We had been having plumbing problems in the downstairs’ conference room for some time, a year or more. The plumber assigned the problems to the city’s side, line failure. “We’ve done all that we can do. You need to call the city.” We did call and when the city finished its examination of the line, a city worker pulled me to the side, admitting the problem was theirs. “If the line breaks, the sewer will flow from roughly eight blocks down, into this line, terminating at this point.”
“Yes, here, the line is failing on the other side of your office and when it breaks the only place for the sewage to go is here.”
“Are you going to fix it?”
His response was both shocking and telling. Lowering his head, diverting his eyes, moving away while answering, “No, we will wait for the line to break and then address the problem.” He entered his city issued truck, maneuvered around the pumping equipment, never acknowledging, as he drove away. He didn’t drive into the sunset, he didn’t play the role of a television hero, going to get help; he was not the intervening soul who provides otherworldly wisdom – none of those – he just drove away, leaving me hanging, wondering what he meant by “when it breaks.”
“We will clean the line, there are no guarantees. Tonight, a week, ten years from now, who knows? We do know one thing, it will break.”
I didn’t possess the power or authority to dig up the city’s sewer line to make the repairs myself. Those are powers not bestowed on an individual citizen; money, status, location may have made a difference in what the city was willing to do, shouldn’t be and surely wasn’t something I could exercise as my hero of lore turned the corner. As a singular voice, I was incapable of causing him to return, to turn around, saying he made a mistake, “we will do the repairs.” He drove away, leaving me standing in place wondering when I would be gifted with everyone else’s waste. The system was broken. There is nothing he could do about it, so it said. There is nothing he was willing do about it, so he affirmed. Just wait … just wait … just wait, it will break was his assessment, his solution. And wait I did, hoping for ten years, praying for a lifetime. I didn’t get the ten years. I didn’t get a lifetime.
When I entered the conference room I spoke to Debbie as she neared completion of a brief to the appellate court. Our conversation was no different than most of our late evening exchanges, sharing our day, addressing any emergencies, gossiping, then inquiring of the other whether help was needed on a particular project. I moved around her to enter the restroom, brushing her right shoulder as I did so. At this time, the conversation I had with the city’s supervisor had long recessed in the crevices of my mind – but not now – flowing upward and outward in a brown funnel, with great force, forcing the toilet seat backward, the seat seemingly riding the violent wave – bouncing, bouncing, bouncing. The funnel struck the wall, situated two feet away, seemingly remaining intact as it flowed as a unified body unto the floor, immersing and coloring the carpet, creeping, moving as a united force, somewhat akin to gelatin, with bits of shredded coconut – everyone’s fecal waste for an eight block radius – upward, outward, downward. My brain told me not to inhale, not to smell – standing in place I did, watching with amazement, if only for a nanosecond, a force I had never seen before – at least not in this form; uniformed, invading, forceful.
Scientists tell us the neurotransmitters for fear and excitement are essentially the same – I think that’s right – it matters not – I was now serotonin inspired, propelling a scream, still not breathing, still not smelling, while moonwalking backward, lifting one foot, then the next, wishing I could fly and hover, touching but not wanting to touch the floor, daring not to move forward as a force greater than I moved towards me, forgetting I needed to use the restroom, slamming the door too late, the invader now splashing and pushing on the underside, then seemingly reaching and removing my hand from the knob, pushing and opening the door, smiling and stinking at the same time. Instead of slightly touching Debbie’s shoulder, I now grabbed both shoulders, pointing at the problem, describing the problem with two words, followed by an exclamation point attached, exhuming fears thought long buried, grabbing materials, moving backwards, never forward, escaping with the visions of the continual violent dumping taking place.
* * *
In an article published by Aljazeera America [Most Americans don’t vote in elections. Here’s Why, June 27, 2015], an initial assessment of the health of The Greatest Show on Earth is provided. “New U.S. Census data released on July 19 confirm what we already knew about American elections: Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the developed world. Only 42 percent of Americans voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest level of voter turnout since 1978. And midterm voters tend to be older, whiter and richer than the general population.”
The problem however does not stop at voter participation. Exclusion is just as telling. The number of citizens disqualified from voting because of felony convictions now stands at roughly 5.85 million. A Sentencing Projects Report reveals some startling findings:
- Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
- 1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than non-African Americans. Nearly 7.7 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non- African American population.
- African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In three states – Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent) – more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.
The greatest areas of disenfranchisement takes place in the southern states, home to large African American populations (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas), in states in which there exists large Hispanic populations (Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho) and/or in states where large Native American populations (American Indian/Alaskan Native) exists (North Dakota, Alaska). History’s whisper tells us these truisms are not happenstance.
Absolutely there have been improvements – gone, all white primaries; gone, literacy tests; gone, secret ballots; gone, poll taxes – exiting stage right – then seemingly doubling around the back of the stage, down the steps to don new costumes, make-up, props – then reemerging – stage left – proclaiming to be a new act, a new show, new characters.
Indeed the show must go on – voter id laws, voter purges, and machines which can’t count, don’t’ count or don’t work. A new script, attacking long-established cast members; whispering to us, its audience, telling us absence does make the heart grow fonder.
The show always goes on doesn’t it? – Enduring without violence, for the most part; self-sustaining, however imperfect; inclusive, while still insisting upon excluding. A union formed by revolution is the same union which never contemplated “others” as being beneficiaries of the union – an imperfect union indeed.
* * *
I had options on the Day of Judgment, screaming, slamming the door, and moving away from our unexpected guest. Debbie and I fled, hoping the courts would make sense out the anticipated motions to extend the time and our stranger than-life explanation of being unprepared. “Things happen” – is that the idiom?
I also had additional options when the giver of the unexpected gift stopped the flow the next day. Hauling, discarding, tearing, bleaching, wiping, smelling and insisting on a new toilet – even though the last act was only symbolic – then bleaching, wiping, smelling; over and over again. Nearly eight months passed before we occupied the conference room again, quarantined, quartered off – bleaching, wiping, smelling. Or is the idiom? – “Thing – happens.”
And even though individually I had options, collectively we don’t have the same options when it comes to voting and political participation. We should never fool ourselves in believing we are a true democracy – that is not why I muse. We should never ever attempt to convince ourselves that ours is a perfect union. We should never allow The Greatest Show on Earth to continue on without addressing what we know is broken: historical patterns of non-voting, barriers to voting, not counting every vote. We will not have options if and when these historical truths flow upward, outward and downward, flowing uncontrollably, causing the union to cease, the citizenry to disbelieve, then divest, discarding as they flee. The Greatest Show on Earth even repackaged, reinforced, sustaining itself by character changes, makeovers, and makeup will be no more; something predictable and foreseen, the same prediction the city supervisor gifted me with when he lowered his head and moved away.