Monday, December 3, 2012

Election Day Doughnuts

It’s funny now, looking back almost a month ago, what I remember about this year’s historic election.  I think my involvement started when a group of friends met for dinner at a Thai restaurant in late July.  It was a welcome change of location to get together and enjoy each other’s company away from our regular monthly group sessions.  We usually meet in a cold and impersonal college classroom.   While it was a stormy night, I remember being eager to see a new friend, but also happy to get caught up with people I had known for years. 

As people arrived, it felt so wonderful to see each other in a public setting other than Pride Parade.  My new friend arrived and I was tickled to see him.  We had only met once before and he looked so much cuter than I remember.  Another friend arrived and I was hopeful she might share stories from recent life changing events, but that never transpired.  I’m sure she’s sick of talking about it.  She did want to ask me something political, but we never got around to that either.  I now know what she was going to ask of me.  The dinner was a splendid affair, especially the flirtatious nature of the evening and even a goodnight kiss.  While we are just friends, it meant a lot.

A few weeks later I was asked that question that failed to come up at dinner.  Would I like to come on board as a transgender liaison with the campaign for same sex marriage in Maine?  Inspired by the political climate and my new-found gender-queer identity, I agreed and attended a stirring rally at Portland City Hall.  I briefly met an enthusiastic, yet experienced representative with the Yes on One Campaign.  We scheduled a meeting and training session at her office when I returned from Georgia.

While I was tired and still floating from the experience of my trip, we had our scheduled meeting the day after I returned from Atlanta.  The discussion centered on my political background and reasons I wanted to help the campaign.  During the conversation, I recalled a few political situations I was part of when I was young.  There was even a time in junior high when several of us staged a walk out from school.  We joined thousands of other students from across Massachusetts at the State House for a political rally. I had put this and several other events aside for the last 20 years as life took over.  Being involved again was exciting. 

During the training I inadvertently volunteered to do some additional work as an office greeter and data entry a few days a week.
  This opportunity was something I never thought I’d enjoy, I was wrong.  As a greeter, I welcomed all the workers to the campaign office in Portland, as well as answering calls, taking donations, selling merchandise, scheduling shifts, and processing data.  Apparently I was a natural.  Who knew that19 years as a teacher was perfect experience. 

In the two months I worked on the campaign I slowly increased the hours and days I volunteered, but struggled to balance other obligations and ongoing health concerns.  I was deep into training for the New York Marathon and I constantly needed a chunk of time to run.  As those who train know, it was more than just running.  I was also battling a 2-month flare-up of my Ulcerative Colitis.  Cramps during the day and night, and very uncomfortable bowel events made life more challenging than it already was.  As Election Day was only weeks away, I was diagnosed with a blood clot.  It occurred during an 18-mile marathon training run.  The setback was disheartening for my marathon chances, but I was not deterred from working on the campaign.  Days after the injury, I jumped at the chance for a change of scenery to drive college student to the polls so they could vote. It was refreshing to talk to young people about voting and making a difference.  I also had the opportunity to work with many wonderful high school students who volunteered their time.  The future does indeed look bright. 

The cause for same sex marriage was something I became more passionate about the longer I worked on the campaign.  I met and talked with so many people in person and on the phone, whose lives would be directly affected by a successful election.  Far too many had been waiting to get married for years and even decades.  Campaign workers and volunteers traveled from all of the country to make a difference.  One of the most memorable couples that volunteered was from Massachusetts.  They were probably in their70’s and had conviction and passion for change that was inspiring to most in our office.  A few days before the election they returned back to the Bay state.  I remember saying goodbye and thanking them for their help. We gave each other hugs and with wet eyes wished each other good luck. 

The final week of the campaign was a blur of people, coffee, and phone calls. I was working everyday for 12+ hours.  I can’t imagine how the full time staff and interns held up so well.  Many had been working on the campaign for months, 7 days a week, 12+ a day.  They are incredible people.  The office ballooned in size in the final days as more volunteers poured in to help. On the final days I moved to a new office as a logistics coordinator for the Woodford neighborhood.  Our team was awesome; a mom, high school students, volunteers from Portland, Atlanta and San Fran, and me.  The night before the election was filled with spirited and emotional pleas to the volunteers, and a successful frigid evening of door-to-door canvassing event.  I left the office after 10pm and drove the 35 miles home to steal a few hours of sleep in my own bed.  While I was tired, I was excited for Election Day to arrive. 

I was already awake making coffee when my phone rang at 3:30am with a wake-up call.
  A familiar voice greeted me with an enthusiastic; good morning Gia, it’s Election Day!  The dark morning was an ice scrapping 20 degrees.  I made it to the office by 4:30 and we started prepping for the day’s events.  Volunteers arrived and training commenced for today’s last efforts.  At the last minute our team was called to help out another, much larger neighborhood in the West End. It looked like I would be canvassing too, just a well.  There was no tomorrow.  For the first time I was knocking on doors with the message to go vote!  At 8am there weren’t many who answered my polite knock.  I did manage to engage a few voters, which was satisfying.  I survived canvassing and after a few hours our team was asked to return to our office for the remainder of Election Day to work in our neighborhood. 

I quickly drove helpers back to the office and I was reminded it was time for me to go vote.  I had planned on this doing this for weeks.  Drive home to vote, shower and change, grab something to eat, and return to Portland.  A few of my colleagues wondered, why I didn’t just vote early or use an absentee ballot?  Not this year.  This would be my first election to vote legally as Gia.  Back on the Turnpike, I was in Kennebunkport to cast my historic ballot at our fire station in less than an hour. 

I was nervous and excited as I walked into my polling location.
 I informed the election volunteer who was serving last names A-E of my new identity.  With her thin finger she carefully looked down the long list of names on her page, and there I was, Gia Drew, imagine that.  She politely handed me my ballots and gestured towards the awaiting cubicles.  Armed with a black marker, I tried to fill in the circles as slowly and carefully as possible, but it didn’t take more than a minute.  After voting for 27 years, this moment was very special.  I fed my completed ballots into the automated reader and proudly stuck the I Voted sticker on my felt coat. 

As usual, we exited through the firehouse garage. There is always community tables set up as you leave the polling location. This year there was even a table with doughnuts.
  The woman standing behind the tempting pastries was raising awareness for the local animal shelter and their programs.  I asked if I could have one.  With a warm smile, she replied, “help yourself dear.”  I thanked her, took a brochure with an old fashion.  I was blinded by the brilliant sunlight and
cold air as I emerged from the station.  As I walked back to my car shivering, I wrested with my scarf and took bite of the delicious doughnut.  I had just voted as transgender woman in a small conservative New England town to reelect a black President and for same sex marriage. It felt like I was in the most wonderful dream and I didn’t want it to end.  

To be continued.