Watching History in the Making

In case you missed it, my country (the United States) held the 59th presidential election of its history, which concluded last Tuesday, November 3rd. Due to the current pandemic, many voters chose to vote early or by mail (whose rules vary from state to state; in my home state of Florida, one only needs to be a registered voter in order to vote by mail and does not need to provide a reason for requesting a mail-in ballot). I was not one of them.

Ultimately, I decided to cast my vote in person on Election Day for a couple of reasons: 1. There was tomfoolery going on with the Postal Service and I wanted to be absolutely sure my vote would be received and counted. And 2. My hometown already had an ordinance in place requiring the wearing of masks in indoor public spaces. I was already planning to mask up anyway and I’m not at a high risk of developing complications in the event I do catch the virus…but prevention is still better than catching it.

But I did vote. I made sure to get up a little earlier than I normally do last Tuesday morning, I took a shower, got dressed, and waited for my dad to get home from work. When he got home, he had not gone to the polls yet (sometimes he goes straight there from work, although this was also the first election without my mom around, so that may have also had something to do with it). I pulled out a fresh mask (I use disposable ones, that way I don’t have to worry about washing masks), and then got in the Jeep and had to figure out where our polling place was. It had been changed from a church lobby to a local middle school cafeteria, presumably so that there would be more room for everybody to spread out and distance. (Why do I have the feeling that “social distancing” will be the Word/Phrase of the Year?) When we got there, the line was long enough where it practically lined up with the edge of the last building on the school’s property…but thankfully not long enough to reach to the street. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the door. I should also mention we had just had our first notable cool front of the season, so it was in the upper 50s/low 60s Fahrenheit when we were outside (this was a little after 8:00 in the morning; polls in Florida open at 7:00 am local time on Election Day and close at 7:00 pm local time…I say “local time” because Florida sits in two time zones, with most of Florida in the Eastern Time Zone and the Panhandle in the Central Time Zone). I had decided to mask up as soon as I had gotten out of the Jeep; my dad decided to wait until we were about to go inside. I think our exposure outside would have been minimal anyway because no one in line turned towards us. We did a little bit of small talk to each other in line; I usually ask him about his work day while we’re drinking coffee in the morning, but instead we did our small talk while waiting in line.

The poll workers were only letting in two or three people at a time, and usually after about the same number of people were exiting the building. My dad was let in first, and I had to wait a couple more minutes before going inside. Once I was let in, I walked over to a sign-in station, presented my ID, and then had to sign a slip. Another change brought in due to the pandemic: sign-in was not digital this time, like it was the last time I voted in 2018. The poll worker (who was behind a plexiglass barrier) entered my information into a screen, asked me to confirm that my name, address, and birth date were all correct, and then she had me take a pen (brand new and wrapped in plastic, so I was the first person to use it), and sign a slip printed out with my name and polling precinct. She handed me a ballot, and I found an empty polling booth right across from my dad. I took out my sample ballot from my purse (which I generally fill out before Election Day as a “dry run” and to use as a guide when I fill out the real thing), and then filled out the actual ballot. I put the sample ballot back in my purse, then I went over my ballot to make sure I’d filled everything in the way I wanted to before I finally went over to another poll worker to turn my completed ballot into the collection box for counting.

Then came the waiting game. While Florida’s electoral choice for President was called on Election Night, it would take four more days and lots of counting in several close states before the media outlets were able to get enough information to determine who would clinch enough electoral votes to win the presidency. It’s been all over the news, so I don’t need to rehash it here. The Electoral College will officially cast its votes next month, and at that point, the winning candidate’s election should be official (and just requires the vote being certified by Congress in early January). Personally, I’d like to see the Electoral College abolished in favor of a national popular vote, but it’s the system we’ve got right now, so there’s not really much we can do about it at the moment.

