Forefathers Burial Ground

This morning I drove to Chelmsford, MA to attend a postcarding group that meets at The Java Room, a coffee shop where I’d gone with A (not her real initial) to a book group more than 15 years ago, when A lived in Chelmsford, I lived in New Hampshire, and I was still married to C.

When A and I went to that long-ago book group, I was 35 years old, newly graduated with my PhD, and in the throes of a precocious midlife crisis, not knowing where my path forward should lead and idling in a haze of discontent in the meantime. A and other women in the group were in their 40s, on the other side of divorce and other reinventions, and I quietly envied them for the self-assured confidence that comes from being women of a certain age.

I don’t think I could have imagined then that 15 years later, I’d be divorced, remarried, and living in the Boston suburbs with a mortgage, two dogs, and eight cats. Back then, I had vague hopes of scoring a tenure-track job somewhere; first, though, I had to find the strength to leave my marriage, pay off my credit cards, and re-create a life for myself and my dog some 700 miles from my closest family.

I managed to re-create a life, but I never found a tenure-track job. Instead, all these years later I’m still in New England, still supporting myself as an adjunct instructor: no closer, it’s true, to the permanence and prestige of a full-time professorial job. In lieu of stable employment, I’ve settled into the predictability that comes with a house, money in the bank, and all the obligations that come with middle age. It’s not the life I’d envisioned, exactly, but it’s a living.

Yesterday I turned 51, and I can’t imagine how I ever grew to be so old: it feels like yesterday (or at least last year) that I was 35 and struggling to find my way. Last week, I heard an NPR story about Nirvana’s iconic “Sounds Like Teen Spirit,” a song that somehow is more than 25 years old: had Kurt Cobain lived, he’d be in his fifties now. How is it possible that the rebels and misfits of Generation X–my generation–are now middle aged?

During today’s postcard meeting, there was desultory chatter about politics and the world we live in: how is it that one woman’s smart thermostat responded to her loud laments about Trump, and how have we come to the point where handwriting get-out-the-vote postcards is a major method of preserving our sanity? At the end of the meeting, one of the women concluded with a wry observation: “I’ll see you next time, if we’re all still here by then.”

After the group dispersed, I ordered a cookie and a cup of hot chocolate to go, then I crossed the road to explore the old cemetery across the street. When you’re 51, you have a good idea where the path forward leads: on the drive home, I heard that Elizabeth Wurtzel, a writer I’ve never read, had died at 52. When you’re a woman of a certain age, you know how your story ends, eventually. What’s uncertain, however, is how many reinventions stand between then and now.

Frederick Douglass bio and Postcards to Voters

Today is the 4th of July. After reading outside on the patio for a short while this morning, I’ve spent the heat of the day inside our air-conditioned bedroom, trying to keep the dogs cool and ushering them outside for short, closely supervised bathroom and exercise breaks. So much for the Dog Days of summer.

Frederick Douglass

I’m currently reading David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, a weighty brick of a book I checked out and returned to the library several times before making time to read. Yesterday, I read the chapter in Blight’s book that discusses Douglass’s famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” which seems more relevant than ever this year.

Great Hall

Blight accurately interprets the speech as a classic American jeremiad: a speech intended to provoke and spur listeners to action and repentance. In it, Douglass argues that Independence Day means nothing to slaves who lack the freedom it celebrates:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Chairs

This year, I find myself wondering what the Fourth of July means to migrant children detained in squalid holding pens, citizens in gerrymandered districts denied the full power of their vote, or homeless and suicidal veterans fighting PTSD while our draft-dodging President entertains himself with military parades.

Eagle, clock, and portraits

Today I celebrated the Fourth of July by doing two things that I consider to be my civic duty. First, I spent some time writing Postcards to Voters. Voting is an important way to preserve freedom, and encouraging Florida voters to enroll in Vote-By-Mail is one way to get-out-the-vote one person (and one postcard) at a time.

