Talking about politics can be frightening. I know my husband and I don’t ‘talk politics’ with his family of origin, lest we be viciously attacked. I’ve found that learning a friend is a vehement supporter of an opposing political party can put a damper on a relationship. It doesn’t have to end it, mind you, but there will forever more be a delicate tiptoeing around certain issues. Walking up to strangers to ask them about their political views can be downright terrifying, but that’s exactly what I did for this installment of Java Jabber. I braced myself with several shots of espresso, and asked 31 people in seven different North Lake Tahoe area cafes, ‘How do you feel about the upcoming Presidential Election?’
I found that people initially responded with the deer-in-the-headlights look in their eyes. One guy said flat out, ‘I don’t talk about politics,’ and got up from the table to go play a game of golf. Most of the people wanted to make sure their names and faces wouldn’t be in the paper. One man was sure Homeland Security was already tapping his phone and made reference to East Germany. Once I assured my interviewees they would remain anonymous and they realized I wasn’t going to jump on them or contradict their every opinion, they were, mostly, eager to speak. But it’s frightening to see how afraid people are to speak their truth and to stand up for what they believe in. What the hell happened to freedom of speech?
‘Who am I voting for?’
‘No. How do you feel about the upcoming election?’
The most common answer was, ‘Excited.’
‘Voting is fun,’ said a man at Wild Cherries, in Truckee. ‘We have the potential for changing who’s in the White House.’
‘It feels like a monumental election,’ his friend added. ‘There is an excitement about being a part of a historical moment. Hope!’
A self-professed ‘Reformed Republican’ said, ‘It’s getting more and more controversial now that McCain chose this new woman.’ This interview took place the morning before Palin’s (shall we say, arousing?) speech at the Republican National Convention.
Of course, a lot of people spoke about ‘change,’ hopeful for change, anxious for change, happy about change.
One young woman admitted to feeling overwhelmed. ‘I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge.’ What she did have were a lot of very strong feelings about her vote counting, about having a choice of more than two candidates, and about the elections being controlled by money. By the end of our interview she had talked herself into getting informed. Talking about politics can be beneficial.
Several people, registered Green Party and non-partisan, talked about how they’d like to see a third party actually be viable.
One guy went off, talking about revolution and rioting the way the French do to great effect. ‘These elections are rigged. We have to start thinking beyond politics and realize it’s about multinational world corporations.’ Finally, after he’d worn himself out he said, ‘I’ll vote for the lesser of two evils.’
A man drinking his coffee at a quiet table in a nearly deserted Village at Squaw said, ‘It’s four years too late. It’s high time we get a chance to vote again. I am looking forward to casting my vote. I’ve been dismayed by the direction we’ve taken in the last six years. It’s high time we had some change. We need someone with new ideas. Someone who has intelligence in the Oval Office.’ Ya think?
An older couple with a pair of Weimaraners said they were conservative liberals from Marin. The man said, ‘This is one of the most exciting elections in a long time.’ He said he’d read a book by Obama and by McCain. ‘McCain’s was a little lighter,’ he said, adding that he was concerned that Obama spent so much time talking about race and how his father lived in Africa. Obama wrote the book he read, ‘Dreams from my Father,’ in 1995, fresh out of Harvard Law School, before he was in the Illinois Senate. I asked him if he’d read the more recent ‘Audacity of Hope.’ He hadn’t. He was leaning toward McCain.
I spoke with several foreigners. A young woman from Brazil, where they elect their president by popular vote, was impressed by how the two candidates were respecting each other. A German man said ‘Ninety percent of Europeans would vote for Obama, because of the mess that has happened in the last eight years. Anyway, anything is better than Bush.’ A British bloke said he was, ‘fed up with seeing it on TV,’ but added, ‘It is curious because it is a colored chap.’ He understood how Americans are looking for a change, and wondered how it would affect the British Government.
I found a team of California Department of Forestry firefighters, enjoying a lull in activity, at Tahoe House. ‘Uh-oh,’ one of them said as I approached with my camera around my neck, ‘she has a pen, too.’ One of the firefighters said he was a non-voter, by choice. ‘I go with the flow.’ Another said, ‘It’s exciting, history is going to be made one way or another.’
And the other chimed in, ‘It’s time that the country is finally allowing someone other than a white man be involved. Maybe the country is starting to wake up. We have good candidates with interesting views. It’s not just about affirmative action, racial or feminist issues.’ He also pointed out how the economy, the environment, and war are related.
One man wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be identified. He was a Democrat and has become more and more conservative. He is leaning towards McCain, but is not getting involved because all of his friends are Obama supporters. I, personally, was very surprised by his leaning as I know him professionally, and never would have guessed he’d consider McCain.
At Java Hut, in Kings Beach, I came across a group of dusty and hungry travelers on their way back to the Bay Area from Burning Man. One of the women was from Hawaii. ‘They love Obama in Oakland and in Hawaii.’ One of the men said he was going to get involved by helping to diffuse the mis-information by directing people to the Internet for fact checking.
People do want to talk about politics. They just want to know it’s safe to do so.