It was Election Day morning, a week and a day after Hurricane Sandy had wreaked havoc on the tri-state area – seventy-two hours since my home’s electrical power had been restored – and there was what the local television forecasters called an “unseasonable” chill in the Canarsie, Brooklyn air. November nippiness or not, there was work to be done. Important work. After all, there was a Presidential election today.
I put on my heavy denim jacket and walked to my local polling place – the place where I have voted my entire adult life – the public school across the street from my house. As I’ve done for decades, I opened the school doors and followed the posted signs with the big, black arrows on them to the cafeteria.
This time – for the first time – I walked into a madhouse. A plethora of dissatisfied folk on disjointed lines were demanding answers. I went up to a woman with a badge and asked her which was my voting line. She pointed to the line nearest to me. I got on it and, over a half-hour later, spoke to another woman seated behind a picnic table. She asked for my address and name. I gave it and stood silently while she went through a large book full of names and addresses. Unfortunately, mine was not among them. She then referred me to another table in the far corner. I went there only to discover another thirty minutes later the folks at that table didn’t have my information either.
Onward if not upward, I was sent to another table. This one was located catty-corner from the first one I’d been to and, again, I relayed my information. The woman at this table looked in another huge book, did not find my name and address, excused herself and came back with another large tome. She asked me to repeat my address again. I did. I watched over her right shoulder as her right index finger slowly scanned the page in front of us. Then it stopped on a number and she looked up at me to inform me that my polling place had been moved some six blocks away to the middle of the Breukelen Projects.
“That’s crazy,” I responded, “I live right across the street and I’ve voted here my whole life.” I also told her that I hadn’t been given any written notification concerning such a move. So, I asked, how could such a thing happen? She then lowered her voice. “It is crazy,” she said. “It’s almost like they’re trying to discourage people from voting.” She then grabbed a pen and paper and scribbled down an address. “Please, please, please, promise me that you’ll go here to vote,” she implored. “It’s important that you do.” As I took the paper from her hand, an older woman turned to me and spoke. “I live in the projects ten blocks away and they told me over there that I had to come here and vote. It’s ridiculous what they’ve doing. Ridiculous.” I nodded and left.
Now, a smidgen of regional history. The Breukelen – pronounced by neighborhood denizens as Brook-line – projects is considered by many local residents as a bit rough. Hence, its nickname of Crook-line, a sobriquet designed to create fear in some and a sense of class superiority in many of its bordering homeowners. Regardless, it is without a doubt a most curious choice to send redistricted voters. My response? I just buttoned up my jacket to the top and walked to the address I had been given: a community center smack dab in the – where else? – center of the projects.
The mood inside was light years away the chaotic cafeteria I’d just left. The lines were orderly and the room was quiet. I got on a line I hoped would be my last of the day. This one was for folks whose last name began with letters M to Z. In front of me was a teenaged girl wearing a pink bomber jacket and pink pants. Her attention seemed to be solely focused on the smartphone in her hands.
In front of her was a middle-aged couple who had turned out for the turn-out. The woman was wearing a brown leather coat cinched with a belt tied tightly around her waist. Her hair seemed to have been recently coiffed because she kept patting the air around it with cupped hands as if she wanted to touch it but remembered in mid-pat not to do so.
The man had on a black leather peacoat, black Nikes with sandy brown shoelaces, a sandy brown track suit – the jacket zipped halfway up his chest – made of velveteen and a canary-yellow turtleneck. He was rocking black sunglasses and a black leather fedora which had on the left side a series of rhinestones that spelled out in capital letters: OBAMA.
In front of them was an elderly lady who was engaged in spirited conversation with two equally aged – male and female – poll workers. I glanced to my right behind me. A long line was beginning to form. (Must be a whole lot of M through Z’s in my ‘hood, I thought.) Behind them were six privacy booths where people were filling out their ballots. I looked left. There was a young brother showing those with finished ballots how to run them through the scanners.
Coming from the scanners, having just finished the process was a heavy-set Latina in a motorized wheelchair. She had on a black down coat, grey ski cap and grey sweats. She pulled up to the stylin’ couple ahead of me. They exchanged pleasantries. Then the Latina spoke: “I told them niggas hangin’ out in front of my building that if I can drag my fat white ass in this chair down here to vote, they’ve got no excuses not to do the same.” The couple nodded in agreement. “Got to,” said the man. “It’s important,” added the woman as she got called forward by the two elderly poll workers.
A twenty-ish young lady in a grey leather jacket and grey kerchief on her head came into the room and made her way to the teenager in front of me. The teen – for the first time since I’d been behind her – took her eyes off of her phone and said hello to the slightly older woman.
“Shit is crazy,” her friend said in response as she began to rattle off tales of the trouble people were having in the neighborhood trying to vote. “That’s why I came here first thing this morning and insisted you come,” she concluded. “I’m here,” the teen said quietly as the A through L finally began to fill up next to us. “You should be here,” her friend responded with a correcting tone, “this is important shit. They’ve trying to steal this election and we can’t let that shit happen.” As she finished her sentence, the middle aged couple passed us with their ballots.
The two elderly poll workers then called the teen to the table. The teen paused and took a deep breath. Her friend gave her a comforting pat/shove in the back and pushed her towards the table. “You’ve got to forgive me,” she said, “this is my first time voting.” The poll workers smiled. “Nothing to worry about,” said the woman. “Just take your time,” said the man.
As she stepped forward, a slight commotion appeared to break out in the A to L line. A man in the back of the line began to complain that an elderly lady clutching a walker had cut to the front. “But I’m old,” she said in a weak voice, “I can’t stand for long.” The man in the back of the line began to respond until a young tall brother in the front, stepped out of the line, took a step towards him and spoke. “I let her go in front of me,” he said. Then he thumped his chest with his right hand for emphasis. “Me,” he repeated. Then he turned to the elderly lady and with his left hand cradled her right elbow. “Just take your time,” he softly told her as a slight smile came over her face, “you just take your time.”
From December, 2012