As I entered the voting booth yesterday here in the United States, I was, as happens every year, reminded of what was for me a very special Election Day experience I had in 1984. Although it's a divergence from the taxi theme of this blog, I would like to share that story with you.
In 1984, also a presidential election year, the contest was between the Republican incumbents, President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George Bush (the elder), and the Democrats Senator Walter Mondale for president and Representative Geraldine Ferraro for vice-president, the first female to run for the second-highest office in the land in American history. I lived in a part of Queens called Forest Hills at that time and, as it happened, that was also the area of New York City where Geraldine Ferraro made her home. Now, my home was a one-bedroom apartment and hers was an expensive single-family house with a front and back yard, but that didn't matter. We were neighbors.
My polling place was located in the gymnasium of an elementary school, P.S. (Public School) 101, several blocks from my home, and I walked there at around 1 p.m. on Election Day. As I approached the school, I could see that the place was more or less surrounded with media and police vehicles, and I realized why they were there: this was the same polling place where Geraldine Ferraro voted. I entered the gym and as I was busy signing in (which is how registered voters record that they have shown up and cast a vote), there was some commotion around the entrance, and in came the candidate herself.
Well, the place went abuzz. She smiled and waved to everyone and was immediately surrounded by television reporters and the like. Many in the room, including myself, approached her to shake hands and wish her well. And then something happened that struck me as being unseemly. A group of Republican supporters on one side of the gym started chanting, "Four More Years", repetitively and in unison, the message being that they wanted her opponents, and not her, to be elected. That went on for about a minute and then kind of fizzled out on its own.
Ms. Ferraro was quite used to this sort of thing, of course, and it did nothing to alter her smile nor to abate the excitement in the room. After a while she entered a voting booth, one of those contraptions with a lever that opens and closes a circular curtain for privacy, to cast her vote. A few booths down, I entered one of my own. So what we had here, only several feet apart, were the candidate for the second-highest office of the United States of America and a taxi driver both exercising their right, considered sacred by many, to vote.
I voted for Reagan and Bush.
To me, this demonstration before my eyes of how we in America choose our leaders was a truly wonderful and inspiring event. What I realized during my walk back home was even more wonderful and inspiring, however. It was that when the chanting of "Four More Years" suddenly interrupted the mood in the gym, nothing happened. Not only did none of the many police or Secret Service agents in the room move forward to hush them, no one even thought of doing so. It was a public place and they had the right to express their opinion, period. The freedom of speech, guaranteed to all by a constitution that has stood since 1789, is so engrained in the psyches of the citizenry that it is completely unquestioned.
And that is the American way.