So... Helen Shiller wins an election that had 11,282 aldermanic votes cast by a margin of 688 votes.* Am I elated? Well, I sure was once the results became clear. But -- still up eighteen hours after this day started, I'm tired, relieved at the election's outcome. And there is another emotion as well. Before I get to it, though, let me tell a sort of story of the day which might hint where I'm going. If you want to skip the story, just jump to the heading "So What?"
Two Yuppies or Two Human Beings?
I worked with two guys -- well, maybe against them for moments here and there -- in my role as a poll watcher. They were poll watching, too, but for Shiller's opponent, James Cappleman. Both were young lawyers -- one a divorce lawyer, the other one a corporate lawyer. The second seemed very unlike the cliche corporate lawyer, wryly telling of a life where he seemed a gopher for his superiors, working ridiculous hours, aware of the potential futility of spending a lifetime working for giant multinationals.... in short a person I found self-reflective and likable. (I was glad, I admit, I wasn't living his life.) He wasn't from our ward, had landed the poll watcher role as part of his assigned work, and seemed to really enjoy the experience.
The first guy is a near neighbor to me, living within easy walking distance. He did use the catch-phrase often used disparagingly by many Cappleman folks and Cappleman himself -- "blighted" -- to describe parts of our immediate neighborhood. But before I was able to go too far down that "I hate yuppie cliches" road, I had to admit he probably wasn't aware that the term was a catch phrase, and an offensive one. He also talked about his law practice. And the more he talked, the more it made him human. How does a guy stand as both observer and participant while a couple legally finishes off what had once been such a sure and new thing? And -- as further rebuke to the line of reasoning in my head -- we talked over what divorce is. Somehow I ended up telling him a fair bit about my own first marriage's sad ending. We all cried... no no, that last bit did not happen. We'd have needed Oprah. Anyway...
That didn't mean there weren't some rough spots between us. The most awkward came up when it became apparent I had around 12 or so names he was unaware of on the voting roles. That wasn't a surprise, as I'd helped register them, then discovered they'd someone been bounced by the election board. Things had been fixed with some eleventh hour scurrying around and making phone calls and... well, the upshot was I gave a copy of some documents from the election board to the Judges at our poll; my neighbor / election opponent now wanted a copy of this list.
Why wouldn't I just give it to him?
Ah. Remember, this election is a repetition for me of past elections going back to Helen's first one in 1987. Every election thereafter, her opponents (and it was always a new face) came after us with all sorts of ideas, ideas that always seemed to involve removing from some or all the right to vote. One year it was for a poll watcher to stand up every time our address was announced and yell, "Challenge!" (I was an election judge myself that year, but didn't know I could have thrown him out summarily without appeal -- pretty cool power, but only if you use it!) Other years we had even judges that got bizarre. One suddenly snapped at the end of the election day, "These numbers do not add up! We're going to throw all these votes out!" (Luckily, I was a judge that year, too -- and told her I'd physically hold her down if she even made one move to do such a thing.) Various other forms of harassment had been used against both our building's residents and the residents of a nearby half-way house called The Grassmere (not sure on that spelling). These folks are often mentally and / or physically challenged, and easily cowed by people yelling at them, questioning them in a hostile tone, and generally showing disrespect.
But these two lawyers... could I trust them not to do this to my new voters? I decided I would not share the names with them, since they could always challenge the votes after the election (which were done on so-called "provisional" ballots anyway) if they really thought I'd done something wrong. I wanted to avoid voters being hassled -- my least favorite thing as any sort of election official. By the end of the evening, I was mostly convinced I could have shared the names... only mostly, though. Sigh...
I even talked a little with them about the awkwardness of it, the friendly banter and even serious discussions we'd had all day about my living in an intentional community (and all that entailed), yet our respective understanding that we were, after all, pitted against one another in working toward different ends. As it turned out, though, I *think* they would not have attempted to stop people from voting unless that person were clearly committing an illegal act. I for myself could say with good conscience that the most important thing to me during an election day's voting is make sure everyone and anyone who has even the most tenuous legal claim on a ballot be given it. I myself had, as an election judge, helped disabled voters asking for assistance vote for a candidate opposite to the one I hoped would win. In fact, it was yet another of our infamous Shiller vs. Whomever elections....
But my divorce lawyer neighbor turned to me, and offered me his tally on how our own Jesus People building had done. "You had nearly a 100% turnout!" he exclaimed. "That is really impressive." And I sensed from him that same sense I had... how to jump the Uptown Chasm, the perception gap that allows so much hostility to simmer? Could we find a new way...?
Enough of the stories, though, as it is now nearly 2 am and in four hours I'll have been up for 24 hours!
We slowly gathered up our "totals" tapes (print-outs of the day's end results) and said good-bye.
And as I walked up to my room and after an hour or so heard that Helen had won, I found myself thinking about my neighbor. Was he bummed? Was he angry? Did he feel he'd invested his life in Uptown, too, but was stuck with a vision foreign to that which he desired to see?
I know I have the strongest feelings about this neighborhood, especially about making sure that with all the development and condo construction, the poor will not be neglected and left out of the picture. I also know that if I sat down with my lawyer neighbor and tried talking from that starting point, the conversation would quickly mire up to the hubs.
Here's the question. Can we in Uptown, regardless of who we back (and even more important what issues we believe most pressing and urgent for our area), determine to start treating one another more like human beings? That is, to stick to our guns on issues while also going out of the way to speak respectfully to one another and try to find some positive common ground to build one community instead of two with?
We who look across the divide from the poorer side tend to be afraid of how quickly we are left out, forgotten, and even "designed away" by the massive development which has been part of Uptown for the past few years and even longer. Sometimes we let that fear drive us into seeing in every upward young professional "the enemy." That is not only morally wrong, it is also strategically dumb.
Have I done this in the past. Oh, yes. I am trying to reform. What I'm hoping is that perhaps those who backed James Cappelman might go back and cool-like re-read what they or friends of theirs posted on sites such as whatthehelen.com [removed in toto as of Feb. 28!] and buenaparkneighbors message board (go to the "general" posting area for the most, uh, "lively" posts). I've long known that a computer keyboard brings out the worst in a writer. Every emotion we have comes out of the keys amplified many times over, and I wonder if some of that rhetoric may strike even its authors that way in retrospect.
I can't claim -- and never have claimed -- to have one iota of authority over what anyone else does in Uptown. But I would like to make a modest proposal...
Can any of us who are interested in seeing one another as human beings agree to start a dialogue together? The idea won't be to convince each other of something, but rather to simply get to know one another to a degree we currently do not.
If you are interested, please post a comment here. Add your ideas to my admittedly primitive beginning (though, when I wake up sometime next week, I actually do have more to post on this).
One last thing... I hope none of you go to Lincoln Park. I hope you stay here and help birth something that is the best all of us have to offer one another... listening... seeing... acknowledging another's human reality...
Thanks for listening. I'm going to bed now, before I make myself sick from no sleep.
* [March 3 update: Election totals are finally *all* in and Helen's margin of victory has been changed to reflect that fact. Edited Feb 28 to reflect newer vote totals, which are still apparently incomplete due to one precinct having some sort of ballot counting problem. That precinct won't affect the totals much. Also edited to note whatthehelen's apparent removal from the web.]