“Hey, mister! We got cupcakes!”
I looked down at a little girl with pink and green barrettes smiling at me. It was Election Day, and the school where I was voting was having a bake sale. In this time of voter disenchantment, cynicism, and endless bickering, this little girl just wanted me to have a cupcake. I promised her I’d be back and walked inside to vote.
Most people don’t vote in midterm elections. The sad fact is that if more than fifty percent of eligible voters show up, it’s a very high turnout. I was brought up with parents who told me to vote in every election because “in some places in the world people can’t.”
I scanned my options for governor, state’s attorney general, and judges, making quick work of those choices. Then I flipped the ballot. There I found the items that I really cared about: state and local referendums. This is where I think folks who don’t vote are missing out. The real power of my vote, I think, isn’t in some red vs. blue state national soup, but in smaller issues that affect me and my neighbors.
I thought about the little girl and her cupcakes just as I voted yes on a proposal to give more money to schools for technology.
My alarm went off at 7 A.M. I was beyond confused. I’ve always been a night owl, and after working night-shift jobs for most of my life, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually set my alarm for earlier than 10. Then I remembered: Jury Duty.
Ah, the G train. The little engine that … might? The only way to get from my apartment in Greenpoint to downtown Brooklyn—unless you want to spend thirty bucks on a cab—is to roll the dice on the G.
The gamble paid off. Soon I was in line, through security, and sitting in the waiting area.
Most people dread jury duty, or do their best to get out of it. When I told people I was going, everybody had advice on how not to serve if called:
“Pretend you’re racist.”
“Show up drunk.”
I even had a few lawyer friends offer to tell me exactly what to say to get out of it. I didn’t take anyone’s advice, other than, “Bring a good book.”
In the end, it didn’t matter. I never got called on a panel and was dismissed at the end of one day.
I used to think that jury duty was a chore that we had to do as part of our “civic responsibility,” whatever that is, but going the day after I voted put it in a very different perspective. In our flawed, imperfect, and messy democracy, there were the few times when I felt like I could make some kind of difference.
For two days in November, I felt empowered.