I’ve stated multiple times that I prefer to keep this blog apolitical (and I have readers of all different political stripes), and thus I don’t really talk much about politics here. However, anyone who’s seen my Twitter feed knows exactly who I supported for this election (and thus, who I cast my vote for) and exactly how I felt about the incumbent running for re-election. Needless to say, I’m feeling good about the result. I don’t know if my dad or my brother and my sister-in-law (who almost certainly voted for the other guy) are feeling the same way. I actually haven’t talked with my dad about it at all. But he hasn’t acted like some of the other supporters of the person who lost and been a sore loser and calling for votes to be overturned (which, by all accounts, there is no evidence to suggest that those votes should be invalidated in the first place). He’s just kind of continued on with his life. He’s supported more than a few losing candidates for President in the past. Each time he’s seemingly handled their losses with grace. Heck, I supported the losing candidate in 2016, and I handled it with a stiff upper lip and used my energy to start knitting a sweater that took me most of the winter to finish.

Voting in an election is one of the ways that we, the people, can directly affect history and the direction of the nation for the next few years. This election was historic for two reasons.

The first reason is that this year marked 100 years since women were granted the right to vote nationwide thanks to the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was the culmination of a nearly century-long battle where women not only wanted the right to vote, they demanded it. As stated in the PBS series American Experience episode “The Vote”:

The textbooks, when I went to school, said, “Women were given the vote.” We weren’t given anythingwe took it.

American Experience, “The Vote”

By the way, this two-part episode is available for viewing on the PBS website, which you can find here. I’m not sure if it is viewable outside of the United States. It’s about 3-4 hours long (split into two parts), but so worth watching if you get the chance.

I posted this picture on my Instagram a couple of years ago with a collection of some of those women who fought for the right to vote and the immediate beneficiaries.

Top row (left to right): Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone. Middle row: Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, Julia Ward Howe. Bottom row: Carrie Chapman Catt, Jeanette Rankin.

I initially considered posting this image on my Instagram to honor the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, but ultimately did not do so for reasons I don’t immediately remember. But I will post it here. These are all women who were activists or held public office and in a sense are the beneficiaries of the Nineteenth Amendment. (I tried to keep this one as bipartisan as possible, so there are women from both major parties in this one.)

Top row (left to right): Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Margaret Chase Smith, Ann Richards, Shirley Chisholm. Bottom row: Condoleezza Rice, Geraldine Ferraro, Carol Moseley Braun, Tammy Baldwin.

Just to explain their significance here:

  • Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Cuban-American and Hispanic woman elected to Congress, and was also the first House Republican to publicly support same-sex marriage (or “marriage equality”).
  • Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to be elected to both the House of Representatives and the Senate over the course of her career. She was a Republican from Maine, and during her tenure in the United States Senate, was a critic of Joseph McCarthy (another Republican, who was from Wisconsin) and his tactics to try and find alleged communists working in the U.S. government. You can read about her famous speech calling out McCarthy, called the “Declaration of Conscience”, here.
  • Ann Richards was Governor of Texas (in fact, she was the most recent Democrat to serve as Governor of Texas). During her tenure, she implemented programs to revitalize the Texas economy in a time when the rest of the country was dealing with a shrinking economy and worked to streamline Texas’ state government. She also worked to reform the state’s prison system and actively appointed women and minorities to official positions. She famously said of then-incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush in her keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention: “Poor George. He can’t help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” She was later defeated in her bid for re-election by Bush’s son (and future President), George W. Bush.
  • Shirley Chisholm was a Congresswoman from New York. She was the first Black woman elected to Congress (serving from 1969 to 1983) and in 1972 also became the first Black person (male or female) to run for a major party’s presidential nomination, seeking the Democratic nomination against Richard Nixon, who was running for re-election that year. Ultimately she did not win the nomination (that would go to George McGovern, who lost in a landslide to Nixon), and it wouldn’t be until 2016 that either of the major parties would nominate a woman as its presidential candidate. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
  • Condoleezza Rice served as National Security Advisor from 2001-2005, and in 2005 became the first Black woman (and second Black person) to serve as Secretary of State (her immediate predecessor, Colin Powell, was the first Black person to hold the position). She is also the second woman to be named Secretary of State, and one of three women to have held that position. She is the only person in this collage to not have been elected to her highest-serving position.
  • Geraldine Ferraro was a Congresswoman from New York and was also the first woman named as a running mate (a party’s nominee for Vice President) for a major party’s presidential ticket (and was the first of three that have been named). She was the running mate of Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee for President in 1984. Mondale had previously served as Jimmy Carter’s Vice President. Unfortunately for them, they were running against incumbent (and wildly popular) President Ronald Reagan. Reagan defeated Mondale in a landslide; Mondale only won his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia (the “DC” in “Washington, DC”).
  • Carol Moseley Braun was a Senator from Illinois and was the first Black woman ever elected to the United States Senate. She served one term in the Senate before being defeated in her re-election bid by Republican Peter Fitzgerald. Braun’s seat was later held by future President Barack Obama and is now held by Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who, among other firsts, was the first woman with a disability elected to Congress (she lost both of her legs in the Iraq War when a helicopter she was piloting was hit by rocket-propelled grenades).
  • Tammy Baldwin is a Senator from Wisconsin, the first woman elected to either house of Congress from that particular state. She is also the first openly gay woman elected to Congress (there have been several LGBTQ members of Congress, but were closeted when elected and either came out during or after their tenures or were ousted by other people), and is one of two openly LGBTQ Senators (the other being Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, who is bisexual). Baldwin currently holds the Senate seat once held by the controversial Joseph McCarthy.

The other reason that this election was a historic one (well, more historic than others) was because (provided the projected electoral vote holds) it resulted in the first-ever woman being elected Vice President. Her name is Kamala Harris, she previously served as United States Senator from California, and she was only the second-ever person of color to be nominated to a major party’s presidential ticket (either as nominee or running mate; the first, of course, being Barack Obama). She is the daughter of immigrants, her father being from Jamaica and her mother from India, and she herself was born in California. With her election, she will become the highest female office-holder in American history. And if you’re wondering how to pronounce her first name, she says it as “COMMA-la”.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during her and President-elect Joe Biden’s victory celebration.

While it will still be a couple of months until Inauguration Day, and the outgoing incumbent is sure to be causing some chaos on his way out…it’s still important to note that we are watching history in the making. History is always in the making, and we all have a front row seat. No matter who we vote for or how we react to the different policies and bills put forward, we have to remember that we are all in this together, whether we like it or not. We may not always like the results of the voting process, and sure there are ways we can fix the system to make elections as free and fair as possible…but being able to guide our own destiny through the voting booth is one of the most American things we can do.

And finally, before I post…I’d like to recognize the last two days, both important days for certain members of my family. Yesterday marked the Marine Corps Birthday, which marks the anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps. Many of you familiar with my background know that my dad served in the Marines for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He never saw combat, but spent most of his service working on airplanes and vehicles as a mechanic. Today is Veterans Day, which honors the service of all members of the military, living and dead. Most other countries use this time of the month as more of a memorial day to honor those who died in combat, but here in the U.S. we already have a separate day for that, Memorial Day (which is held on the last Monday in May). Veterans Day is more of a celebratory day here in the United States, usually marked with parades and displays of gratitude, although my dad has always handled this in more of a humble way. I’ve had relatives serve in every branch of the Armed Forces except for the Army, but my dad is the only one still living at this time. On my mom’s side of the family, her father was in the Coast Guard (sort of the Navy’s law enforcement branch; they also perform life-saving operations at sea), her brother in the Air Force (which was originally part of the Army, but spun off into its own branch a couple of decades before he enlisted), and her uncle (my grandmother’s brother) was in the Navy. All of them are now deceased.

I hope your November is going well at the moment. I really do need to try and post more.

June 12: Anne’s Legacy

The 12th of June marks the second anniversary of the PULSE nightclub massacre in Orlando, which I wrote about extensively last year in the entry “PULSE: One Year Later”. Two years on, we as region are focusing on how to live with the pain and sadness the events of that day has left with us, and those most deeply affected by it are continuing the healing process day by day.

Today I would like to focus my writing on another victim of hate, one who made her legacy by just trying to survive in the most difficult of situations and writing vividly and truthfully about her experiences. Anne Frank was born on this date in 1929 and would have turned 89 if she had survived to the present day. Of course, she is best known for the diary that she kept during the years she and her family spent in hiding in her father’s office building in Amsterdam in order to escape from the Nazi regime that had been occupying the Netherlands at that time. She began her diary just a few months before going into hiding, a diary which had been given to her as a gift for her 13th birthday in 1942.

Her family (consisting of Anne, her sister Margot, and her parents Otto and Edith) went into hiding in the summer of 1942 after her sister Margot had received a call-up from the SS (although Anne was not informed of this until they were on their way to their arranged hiding place). The Frank family were joined by her father Otto’s business partner Hermann van Pels (who was given the pseudonymic surname “Van Daan” In Anne’s diary) and his wife Auguste (“Petronella Van Daan”) and son Peter (who also only received a change in surname in her diary). They were later joined by an eighth person, Fritz Pfeffer (“Albert Dussel”). All through their ordeal, their sole contacts with the outside world were a trusted group of employees of Otto’s and Hermann’s who provided them with food, supplies, educational materials for the three teenagers, and even the occasional stash of yarn. (Seriously! Anne Frank was a knitter! In one of her diary entries, she talks about asking one of the helpers to bring her some wool so that she can knit herself a jumper/sweater to help her keep warm in the winter. She begins knitting said jumper in September 1942. There is also a photo of her from 1941, aged 12, knitting. Based on the image, she was right-handed and a thrower.)

Anne maintained her diary from 1942 until just days before she and her family were arrested in August 1944, beginning the last tragic act of their fate as victims of the Holocaust for all but one of those eight. The group was detained at Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands for a month following their arrest before being sent out on literally the last train to Auschwitz, a notorious concentration camp in Poland. The men and women were separated upon arrival, the last time Otto Frank would ever lay eyes upon his family. Anne was spared from the gas chambers that day because she had turned 15 just three months before arriving; due to his age and his slight frame, Anne falsely believed that her father had been killed. In October 1944, Anne and Margot Frank and Auguste van Pels were transferred to Bergen-Belsen in Germany, while Edith Frank stayed behind, dying of starvation in January 1945, just three weeks before the Allies liberated Auschwitz. Both Anne and Margot contracted typhus at Bergen-Belsen, and the two sisters died within weeks of each other in February or possibly March of 1945. The Allies would liberate the camp in April 1945. As for their fellow annex-mates, Hermann van Pels was gassed to death in October 1944 at Auschwitz; Fritz Pfeffer died at the Neuengamme camp in Germany from illness in December 1944. Auguste van Pels was transferred to Buchenwald just weeks before the Frank sisters’ deaths, and then was (according to an eyewitness) murdered by Nazis during transport to Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic, about a month before the Allies liberated that camp. The last to die during the Holocaust was Peter van Pels, who is believed to have died at Mauthausen camp in Austria sometime between 11 April 1945 (when he was listed as being transferred to the sick barracks there) and 5 May 1945 (when the Allies liberated that camp), at just 18 years of age. Otto Frank was the only member of the group to survive the Holocaust.

Otto received Anne’s diary from one of the helpers, Miep Gies, after the war. She had not read the diary in order to prevent it from being used to incriminate anyone. When he finally read her diary, he decided to translate it into German for some relatives in Switzerland. The relatives convinced him to compile his late daughter’s writings into a manuscript as a testament for those who suffered persecution under the Nazis, and so he compiled and edited the manuscript himself for publication. It was eventually accepted for publication in the summer of 1946 and released in June 1947 as Het Achterhuis. It would receive its first English publication in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. Otto remarried to a former neighbor and fellow Holocaust survivor in the early 1950s, and would spend the rest of his life living in Switzerland. He made it his life’s work to honor his family and friends who had died in the Holocaust and to preserve the memory of his daughter as sort of a monument of what the Holocaust had stolen from her: not just her life, but also her ambitions and her potential.

Anne’s story is only one of millions whose lives were stolen during the Holocaust, but hers is one of the most widely-documented and also one of the most relatable. A lot of this is due to her young age. She kept her diary between the ages of 13 and 15, and in those two short years, she managed to grow along with her writing and it became much more introspective in the later entries. She explored a lot of issues and feelings that so many girls deal with at her age: boys (including a brief infatuation and a few shared kisses with annex-mate Peter van Pels), periods, sibling rivalry, and personality conflicts with a parent (in her case, her mother, with whom she had difficulty connecting with; Anne had an extremely close relationship with her father, who she affectionately nicknamed “Pim”), just to name a few. Although she loved movie stars and had pasted pictures of them to the walls of her bedroom in the secret annex, she had aspirations of becoming a journalist after the war (as written in her diary on 5 April 1944). She had such an astute skill in observation, even if the “story” she was observing was just her everyday life in hiding and her reactions to developments in the war going on around her. She probably would’ve made an incredible journalist, much like Nellie Bly before her and Christiane Amanpour after her (which would’ve been an incredible accomplishment as a female journalist). The Nazis took all that from her, and the only crime she was guilty of in their eyes was that she was Jewish. That is the only reason why Anne Frank did not get to live to fulfill her potential: she was Jewish and was under the rule of an oppressive regime that believed that the Jewish people were not worthy of fulfilling the ridiculous vision that their hate-filled leader had for his “Thousand Year Reich” that would ultimately last all of 12 years. In those 12 years, 6 million Jews (about two-thirds of the European Jewish population at the time) would be murdered at the hands of the Nazis (most of them systemically between 1941 and 1945). Millions more Roma (Gypsies), handicapped people, ethnically Polish people, LGBT people, chronically ill people, political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Soviet POWs would also die at the hands of the Nazis during that time.

Anne Frank’s legacy is not just a testament to the persecution she and millions of other European Jews faced as a result of the Nazi regime. She also left a legacy as a female writer, writing about her own truths and experiences in a way that became so accessible to readers all over the world, especially girls the same age range she was when she wrote her diary. I first learned of her story in an issue of Reader’s Digest when I was about 8 years old, and it has stuck with me all these years. Her story inspired me to keep my own diary as a tween and teenager, writing about my own experiences and feelings that I went through at that age and trying to make sense of news developments during my growing up. Even now, her story inspires my desire to keep blogging. Essentially, Anne’s diary was way ahead of its time, serving as her blog to her own experiences during World War II. The only differences between a diary and a blog are the medium and the audience: a diary generally is handwritten for an audience of one, while a blog is digitally written for an audience of many. Thanks to Miep Gies preserving it and Otto Frank compiling and editing it for publishing, what began as Anne Frank’s diary has become a bestseller and a forerunner to what we know today as the blog. And it is a work that continues to enlighten and serve as a source of inspiration for young writers everywhere. Anne Frank did not die in vain. And because her story continues to be told, the Nazis failed in trying to extinguish the voices of her and millions of other European Jews.

I know this post was a long one, but her story is one that has always grabbed me, first as a young person, and then as a woman, and now as a writer. I close this post with the picture of her I mentioned earlier in the post of Anne at around 12 years of age in 1941, knitting.

(I think Anne would’ve absolutely been amazed at how much knitting has skyrocketed in popularity these days. And also at how colorful a lot of today’s yarns are.)