"S-O-P-E! Come join our DEMOCRACY!"
This was Wyatt's chant most of the way home on Sunday, as he proudly marched down the sidewalk holding up his new sign. He got smiles, waves, thumbs-up, and all the responses you'd expect to get in San Francisco from a sign picturing Nancy Pelosi as Rosie the Riveter saying "WE CAN DO IT!" After several blocks, though, I gently suggested, "Why don't you use an 'H' instead of 'S,' that way you can spell "HOPE," because "SOPE," even though it sounds like "SOAP," doesn't mean anything." He looked at me quizzically, took a beat, and then resumed his original chant until he had placed the sign in a window of our house.
One question I've been asking myself during this presidential election year (ha! as if it has been only a year!) is: How do I engage a five-year old in electoral politics without totally ruining his innocence (and sounding to him like the useless grown-ups on Charlie Brown)? Until yesterday, I had no answer other than taking him to vote with us. We otherwise keep quiet about the election around him, except when he asks a question about cartoons on the cover of the New Yorker, remarks on the poll one of his classmates keeps trying to take during recess, or mentions the Trump Trap they have been building in the play yard. "Voting" is a solid answer, to be sure, but I was hoping to come up with more.
On Saturday, I phone-banked from home, and I dedicated hours to figuring out my votes for the longest ballot in the country. (Oh, California! Sometimes, I don't even know where to begin with you.) On Sunday, our original plans had been for book club (we're reading The Buried Giant—it's wonderful!), but the meeting was postponed. Then Marc was sidelined because he finally came down with The Horrible Cold. As the Primary Sunday Parent, I didn't feel like I could phone-bank again. But Wyatt and I could bake and deliver Cacao Nib Cookies for the volunteers at Hillary Headquarters. So we did that.
Overall, baking went very well. And the whole delivery would have gone really smoothly if I had paid better attention to the address: 1001 Van Ness Avenue (Hillary Headquarters) is nowhere near 1001 S. Van Ness Avenue (Limón Rotisserie Restaurant). I took us to Limón. Upon our arrival, Wyatt made it clear he was not impressed. My mistake would have been no big deal if I had been driving, but it was a by-public-transit-and-foot kind of day. So we took a deep breath and regrouped. As we walked to the 16th Street BART station, we ran into a small parade of demonstrators in favor of San Francisco Propositions A and N (which would expand voting rights in local elections). The demonstrators' chant was a little bit muddled, but "DEMOCRACY!" came through loud and clear, and Wyatt had some questions. "Mom. What's democracy?" I did my level best to answer that one, and he said "Mmm," while nodding knowingly.
Once we were finally at Headquarters, we got to make ourselves name tags, and the greeter explained that we could deliver our cookies to the person in charge of "the café" on the third floor. She also said that we should check out the phone-banking rooms and texting rooms, and maybe, just maybe, they'd have a sign or something Wyatt could have. His ears perked up and his step quickened as we headed for the elevator. "Mom. Remember she said maybe they'd have a sign for me. Can you ask? PLEASE?" The third floor was buzzing with lots of voices, palpable excitement, and a flurry of activity. We looked into the texting room (it's boring watching people text, as I'm sure you have experienced, and get-out-the-vote texting looks the same), and then we went to the phone-banking room. We heard a volunteer reach a voter in Ohio, thank them for their vote and support, and then ring the bell. We left on that high note.
We were at Headquarters for 10 minutes at the most, which is hilarious considering how long it took us to get there. We picked up Wyatt's sign on the way out, and he had me read it to him a few times. He carried it down Van Ness as we headed to the Muni station, turning positively pink as people gave him smiles and fist-bumps .
"Mom! People really like my sign. It's a really nice sign, isn't it? And it's the same on both sides, right?" Emboldened, he said loudly for the first time, "S-O-P-E! Come join our DEMOCRACY!" then paused and asked with an ear-to-ear smile, "Right, mom? Isn't that what those people with the signs were saying?" I laughed and said the democracy part was right, but I wasn't sure about the rest of it. He responded with conviction, "It was S-O-P-E! I just know it."
And so he continued, as well he should have. Details (like political platforms, policies, and spelling) matter, but they only matter in the context of our democracy. It's our democracy that really matters.
Please be sure to vote!