Light fixtures

Second, I spent some time with the Mueller Report, which I’ve committed to read in 10-page daily installments over the course of the summer. In today’s installment, I read Robert Mueller’s indictment for Russian social media meddling, which the Washington Post edition includes in an appendix of supplemental materials. It feels important to understand what the Russians did in 2016 and how easy it was to mislead voters with fake news, sham social media profiles, and even in-person rallies organized from afar and designed to energize some voters while discouraging turnout among others. It’s easy for nefarious agents to mislead gullible constituents; being savvy and thinking critically are also part of our civic duties.

Overhead

July 4th is when we celebrate America’s birthday, but every day it is our job as citizens to defend democracy by doing the work of engaged citizens. This means educating yourself: read books and understand history. Vote and encourage others to do so, too. Pay attention to the news and hold your elected officials accountable. These are the gifts any one of us can give Uncle Sam on his birthday or any other day.

Mistakes were made (and corrected)

I can’t remember the last time I used Wite-Out correction fluid. It’s been decades since I’ve used a typewriter, and Walt, the electric typewriter I used when I was an undergraduate, used correction film, eliminating the need to brush correction fluid over typos.

Spent part of Presidents' Day writing #PostcardsToVoters for @kellysmithky #kelly4ky #gotv (Want to get involved? Email Join@TonyTheDemocrat.org)

But yesterday while I was writing my latest batch of Postcards to Voters, I made a careless mistake on three cards, writing that Democrat Javier Fernandez was running for Florida’s “State Senate” instead of “State House.” So yesterday I discovered that my local grocery store does indeed carry correction fluid, and the second I opened the bottle, the toxic-chemical scent reminded me of a bygone era of caffeine-fueled all-nighters and stress-induced typos.

Five more #PostcardsToVoters for Marie Newman. @marie4congress #IL03

I can only hope the ten Florida Democrats who receive my handwritten cards appreciate that they were written by a real human being who makes real human mistakes. The campaign for Florida’s House District 114 has gotten so heated, fake people are sending typed letters to voters, trying to smear the Democratic candidate. Because of the mudslinging, one of the suggested talking points for volunteers writing postcards is “I am a real person. This is my actual handwriting. I hope you vote.”

I hope Georgia Democrats like orchids, because I'm sending a blooming bouquet of #PostcardsToVoters for Phyllis Hatcher in tomorrow's mail. #FlipGA17 #ElectBlackWomen

The whole appeal of Postcards to Voters is that it is a grassroots network of real people sending friendly, handwritten reminders to fellow Democrats in states all around the country. In an age when voters are inundated by slick professional mailings, there’s a certain charm in receiving a handwritten card from a fellow citizen. My fellow postcarders and I don’t use fake names or fake addresses: we sign our real first names, postmarks make it clear where we are writing from, and we try to add a personal touch by decorating our cards with artwork, stickers, or doodles. It’s craftivism at its friendliest.

Five Superman-themed #PostcardsToVoters for #DDD4WI. Be a hero - use your vote!

My fellow postcarders and I aren’t funded by a super PAC or wealthy donor; we buy our own postcards, stamps, colorful pens, stickers, and (yes) correction fluid, and we write postcards here and there when we have the time. (I try to write ten postcards a week.) My fellow postcarders and I are real people who volunteer to write to other real people because we think encouraging people to vote is more helpful than screaming at the television.

So I hope the registered Democrats who receive my handwritten, hand-corrected postcards recognize they were sent by someone who is only human: not a bot, not a troll, and not a social media algorithm. Mistakes were made, and mistakes were corrected. I trust Florida voters can see the humanity in that.

I’ve written about Postcards to Voters before. With a constant stream of special elections–and with the 2018 midterm elections approaching–we always welcome new volunteers who want to help turn out the vote one Democratic voter at a time. CLICK HERE if you’re interested in learning more.