspirational therapy exercise known as a vision board: a collage of ideas that add up to the life you are working towards. I recently learned that Oprah Winfrey is a very common figure on vision boards. She’s effortlessly empathic and very rich (her frequent presence might also be explained by how easy to find she is in a stack of discarded magazines otherwise filled with anonymous models, expensive shoes and watches, and celebrities who reveal little of substance). One fan of vision boards recently told me that she doesn’t necessarily want Oprah’s lifestyle but rather would like to be interviewed by Oprah. I completely identified with this. Not necessarily that I want to be interviewed by Oprah, but by others I’ve come to know well through years of listening to their voice: Terry Gross, Kojo Nnamdi, Krista Tippett, Brad Listi. An interview becomes part of the vision of success. A third party has finally expressed interest in your life and work. Validation. Does everyone imagine themselves talking to their favorite talk show host? Martin Scorsese took the idea to the extreme in The King of Comedy wherein Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) becomes obsessed with rehearsing for his imagined talk show debut and hatches a mad plan to make it happen.

Who else is in the imagined band photo and what is the story I’m telling to the interviewers from music zines and talk shows? Is it a version of these 100 election anxiety posts? A manifesto about turning things around and getting things on track? Maybe it is just a conversation about where I started, what I’ve seen, and everything I hope for the future.

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election anxiety countdown

5 Days: Alt-Delete

Yesterday, the alt-weekly I grew up reading in Minneapolis published its last issue. City Pages, like many of the surviving alt-weekly newspapers around the country, had been shrinking and struggling. Every time I make my way back to Minneapolis to visit family, or for work, I still have been in the habit of seeking out a copy to help plan my free time. The nameplate logo changed from the bold all-caps red of my youth to a funkier rounded typeface. Each visit the paper seemed to shrink: first in page count, and then in page size. It went through ownership changes, but somehow kept cranking out valuable coverage of the music and arts scene at the heart of the nordic prairie colony, along with the occasional news scoop missed by bigger outlets.

My earliest memories of City Pages, and its long-departed rival, the Twin Cities Reader, are of driving from coffeeshop to coffeeshop in high school friends’ cars. We’d order sickeningly sweet mochas or hot chocolates and page through the free newspapers, pretending we were as sophisticated as the adults studying for law school or out on first dates. I’d bring the City Pages home and read late into the night about local music, film, and art going on in venues I’d never heard of, and would scan the concert listings for all-ages shows and big tours of bands I knew from MTV’s 120 Minutes or the modern rock station KJ104 and its successor Rev105.

A few years later, I had a temp job downtown. The new issue of City Pages would be stacked high in the second story pedestrian skyways on Wednesday mornings. I’d tuck one into my messenger bag and bring it back to the office as I ran errands for my boss. By the end of the day on Thursday, copies were hard to find downtown. Yes, it was something to read for free on lunch break since Instagram hadn’t been invented yet, but it was also an essential tool for planning your weekend: concert listings, restaurant openings, movie times, and fine print classified ads offering glimpses into subcultures all over the city.

By the late 1990s, I was the bored barista making hot chocolates and mochas for high school kids. The midweek delivery of City Pages with a thud in two bundles bound by plastic strapping counted as excitement. A few of my coworkers were musicians, had friends in bands, or were involved with the University of Minnesota’s Radio K. We’d look at City Pages together and see which bands were featured in a photo, or in an A-List critic’s pick for the week. These friends would tell me whether it was worth walking over to the 7th Street Entry to see this band or that band after we closed the coffeeshop. Other times, I was the one doing the teaching, paging through the paper and educating a new coworker who’d just arrived in Minneapolis for cosmetology school from a farm on the prairie.

