early and often

7 November, 2006

There is a high proportion of noncitizens working in almost every scientific lab. One way this comes up is illustrated by a conversation I had a few weeks ago with an Indian national who is waiting for her green card app to go through. We were discussing this in terms of her career options (I think she is on an H1B–the world of immigration is almost completely opaque to me). She applied in 2005 and they’re now processing 2004, or something like that. Oy vey, long wait, stupid Repub congress, we cluck-cluck. And then she says “So please vote!!”

“Ah, but I live in the District,” I said. “My vote’s as good as yours.” I’d love to act as the representative of my noncitizen labmates’ interests in the voting booth, but I have more power over the Congress with my sexuality than I do with my voter registration card.  What I mean is, well, an example: I once went on about 2.5 dates with a staffer of a member of the House Dem leadership. Let me just say that I don’t recommend this method as a way to influence the electoral process.

I missed a great shot this morning at the polling place. I didn’t have my camera out, was my first mistake; it was safe in my backpack. Secondly, I asked the poll workers if I could take pictures, ignoring the important street photographer aphorism “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” I dunno what I thought they would do, my vote had already been scanned; it just seemed like the civic thing. Asking permission up the ladder slowed me down on getting the camera out, and when I finally did it was on outdoor settings (mistake 3). It was gone by this time, but I tried anyway.

The shot was a kid 3-5 years old, casting his mom’s votes on the touchscreen. I saw it so strongly because I have that memory: being in a voting booth with my dad, casting his votes for what must have been the 1980 election, when I was the same age as this kid. Purely happy memories of my dad like these are rare, making this one all the stronger. That memory pairs with another from a Reagan-era election (after my parents divorced), when, thinking of the time with my dad, I asked my mom if I could cast her votes. She said no, explaining that votes are private. I was hurt at the time….but this contextualized my earlier experience nicely. For one, it taught me that my dad’s thing had been something you did for little kids, not for big girls ~10 years of age. These reminders that you ARE growing up and you WILL be big someday are important. Also, so often when you are small it’s hard to tell whether the big people are saying “no” because you’re too little, or because you’re too young. Giving kids adult experiences, like voting, makes this question a little clearer. As I grew up, voting had an air of adults-only mystery, yet was also very familiar. I imagined every voting booth looked like that one I’d been in. And I knew the barrier was not my size, but my mind. (This was very frustrating once my mind WAS capable, because my “size” was again a factor: in 1992 I was plenty up on the issues, but was just too young to vote. I did Rock the Vote, however.)

Yeah, that shot would have really been nice to get for tons of reasons. The mom gamely tried to help by re-posing kid, but he was having none of it. I frustrate myself–I used to wear my camera everywhere, always ready, always adjusting it for the conditions as I walked, and this was exactly why. Spring’s techne would have adjusted the aperture and ISO upon entering the polling place, automatically. I’ve cut this back in the last few months; some careless dings made me cautious, and now I carry a laptop and feel like a pack-horse even with just the backpack, much less another item slung across my body. But I should rethink things, this makes two such moments I’ve missed in a week. (The other involved some street signs in Sardinia: the intersection of Darwin and Freud. Awesome, no?!) This readiness is why I was so excited to return to photography. I sort of feel like I’m not BEING a photographer when I’m not doing it, even if I take pictures in other contexts.

No idea where I’ll be watching the returns tonight. I’m gonna try and print some stickers to go under my “[American flag] I voted” sticker: “for all the good it did me [DC flag]”. If I have time.

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