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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

election anxiety countdown

11 Days: The Wall

I welcomed a guest into my apartment on Friday for the first time since the pandemic began (other than an HVAC tech or two). We’ve both been Covid-cautious and had been tracking our potential exposures carefully. We agreed transmission risk was low.

I wasn’t in the habit of having guests over last winter, so it may have been more than a year since I had to make sure any space other than my Zoom corner was presentable.

Vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom and kitchen were obvious starting points. But soon I came to consider the “studio” area of my apartment, a prominent wall of half-completed art, miscellaneous scraps and odd posters. It has gradually become a mishmash of nostalgia and inspiration: a poster from a bike race in Minneapolis, a prized handwritten set list from an early Low concert, test prints from last years’ Half/Life zine, sketches and half-completed map-paintings, a storyboard and scribbled notes for one version of my neglected novel.

To a visitor entering my apartment for the first time, this wall of abandoned drawings and paintings is the center of attention. It is the largest, busiest and most colorful wall in the main room of my apartment. It’s messy, and I like it that way; creative ideas are often messy. But I’ve neglected this wall. I’ve been working with text so much in the past couple of years that the visuals on the wall have grown stale to me. Without visitors to comment on it and discuss the ideas I’m (apparently) working on, the wall is just a background, part of my environment, taken for granted.

Having someone else around to ask about the half-finished paintings and visual inspiration gives them new life. It’s a chance to talk about the visual ideas, what I was struggling with creatively and personally when I interrupted these drawings and shifted towards the written word. Sharing with other people and sparking a dialogue is a big part of what makes a scrap of paper art.

The guest was more important than a wall and some housecleaning, of course. I made a nice dinner. We shared a bottle of wine. It was a good. What applies to art, applies to life. Sharing and conversation are what make it a life.

election anxiety countdown film

12 Days: Viaje

In this month of skeletons and zombies and pumpkin spice (link), it felt appropriate to watch Paz Fábrega’s minute Costa Rican romance Viaje from 2015 begin at a costume party. It was this month’s pick for Las Kikas Cine Club.

As Viaje begins, a lonely young man in a bear costume hits on a woman on the stairs at a house party. It’s not clear what her costume is, or if she’s wearing a costume at all. She rejects his advance, but a few minutes later returns and corners the bear in the bathroom. They kiss and leave the party together. A drunken romance begins.

Pedro (Fernando Bolaños) is the bear and Luciana (Kattia González) is the “girl” — spoiler alert — it turns out the young woman’s costume is of herself wearing what she would have worn in kindergarten. Nobody gets it without her explanation, which she finally gives to a stranger at the end of the film. So, is this a tale of goldilocks and the bear? Red riding hood and the wolf?

Leaving the party, the two flirt in the back of a cab. The conversation turns to a rejection of monogamy and the construction of an imagined life together with queer polyamorous couples taking care of their children on the weekends so that they can still go out with other people, or each other. The cab driver interjects, calls this attitude selfish, and suggests that when Luciana has her first child her mothering instincts will kick in.

In the morning, Pedro has to leave for work. He is a graduate student in forest research and needs to travel to a remote forest outpost. He invites Luciana along. She can take a bus back into town after the first leg of the trip. And the journey of the title begins.

Before leaving, Pedro brings a pet fish in a plastic bag to be taken care of by a friend at a local aquarium shop. The fish in a bag was a nice callback to the theme of entrapment embodied by a goldfish in last month’s Las Kikas film pick, Pelo Malo. In the next scene, the two are talking about condoms. Pedro doesn’t like to be wrapped in plastic any more than the fish does. Is this Pedro turning in to an animal? Is Luciana in danger? Is the child predicted in the taxi about to be conceived. Or is this more of the flirtatious sexual exploration that started in the taxi earlier?

Soon the two are in the jungle, brushing their hands over a bed of plants that contract when touched. As the two disrobe in their tent and later at a swimming hole the story risks becoming a tale of Adam and Eve among the wonders of the Garden of Eden. Though it is unclear what the forbidden fruit is, or if there is an impending fall for indulging in this spontaneous journey. Will the two turn into animals? Will real animals come for them?

This is not that kind of story. The viaje is as much an internal one for Luciana as it is geographic. Luciana might want to rewind her life and play the part of a little girl, but we learn that a major change in her life will begin soon. She has a boyfriend on the other side of the globe that she hasn’t seen in a year. She is about to fly away to be with him. Following Pedro deeper into the jungle is not compatible with these plans. Our lovers must live in the moment.

Viaje is shot in a beautiful black and white that brings contrasts forward. The jungles of Costa Rica and the bodies of Pedro and Luciana might have been overwhelmed and lost in lush green if presented in color. The dialogue is sparse. Much is unsaid, revealed only through the movements of actors Bolaños and González.

election anxiety countdown

13 Days: Luck

When I realized on Tuesday that my next post in the countdown was number 13, I again started thinking about jinxes and luck. 13 is supposed to be an unlucky number. I’m a couple of posts behind because of a busy week with a client. Should I skip post 13 altogether? Older buildings have no floor numbered 13 because the offices or apartments are harder to rent. Is the opposite true, I wonder? Can you charge more for apartment on the lucky 7th floor?

Luck comes in to play when you’re rolling dice, trying to test the odds. FiveThirtyEight published a clickable model of the election this week that pairs their statistical modeling with the satisfaction of putting states firmly in the “end Trump” column to see what a win in one state might suggest in the rest of the country. It’s a step up in complexity from rolling the dice at Trump’s 12 in 100 chance of winning, but it’s still just a roll of the dice. It’s not productive to keep going over the simulation to see how many times Trump hypothetically loses. The thing to do is to work to make the odds better and better for Biden to actually win: sign up for text-banking or phoning voters, or voter protection. Still. I can’t stop looking.

As a walker, I smile when I luck into finding something interesting. But when I’m not walking much, as has been the case lately, I’m not in a position to be lucky. Sometimes I favor routes that are crowded and well-travelled because it’s more likely I’ll run into a friend or learn something about the people I live alongside in D.C. But by walking on busy 14th street, I miss out on learning about nature by walking in Rock Creek Park and miss out on finding free boxes of cast-off goods left in the back alleys by my increasingly wealthy neighbors. I think of the idea that you can put yourself into position to be more likely to find what you’re looking for as serendipity. But is there a difference between serendipity and luck? I suppose you can have bad luck. The most important thing is to be engaged, pay attention, give yourself a chance.