December 19, 2016

Where the Electoral College voted in Madison, WI on December 19, 2016

It’s 100 days in today. I tried to stop this last Fall (nope), and I tried to stop it again last December (nope), and this is what I remember from that day.

I was surprised. We — a random group of protestors, wearing multiple layers of winter gear, who had driven in small groups from adjoining states to protest the Electoral College vote in Madison, WI on this freezing December morning — were allowed to be in the room when the vote was cast.

All morning we’d been wandering inside and outside the building, working thermal hand-warmers, chanting in unison in the frigid cold outside so long as we could stand it, walking quietly with signs around the warm rotunda inside when we couldn’t. Protests are weird: I have a sense of my body as its own thing, something that I own and that I’ve agreed to place in public as a voice with legs.

Around noon there was a rustle of activity: the vote was going to take place. I feel like I should know better, but I had imagined the electors in dark-windowed limos, being delivered to the underbelly of the building through a maze of secret roadways twisting below Madison, and then spirited away to a secret sealed location to do the deed. Kept as far as possible from my cold, tired, angry, sad self.

Yet it was just a room — room 412E — in the capitol building. Just a room and anyone could get there by walking up a bunch of flights of intricately carved wood stairways that were open to the public. I’m still amazed that the ceremony had such a banal aspect, but it did. As told by any one of the nice security guards on duty that day: go upstairs, take a seat if you can get one.

When I got in the car that morning, I figured I’d stand in the cold with a sign and then, after a few hours, go home. Yet, in all my ice-cold grubbiness and grief, I was allowed a front row seat.

For an hour we sat. Some people coordinated to yell things out at choreographed times, but I felt like a good approach for me was to just sit there, like a brick. A watching brick. I didn’t have the extra oomph in me to also get up, to also yell. Isn’t it enough to be present? I kept my tired head down.

We saw the electors file in and witnessed the proceedings: a very formal sequence of events, falling somewhere between high liturgy and low bureaucracy.

We watched the watchers watch: a corps of humans standing safely behind large, black, antennaed cameras, outfitted with the logos of news stations. The press: there to record, there to amplify. The fleet of cameras, taller than people on their long spindly legs, like something out of Star Wars. They broke the padded silence of the wood-paneled room, their shutters shuttering like a cloud of whispering, snapping animals.

It felt like a funeral, with all the formality and peripheral artifacts, including a photo-copied agenda (an agenda!) and people wailing when they saw the body. The body being, in this case, the reading of the vote.

It was unlike a funeral in its absences: the absence of cold cuts and wine; the absence of welcoming; the absence of acknowledgment of loss. Unlike a funeral in the fact that blame was clearly directed — not at God, but at the ten people sitting at the front of the room. The electors. And the electors, playing their part by looking wealthy, well-fed, and warm, averted their eyes, looked at their name cards, enjoyed the benefits of the raised dais.

They were there to certify the death, or enact the killing all over again.

There was a joke I didn’t make, but when I replay the day in my head, I always make it. One of the electors was unable to be there and the moderator asked, “Is there someone willing to take his place?” Of course it’s pre-planned, the replacement elector is already chosen and already present and just needs to say “Aye”. But my unspoken joke piped up from my unspoken self in the front row: “I’ll do it!”

So often these events are punctured by anger: not as often by humor. In this case by neither.

They unanimously voted.

I unanimously sat in my chair until the room cleared, nursing a defiant sense of: I will see this through to the end. I wasn’t ready to concede. Also, the room was warm.

The unexpected benefit: a feeling of closure. Not closure you ride to the mall to shop and drink champagne, but closure like “OK, they found Hank’s body at the GPS coordinates Walt provided and now Marie can have a proper funeral.”

I had underestimated the solidity of that feeling, of witnessing something.

I had a dream the following night that I was back at campaign HQ and the campaign wasn’t over but somehow HRC had already lost and the whole environment was kind of confusing.

What I took from this dream was an internal shifting: I am aware this has occurred.