For a time, I earned a little extra booking musicians into the chain of coffeeshops I worked for and sent the listings to City Pages each week. When each new issue came out, I’d confirm the listings made it in to print. It seems almost magical now to think that thousands of miles of newsprint were devoted to printing the names and set times of the little-known singer-songwriters who played for tips at every coffeeshop and dive bar in town. A few of those singers were veterans who’d been playing the folk scene since Bob Dylan was bumming around in Minneapolis. A few others were just starting out and went on to bigger things:

I specifically remember that at the Uptown show there was literally no one there, not even the baristas because they had another separate room they were working in. I felt like such a loser because there was this big glass window behind me and people kept walking by seeing me play songs to an empty room… I remember reading the City Pages every week and listening to Radio K obsessively and I never in a million years dreamed that I would be written about in the paper or playing the Mainroom.

Will Sheff, Okkervil River

By 2000, the internet — and specifically Craigslist — was already interfering with alt-weeklies’ classified ad revenue. City Pages struck a deal with an early online dating service that had media partners in markets all across the country. They excerpted the best online ads in print as a replacement for the outdated 1990s classifieds that used voicemail boxes. I met and started dating a new girlfriend through the new online service, and a few months later moved to Philadelphia with her. We found new alt-weeklies there to help orient us to the music scene: Philadelphia City Paper (R.I.P.) and Philadelphia Weekly (still going). We didn’t last as a couple, but when I moved on to new places, I sought out the Chicago Reader and the Washington City Paper for some clue as to how each city worked. When I’ve travelled, I’ve found good company in the San Antonio Current, Seattle’s The Stranger, SF Weekly and others.

There are analogues online. There are excellent writers covering local art and music everywhere. Critics are working freelance. Writers are rambling on and on in blogs like this one. We haven’t figured out a new way to get paid sustainably, and we aren’t going to be found by accident in a free box on the corner by someone looking for movie showtimes. Still. Art and music scenes are more united across neighborhoods and across continents than they ever were through print. But that’s an issue to explore another day. Tonight I’m pouring one out for City Pages.

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election anxiety countdown

6 Days: Swarm

I’m thinking about what comes next. I know these six days are critical ones for getting out the vote. Not just for the Presidential race, but for Senate, house, and state and local races. But in places like Seattle, New York, and here in D.C. — places where Electoral College votes are sure to go to Biden — there is a lot of talk turning towards what to do if Trump refuses to concede defeat, if the election is close, or a landslide for Biden, if Trump does what he has always done: refuse to be civil and respect democratic norms. There is a long period between November 3 and Inauguration Day that could be contentious. Trump’s win in 2016 makes him Commander In Chief until noon on January 20, 2021 regardless of the outcome on Tuesday.

Both parties are involved in a flurry of lawsuits. Democrats are suing to make it easier to vote. Republicans are suing to make it harder. Yesterday, Republicans won a case that will limit ballot drop off boxes to one per county in Texas. That means Houston’s Harris county, with a population of 4.7 million will be that much harder to turn in early ballots in. It means many people will not be able to walk to a drop box at their neighborhood library, as I did. They’ll have to drive or take a bus across town. Harder means fewer people will have the time and energy to take up the task. I expect Houston organizers are working out Covid-safe transportation to the drop box and the polls. Other lawsuits concern which ballots to count. Some states allow comparison of signatures to disqualify a ballot. But there are no standards. It’s easy to imagine disqualifying signatures based on the slightest variation if the name and neighborhood suggest the voter is a likely Democratic voter. Republicans are preparing to call anything after prime-time TV election viewing ends late Tuesday a fraudulent vote. But no state certifies its election during that window. The certification process normally takes weeks. It is reasonable that it would take even longer this year given the huge interest in this election, pandemic precautions, and the huge number of absentee and mail ballots.

Gaming out the possibilities for Tuesday night, Wednesday and on and on in to November is wise. I remember the long season of ballot counting in 2000. Trump may do much worse than the Brooks Brothers riot of well-dressed Republican operatives that his friend and convicted felon Roger Stone drummed up to end the Florida recount and deny Al Gore the presidency. Making plans now for after Election Day is only reasonable.

