I remember exactly where I was, what I did, and how I felt. That day is forever etched in my soul. That was the first time in my life that I was fearful being an African American woman in the country in which I was born. Below is the story of what happened on that day and the day after.
Four years ago, Election Day happened the day before the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I planned the days leading up to and the day of travel down to the minute.
The day before the election, I went to get my hair done and finished packing my luggage. I knew I would have to get up early to vote so that I could catch my train out of New York’s Penn Station to Pittsburgh.
On Election Day, I woke up extra early and walked down the block to go vote in my old elementary school’s gym. I took my luggage and everything I would need for my conference. After voting, a feeling of pride infused my entire body. “My vote counted. I participated. I showed up.” These were my thoughts.
From voting, I hopped in an Uber and made my way to Penn Station. As I rode the train across Pennsylvania, I made myself comfortable. After we stopped in Philadelphia, I was confident that I would be disembarking the train soon. To my surprise, the first lesson I learned on this trip was that Pennsylvania is a long state to ride across on Amtrak. It takes over 9 HOURS to go from New York to Pittsburgh. I hunkered down and distracted myself with work on my laptop.
I arrived in Pittsburgh around 8 pm. I checked into the conference hotel, refreshed myself and made my way to a local restaurant to grab a quick dinner. After returning to the hotel, I prepared for bed. I watched my usual Adult Swim slate including Bobs Burgers. It was a very peaceful evening. I didn’t even wait for the results to come in because I was confident. I was overconfident.
The next morning, I woke up and checked my phone to see what notifications came in overnight. As I read through my text and Facebook, I thought my friends were being hyperbolic and overzealous. Then, I turned on the TV. At that moment, I posted at 6:26 AM:
By 7:27 AM, I had posted:
I was spiraling down. I knew people who said they weren’t going to vote. They didn’t like Hillary. They would have voted for Bernie. “My vote doesn’t matter anyway.” I heard that last sentence the most from Black people. That sentiment pissed me off. I considered this throwing salt on every enslaved Africans that were beaten with a lash; spitting on the graves of those lynched; spitting and slapping the faces of every Civil Rights icon that fought for future generations to have the right to vote. If you are able-bodied, there is NO justification that you can make to me for not exercising your civic duty.
My spiral was deepening the longer I stayed in my hotel room watching pundits pontificate on how things could have strayed so far from the models and polls. I got dressed and went for a walk. I needed to distract myself.
It was a grey day and there was a pall over the city of Pittsburgh. I barely saw people on the street. I get lost easily, so the first thing I did that took my mind off of what just happened was to try not to get lost. Furiously I kept my eye trained on Google maps and the first place I could visit that was open: The Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum that is home to a collective of artists-in-residence.
I arrived at The Mattress Factory shortly after 10 AM. I walked around looking at art even though I don’t like contemporary art. I can’t remember what I saw, but something inspired me so greatly that I signed up for a membership before leaving.
As I left, I still felt this unrest and raging inside. I stopped at a Bar-b-Que restaurant near The Mattress Factory for a lunch. It was a true hole-in-the-wall, but the clientele looked like they had been frequenting the restaurant their entire life. It helped greatly that I could smell the cue before I darkened the restaurant door. [Tip: If you can’t smell the ‘cue before you walk up to a Bar-B-Que restaurant, it probably isn’t going to be good ‘cue. I’m just saying.]
From there, I made my way to the Andy Warhol Museum. I arrived at this museum a little after 1 PM. I am no sycophant of Warhol. Before visiting this museum I had only really learned about his later-in-life art (post his “revolution” in silk screening). At this time I had no love for his work, but I needed the distraction.
The Warhol museum is laid out in a way where to see the breadth of his contribution to the art world, you start on the top floor of the museum and work your way down. The upper level starts with his childhood and spirals down to his death as you make your way to the ground floor. Learning about Andy’s early life and early artwork gave me a new found appreciation for his work. After spending hours in this museum, I still had no love for his silk screening and factory days, but I now had a new love for his early art.
After the Warhol museum, I made my way to the Monongahela Incline funicular to ride up to the Mount Washington overlook to view the sunset.
I walked along the little park until it got quite dark. It was beautiful.
I felt a little better, up until I got back to my hotel room and was truly alone with no distractions. That’s when my third post happened at 8:20 PM.
The distraction only worked as long as I was giving my brain the space to focus on something other. Normally, my mom would travel with me to my conference and I would have the one person around me who has comforted me my entire life. This was not the case and I went on bender spiral. I put myself to bed. By the next morning, I was exhausted and back to being just sad.
Slow forward to 2020. (NOTE: 2020 has felt like the longest year in the history of recorded time; hence, why I started with “slow forward.”) When the opportunity presented itself for me to vote early this year, I jumped on it. I didn’t want to deal with trying to vote on Election Day.
On October 26, my early voting place opened at 7 AM. After hearing about the long lines, I was determined to get there early enough to be one of the first people to vote on that day. The other part of my plan was to have my mom meet me closer to the time the polls opened so she could vote, too. I set my alarm for 4:45 AM.
That morning, I made a cup of coffee with the last bit of leftover coffee in the refrigerator. I brewed a pot of coffee for my mom so that she would be able to grab a cup before coming to meet me at our polling place. I arrived at the polls around 5:45 AM and joined the line waiting to do my civic duty. By 6:10 AM, the line for my polling place wrapped around the block.
The polls open at 7 AM and by 7:21 AM, I had completed my civic duty. I walked away ecstatic that I had cast my vote, but behind that was also fear and trepidation because there are a lot of parallels that I could make to 2016. The only real difference this year is that I am home and if things go wonky, I am surrounded by love ones who will comfort me immediately.
This year, I am going to follow the same model I followed four years ago. Tomorrow I am going to go to the doctor, work-from-home for 8 hours, watch the Reid Out on MSNBC at 7 PM, enjoy the 9 PM to 12 midnight block of Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, and hopefully get a good night’s sleep. For my sanity sake, I am going to ignore all of the other crazy that will be taking place in newsrooms across the country. My only hope is that things will turn out different this time.
I hope that you will exercise your right to participate in this and all future elections and that you have a plan for how you will handle all of the insanity that is coming. Stay safe. Be strong. #Vote like the life of the person you hold most dear in your heart depends on it, because in this age of covid (coronavirus), it does.
Winter S., Savory Sweet Neat