Kelly Ryan is a brilliant writer who happens to be my daughter. As an attorney poll watcher in Nevada she tells us what she observed and suggests that we stop whining about the disastrous election of a probable fascist and do something about it. (Phil Ryan)


The Democracy Challenge

Democracy is not a spectator sport. We have to participate. That doesn’t mean you have to work on a campaign or for a particular candidate or party. But, I do think it means you must find an issue that matters to you and do something: give money, give time, speak out, engage others. It’s not as hard as you might think it is. But even if it is, it’s worth it. It matters. Don’t stay silent and expect there are enough “others” to get it done. Don’t get complacent and overly comfortable in your life. Don’t self-select your world so that you’re living in a self-affirming echo chamber. Get in the game.

I spent all day yesterday at the polls watching volunteers (every poll worker in Nevada is a volunteer) work a 15+ hour day to ensure American’s voices were heard. They were knowledgeable, helpful, encouraging, patient, gracious, and tolerant. They were committed to doing everything they could to facilitate and encourage voting, not suppress it. They made countless phone calls to the registrar’s office to resolve clerical errors, voters mistakenly marked as inactive, updating addresses, directing voters to the correct precinct, and handling each and every issue that arose, and there were many. And through a long and difficult day, they treated each voter with dignity and respect.

I spoke with young activists from the Culinary Workers’ Union, who had been working in Nevada for months to increase voter registration and participation. They had traveled from New York to do this work. Their faces lit up when they saw some of the people whose doors they had knocked on show up at the polling place…one literally 5 minutes before the polls closed. I spoke with mature activists from the Clinton campaign who had been canvassing, phone banking, and now poll observing on behalf of their candidate. (For the record, there were no Trump poll observers or volunteers at either polling place I observed, or I would have spoken with them as well.)

Perhaps even more powerful than that, I spent 12 hours watching Americans exercise their right to vote. It was amazing and beautiful. I saw a grandmother voting alongside her granddaughter casting her first vote. Twenty minutes later the same grandmother walked her mother in to a different polling place, so she could cast her vote. I saw a man wearing a Make America Great Again hat, get angry and incensed when asked to remove his campaign gear while at the polling place, and then declare it was more important to him to vote than to fight. I saw a Middle Eastern man bring his three children under the age of 5 with him to the polling place while his wife took pictures of them all beaming. I saw the enthusiasm of a 30-year-old first time voter, voting for Trump, happily chauffeuring her father and grandfather to their respective polling places in other counties so they could vote on what was most important to them, also Trump. I saw a Native American man’s gratitude at being able to vote, and determination to vote, after having gone to the wrong polling place in Sparks. A non-partisan Election Protection observer with our organization helped him get the information, and ensured he could vote at the correct polling place in Reno. (And, I was just the lucky beneficiary of his gratitude) I saw an African American mother accompany her newly 18-year-old son to the polling place, after she had already voted at a different polling place, and sit with him through the discomfort of him not being on the voting rolls. I watched the 70+ year old white poll manager work with that 18-year old to figure out what had gone wrong when he insisted he had registered. Twenty minutes and a long phone call with the registrar’s office later, they had an answer, and a resolution, and that 18-year-old got his full (not provisional) ballot. And, through the process and ultimately the poll manager’s explanation of what had gone wrong and how they fixed it, I watched the mother’s face travel a path of suspicion, determination, anger, resignation, relief, and then joy.

And, I saw the pride in the faces of almost all…irrespective of their age, race, or background…as they placed that “I Voted” sticker on their clothing. They were proud of what they’d done. That they’d participated in this democracy. The specifics of their votes and their pride was private to them….but it was beautiful to see, and I was privileged to witness it. It is quite a thing our democracy. A thing we should not take for granted. I don’t believe we get the democracy we deserve in a moralistic sense. I believe we get the one we earn, the one we work for and on.

There is much about this election that has been disheartening, disgusting, enraging, and more …so much more. Twelve hours at the voting polls was a surprising remedy to those ills. Friends updated me on incoming election results as I drove home, and the beauty of the day waned for me, I began to wonder…”and now what.” For me, that answer does not lie in complaining. That answer is not blaming any number of people or circumstances …frankly I think there is a shit ton of blame to go to all around. Yes, ALL around. That answer is not in vilifying people who voted for a man I find vile. There has to be something different than that.

There are things I believe in deeply. I believe in the separation of powers, in three co-equal branches of government, checks and balances, and limitations on police powers. I believe in Civil Rights for everyone…and that’s what they are by the way, civil rights, not gay rights, or women’s rights, they’re not black rights, or Latino rights, they’re civil rights. I believe Black Lives Matter. I believe in the First Amendment, freedom of religion and speech, including and most importantly political speech, in the form of protest and journalism, in opposition to political power, holding that power accountable and calling it to answer. I believe each of these are at real risk right now.

And, I believe silence and inaction is deadly. So, fair warning, I’m not especially interested in hearing people bitch and blame, and further otherize and demonize. Here’s what I want to know: What do you care about? And, what are you doing about it? This is our democracy. Our Republic. Don’t spectate, participate. Take the Democracy Challenge and leave some skin in the game.