Regional labor boards are passing resolutions calling for a general strike. Locally, 730DC alerted me to a group organizing bicyclists to swarm the streets of D.C. Cyclist swarms were ever present over the summer. Nimble and more socially distant than a march, and able to disperse quickly, their chants and bike-trailer sound systems brought me to my window and out to U Street over and over again in support of June and July’s Black Lives Matter protests.

I expect that people on foot will take over the streets regardless of Trump’s response to the election results, but cyclists can move faster on the outskirts of a crowd, can see more of the city quickly. And individual cyclists can get in and out of an area quickly depending on an individual’s level of comfort with a fast-changing situation. It’s a good technique for writing poems that tie together different neighborhoods on the same night. It may be just as good for mobilizing against a fascist coup.

This is one way that D.C. residents are able to support democracy even though we don’t have statehood and lack a vote in Congress: freedom of assembly at the heart of the capital.

I’m thinking ahead to next week. But it’s important to keep getting out the vote. To make sure Trump loses in as clear and dramatic fashion as possible as early as possible. A win by one vote is still a win to be respected, but a big win will save everyone a lot of drama and stress and headaches.

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election anxiety countdown

7 Days: Fast Forward to 2095

I intend to live to 120 years old or more. That brings us to the year 2095. Amy Coney Barrett will probably still be on the Supreme Court. She’s just a few years older than me. It’s a lifetime appointment. Women tend to live longer than men. And Supreme Court justices have access to some of the best health care in the world — certainly better health care than self-employed artists and writers in a country where the Affordable Care Act is struck down and Medicare and Social Security are ruled unconstitutional.

Then again, her job is more stressful than mine. So maybe it’s a wash.

In the year 2095, climate change is forecast to have led to four feet or more of ocean rise and four degrees C of warming. Double the very difficult to hit 2 degree target that the Paris Agreement sought to avoid.

Most people are focused on health care and reproductive choice in the new Supreme Court, and I am too. But Trump’s three justices were not picked primarily for social issues, they were picked for the bottom line of big businesses, for opposition to taxes and the social safety net, opposition to regulation. That means fighting climate change between now and 2095 will be that much harder. Unless there are some serious changes to the courts, or the politics of the climate emergency, or both.

Update: This set of op-eds in the New York Times on how to reform the courts — including, but not limited to, adding more justices — was worth the read.

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election anxiety countdown

8 Days: The Nonvoters’ Message

In any given election, between 35 and 60 percent of eligible voters don’t cast a ballot.

FiveThirtyEight

This morning, as I was wrangling my thoughts below on non-voters, FiveThirtyEight posted a detailed poll-based analysis of who non-voters are and why they don’t vote. It’s far better than the cobbled together memes and Wikipedia pages I based my original notes on.

Their research reveals that non-voting is more common among those under age 34, people who earn less than $40,000 per year, and those who have no more than a high school education. They are also slightly more likely to be non-white, which correlates with all the above — including youth in the increasingly diverse U.S.

In addition, more than half of non-voters are disinclined to call themselves Democrats or Republicans. I’m not sure what that reveals, though. American culture is defined — perhaps inaccurately — by its independence, freedom of thought, and an unwillingness to be defined by other people’s labels. If I wear the label, will you associate me with all the bad things said about prominent people who wear the label?

I know a few non-voters who are still unwilling to vote in 2020. I run into others in social media threads. And back when it was safe to be less than six feet away from a stranger, I would overhear their reasoning on the Metro, or in coffeeshops. Often, these are educated, middle-aged socialists, anarchists, libertarians or contrarians. I don’t get it.

I understand the impulse to opt-out of a system that isn’t working. But we only have one lifetime and can only be a part of the system we live in. Unless you’re actively part of a movement drafting a new constitution and working for the adoption of a new system (unlikely), opting out just allows everyone to ignore your valuable perspective and your (possibly) well-reasoned awareness of just how broken the system is.

