Margin Notes: Ready for the PoliticalBy Rachael Allen
In September, I saw Hillary Clinton. She was speaking at a grassroots organization in Portland, Maine, only 30 minutes from my school. Convinced of my need to be more involved (my political history consists of dinner conversations with my dad and stretches of following the news), I decided to attend with a few friends. We drove on one road to Portland, parked right outside the middle school where she would speak, then waited in a line that stretched around only one corner of the building. It was local and small and down-to-earth in a way I’ve come to associate with much of Maine yet not with the name of Hillary Clinton, innately a celebrity by her history in the spotlight.
In line, we batted off volunteers trying to get us to vote in Maine and curiously observed a man holding up a sign and mumbling in monotone in support of a question on the Maine ballot. Then after a brief security check, we were in. We split up to get seats and I, immersed in my voyeurism, peeked over at the person’s phone next to me, seeing him text his friend that “Joe” just got to meet “HRC.” And then, after two loops of the same CD, HRC herself emerged from the back room.
Clinton may represent a bundle of important issues, yet the first thing I thought was how solid she was. Having seen someone flattened by paper and screen and overused terminology, seeing her in person, three-dimensional, was startling. I saw her with the sort of sheen you give when seeing a celebrity in person or meeting someone whom you’ve heard about so much. Her presence — her quaffed hair, concealed skin, and perfect posture emphasized by the structure of a baby blue jumpsuit — was only amplified by the small gym and the people that rose and cheered when she entered “yes”-ing like a laugh track as she spoke.
As expected, she spoke well — wide, impressive arm gestures, personal anecdotes, and a full volume to her voice. I didn’t want to think too much about the way her speech must have been composed to induce support. As with all speeches, hers was innately a performance, yet I still wanted to believe it as sincere. For what else do we have to go on but one’s word? We may be cynical of politicians, wary of being pawns, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to believe someone even if with reservations.
For me, this event stands out more as my first political action (aside from my first vote) than as a testament to Clinton. I got to size up this (mild) political rally: the people bookending me who nodded their heads and murmured their agreement; the adoring introduction speeches for Clinton; the kind of magnetism Clinton, like other good speakers, possesses. I learned about myself as a participant: I did not nod my head; I did not wish to meet Clinton and ask her some essential question; I did not care to turn to the stranger next to me and discuss the latest news. My care and interest did not manifest themselves in these ways.
Perhaps this apparent passivity is a product of my lack of experience with outwardly political groups or my personality or, in a combination of these two, an indication of how I best process information and opinions — through the written word. An article will get me more fired up than an impassioned speech. I’m more wary of the speaker than I am the writer, probably because I feel I am a better judge of what I am familiar with — writing.
Determining how to be a good judge among the muddle of others’ opinions feels incredibly difficult. Considering that I’m in a place that relies upon the pliability of our minds, I think of myself as more impressionable than I imagine I’ll be later. I’m in the middle (not that there’s ever an end) of learning the complexities and greyness of people and decisions; I’m (hopefully) gaining an increasingly unfiltered perspective of the world that wipes away the romanticism that accompanies new things. In this learning, I find myself wanting to have more opinions — to know what I think, to be more articulate, to jump easily into debate.
In part, I think this confusion and hesitation of opinion stems from not only my lack of knowledge (the abundance of information you must process to be well-versed on a subject!) but also my lack of experience. Because of both age and circumstance, my thinness of experience makes me feel unqualified. Perhaps this feeling plagues a number of other young voters who also are beginning to consider their role in the world — we deem ourselves unfit judges of what we personally don’t know.
While this reluctance to judge may be a strength in accepting differences in people, in terms of the political and social issues that encircle our lives, we have a right to judge simply by being part of this world. Our newness can be used to our advantage in soaking in as many first- and secondhand experiences as possible. We must collect others’ stories like puzzle pieces and determine their shape. We must simply promote, in whatever way possible, what we best understand the puzzle to be at this time in our lives.
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