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Voices / Essay

A nobility to his innocence

In this story, a black man puts on his suit. He saw the event of voting as something to be honored.

Robert Fritz (robertfritz.com) works as an author, composer, filmmaker, and management consultant.

Newfane

In this past election here in the United States, Oprah Winfrey, in her support of Georgia’s Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, tells the story of a black man.

Years ago, she said, this man, on Election Day, put on his suit and walked to the polling location. There, he was told that he needed to go to a different location to cast his vote.

He walked there. They again told him he was in the wrong place, and sent him to yet another polling location. By the time he got there, he was told he arrived too late and, therefore, couldn’t vote.

Oprah said she thinks of this story every year on Election Day, which motivates her to make a point of voting.

Of course, the story is about voter repression. We could say voter denial. In this past election in Georgia, the secretary of state who was in charge of elections had done everything in his power to suppress the vote of those who would support Abrams, his opponent.

His tactics worked, and he won the election for governor by a small margin.

* * *

I believe in democracy. I do think that every vote should not only count, but that voters should be able to vote unimpaired.

Beyond trying to rid legitimate voters off the lists, some states have made it harder and harder to vote, engineering long lines and hours of waiting, especially impacting poorer people, minorities, and others who would support the opposing candidates.

Trying to hold power by trying to limit the vote is the wrong political strategy. At first, and for a while, it will work. But, over time, the strategy has no future.

If your ideas cannot work with a larger population, in a true democracy, you will eventually lose power — and perhaps for a long time, until you update your relevance.

* * *

But enough about democracy and politics. What I really wanted to write about was this man, putting on his suit, and then trying to vote. Of course, the prejudice in the system was designed to stop him. And it did.

But, thinking about him, putting on his suit — which meant he saw the event of voting as something to be honored — touched me.

We could say it was terribly naïve. And perhaps he was. But, in this day and age of cynicism, even though he was unsuccessful in his attempt, there was certain sweetness to his effort.

We can imagine his face when told he had to go to a different location.

We can imagine his resolve as he followed the directions.

We can imagine his profound disappointment when he was finally turned away.

Was he a fool who couldn’t see how he was being played? Maybe. But there is a higher dimension here. Almost — I don’t know quite how to say this — a nobility to his innocence.

We live in a world that would strip us from such things. We are encouraged to be hard, to be street smart, to not let anyone get anything over on us.

Given the grifters who are looking for marks, it makes sense to be on guard. You can’t even allow yourself to click on an email from a friend — a message that might actually be from someone wanting to put a virus on your computer.

But, somewhere in us — below the surface, perhaps — is that sweet naiveté that is not simply being ignorant and stupid but is holding out a hope for humanity.

Not everything is a scam. Not everything has the fix in. Some things, some of the most important things, are the embodiments of goodness. They have that sweet, sweet essence of decency, integrity, and honesty.

So while the man was not able to vote that day, he became a focal point for others to take up his cause — without guile, without deceit, without illusion, and with the power of a good and clear heart.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #488 (Wednesday, December 5, 2018). This story appeared on page E3.

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