Your representatives at the city, school board, water district, county, state, and federal level matter. I have written in this series about how it is a shame that many Americans equate voting with the quadrennial A vs. B presidential contest. Not that it doesn’t matter. But your complaints about local taxes and fees and school policies and spending have no standing if you aren’t engaged in the debates over who should be in charge. Local races are often decided by very few votes.

Even here in D.C., where our Presidential vote matters little, and we have no votes in Congress (despite paying more Federal taxes than 22 states). Though our city council (which effectively does double duty as a state legislature) is controlled by Democrats, it has a range of perspectives worth paying attention to. There are council members who are looking out for low-income workers. There are council members who are looking out for giant real estate developers. That may be an editorialized over-simplification of the centrist and leftist coalitions, but a vote added to one side or the other makes all the difference.

What message does non-voting send? It says that you don’t care, that you are fine with the existing state of affairs, that politicians don’t need to listen to you.

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election anxiety countdown

9 Days: Cheer for Dallas?

On Sundays, I’ve been writing about one simple thing you can do to end Trump. At this point, I’ve covered all the things that matter. Vote. Sign up for phone banking or text banking. Make sure everyone you know votes. So, here’s one superstitious thing you can do that won’t make a difference but might be nice to have in your back pocket as the election nears and anxiety levels go sky high. Cheer for Dallas in today’s NFL contest against the Washington Football Team.

In 2000, a sports statistician noticed that when Washington wins its last home game before a presidential election, the incumbent party in the White House wins the election. The correlation was strong through 2000 but has been broken since. As long as we’re discussing superstitions, let’s chalk up the break to the timeline-bending voodoo of the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision.

Revised augury to accommodate recent nonconforming elections suggests that Washington winning either means that the incumbent party will lose or the incumbent party will lose the popular vote and hang on to the White House through the nonsense of the Electoral College. Unless it’s raining and the right tackle’s jersey number is divisible by three.

Any reason to cheer against Dan Snyder’s Washington Football Team is a good reason. The game is at 1 p.m. ET today. I won’t be watching, but you know. It can’t hurt.

Update: The Football Team won big. So, let’s work to make sure the weak correlation gets weaker. The law of averages suggests that is the natural tendency of things.

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election anxiety countdown

10 Days: Why Wait?

Today is Vote Early Day, a day for boosting awareness of early in-person voting. I’m posting this late at night, but that doesn’t mean you can’t vote early. Many states allow in person voting that includes the two Saturdays before Election Day. Others have expanded mail-in and absentee voting to make early voting easier (I dropped off my mail-in ballot off in person at a municipal drop box).

A friend called me from an early voting line in Virginia on Friday. It wasn’t stress-free. She was one of the last in line that day, and the underpaid (volunteer?) poll workers were ready to go home, hadn’t kept the pens in stock at the voting booths, hadn’t been especially knowledgeable or reassuring. But the important thing is that she voted. I recommend calling a friend if the long line is stressing you out. Calling a friend is always a good idea.

I remember my parents leaving for work early on Election Day, sometimes with me in tow. The lines were not long in my recollection (this was Minneapolis in the 1980s). But the time commitment and the disruption to routine in making a stop at a church or elementary school was and is substantial. For someone expected to clock in at a set time, the anxiety of an errand of uncertain duration is a burden. But voting is not an errand, it is a civic responsibility.

Some cities and states now make it illegal for employers to penalize their staff for the time it takes to vote on Election Day. But this should go without saying. The crime is not voting; the crime is that it was made so difficult for so long. It is criminal that Election Day is not a holiday. We hold it on a Tuesday in November for no reason that matters in 2020. Back in 1845, Tuesday was the most practical for landowners (white, male landowners) to get on their horses and ride to the county seat or town hall to vote. It took all day for many voters to get there, so it made sense to hold the election when there was less work in the fields and on a day when other business in town could be attended to. In addition, weekend travel on the sabbath was widely forbidden. So Tuesday it was. Let’s hope — insist — that the expansion of early voting and mail voting necessitated by the pandemic stick around. After all, few of us are riding all day on horseback to cast our ballots anymore.