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Election Day: Not in the Chosen but in the Choosing

11/07/2012 08:39 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2013

Election Day, November, 1884
by Walt Whitman
(1819-1892)

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara - nor you, ye limitless prairies - nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite - nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic
geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones - nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes - nor
Mississippi's stream:
- This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name - the still
small voice vibrating - America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen - the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd - sea-board and inland -
Texas to Maine - the Prairie States - Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West - the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling - (a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the
peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity - welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
- Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify - while the heart
pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

Election Day, November 2012

There is nothing like national elections to bring to the surface and out into the world the true depths and span of the diversity of Americans. Slowly, over the arc of the year we have seen 32 flavors of voices begin to proclaim their beliefs, and then those voices rise to a peak of righteous rage -- demanding to be heard in the flurry. It is during these times that I realize how divided that my own community is. I see family and friends promoting their favorite presidential or senatorial candidate or ballot measure in stark opposition to one another. These are the "countless snowflakes" of unique Americans each rising into a greater whole that is our one nation.

As an adolescent I couldn't stand the conflict, and I once asked my father why there had to be political parties? Couldn't we all just rationally choose the best candidate? But my father told me that it is in the polarity of the candidates that we begin to represent the diversity of values of our citizens, and that this is how we achieve a balance of power. It's the yin and yang of democracy. "The stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships." These are the forces that push us to the right, and to the left, but over all propel us forward towards social evolution faster than any other time in human history. Although it is hard not to feel defeated about certain issues I was passionate about failing this time around, I am comforted by another favorite lesson of my father's that he shares with me every time I collapse in despair about the state of the world that day: "Lets see how history remembers this." Immediately I remember that when my father was born in Louisiana in 1934, African-American'sdid not have the right to vote, women's voting rights were a relatively new thing and you would be arrested if caught with a bottle of wine. Times, how they change, and how they change quickly. And yet, the day after election day 2012, as I sit reflecting on Whitman's experience of election day 1884, I notice that the currents that Whitman is celebrating resonate more than a century after he wrote them.

On "America's choosing day" I felt "this seething hemisphere's humanity" as I watched the "final ballot shower from East to West -- the paradox and conflict..." as some of my favored candidates won, and others lost. Some ballot measures I was passionate about won, and others lost. Some of my friends and family are outraged by President Obama's re-election, and others are redeemed for all of their efforts in working tirelessly to keep him in office.

I am inspired by citizens rising out of complacency, questioning their beliefs on the economy, civil liberties, and foreign policies and I challenge us all to continue to be engaged as citizens, and as advocates. Let this one day not be our only day where we choose to take a stand -- but invite the practice of daily acts of engagement. Let us strive to stay informed on these issues that matter to us and to our communities. Let's remember that we are one nation in a larger global community all striving for the same sense of peace and security for our homes and neighborhoods. Let's question our beliefs and why we believe them. And let's keep pushing our country forward towards greater equality, justice, and prosperity for all. Because "the heart of it" is "not in the chosen -- but in the choosing."