On a grey afternoon last week, my mother and I made a quick afternoon jaunt to the Washington Township voting polls located just three miles down the road from Sweet Ridge Farm. Hustling into the tiny town hall kept me dry from the speckles of spring rain that had been coming on and off on an intermittent basis. Once inside the dry town hall I was loosely surrounded by a few people from the local community. Living in a rural area lends to everyone knowing everybody- at least by name. When given my ballot, I didn’t need to show an I.D. or even to verbally identify myself. The lady behind a fold-up table filled with a generous stack of ballots simply said “Mary” and gave me one.
At this moment, my mind was not on the ballot, or who I was to vote for in the state recall elections. Nor was I contemplating on who those familiar faces at the poll would vote for. My thoughts were diverted to Immaculee, and my heart was brimming with gratitude for the security that I have experienced on a day to day basis. To all of you who don’t know Immaculee’s story, I urge you to either watch her movie The Diary of Immaculee. I happen to own her documentary. Because I’ve watched it several times, I am well aware of the difficulties she faced. Immaculee grew up in Rwanda, a country she loved, and was surrounded by a loving family. However, in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart by genocide. Culmination of competition and tension between the Tutsi and Hutu people exploded into neighboring Hutus and Tutsis going to war with each other. This resulted in the murder of 800,000 people. Neighbors killed neighbors. Immaculee’s family was attacked by their neighbors, which led to their deaths. Immaculee’s own survival can be attributed to being harbored in a secret bathroom space with seven other women for 91 days. Previous to her time spent in hiding, Immaculee was a vibrant 21 year old University student weighing 115 lbs. She emerged from her silent 3 months of terrified hiding weighing 65 lbs, only to discover most of her family members had been brutally murdered by machete wielding locals.
Looking around the township hall, I realized how blessed I am to be a young American woman. Of course my vote mattered, but did it matter in the sense of my immediate survival? No. Not at all. Those neighborly faces at the polls may vote differently than me, but I live in a democratic society. Thus, unlike in Rwanda, I have the privilege to cast my vote peacefully, as does my neighbor. There are no Hutus or Tutsis at war with each other, so regardless of my vote, family, and tribe my life isn’t in danger. After exchanging my ballot in the voting machine, I nearly skipped outside into the rain, reveling in the goodness of my own idyllic and privileged American life. Thank you, Immaculee, for sharing your story and making me aware of all that I’ve taken for granted in my life and nation. Thanks to the rain for the abundance it will create this year within the farmer’s field. Thank you to my neighbors, for despite political or cultural opinions we all live in a powerful sense of unity. I’ll never have to fear for my life, or even the life of my highly bothersome and obnoxious dog for that matter. Last of all, thank you America for the gift of living in a free and democratic society.
More thoughts about voting from Mary: