“Please be boring”: a prayer for lifeguarding and democracy

Voting inspires me. I worked last week as a poll observer at a precinct in Gwinnett County and I was reminded why elections are so important to me.

I saw parents who brought their kids straight from daycare; I saw a young woman who brought both grandmas to vote; I saw a young mom with a baby in a snuggly; I saw an elderly man pushing his wife in a wheelchair; I saw people of all ages and races and ideologies lining up to vote. 

I’ve given up guessing which way people will vote, although the women dressed head to toe in AKA sorority gear were probably voting for Stacey Abrams and the men in UGA jerseys were probably voting for Hershel Walker. Even though I was working for the Democratic Party of Georgia, who people voted for was of little interest to me. What mattered to me was that they were there.

There is something almost sacramental to me about the rituals of democracy. As people filed past, I was reminded that we really are all in this together. The process of voting is modern now, with scanners and immediate tallies, but the actual act is very old and very honorable.

All of this is to say that I’m so glad to volunteer during election season. It’s also important to say that, most of the time, it’s super boring.

My thirteen-hour shift consisted mostly of reporting stats and occasionally helping voters who were turned away for one reason or another. The whole day’s events consisted of people getting in line, showing their IDs, getting a voting card, selecting their candidates on the computer, scanning their paper ballot and then getting a sticker. Over and over again. There was no confetti or parades; just a steady line of people doing their duty. Exactly nothing exciting happened. 

But a boring day means that the process is working. Thousands of people worked really hard behind the scenes to make sure things went smoothly. Boring is good.

As poll observers, we were trained to watch out for voter intimidation, people bringing weapons, difficult precinct managers and many other possible scenarios. But none of that came up.

Both times that I’ve worked as a poll observer reminded me of the summers I spent as a lifeguard. You are always on alert, but you really don’t want to have to use your training. A boring day at the pool was the goal. 

One of my favorite poems, “To be of use” by Marge Piercy, says:

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

 I understand that some people want excitement and glamour in their lives, but more and more, I pray for boring. I find real comfort in things going smoothly; I value non-eventful days. Work that is “common as mud” is my jam. This includes voting. 

Six years ago, when I first started this blog, I wrote that I voted as an act of “sending a thank you letter back through time.” I still think this is a valid reason to vote, but it isn’t my sole motivation anymore. Now, I vote less with the past in mind and more as an investment in the future. A lot has happened politically since 2016 and I no longer take for granted that we are moving forward. My vote is a kind of down payment, an investment I am making in our future.

Every time I vote, I am placing earnest money down on our nation. I’m making sure I have skin in the game. I’m betting on us. 

P.S. Those of us who live in Georgia aren’t done yet! Please vote in the Senate runoff election on Tuesday, December 6th or during the early voting days of Monday, November 28th-Friday, December 2nd. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is November 28th. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s super important!!

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