Democracy

In 1867, The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (usually simplified as The Grange) was founded as the first national American agricultural advocacy group. The beautifully simple community centers built by local Granges to host their activities still stand at rural crossroads. The organizational efforts paid off: In the 1800s, the Grange successfully lobbied for laws to lower railroad shipping rates and for free postal service to rural areas.

More than 150 years later, Granges still serve as political and community centers. As an example, I spent election day November 2021 as a clerk at the Enterprise Grange in Torrey, PA.  About 200 Pennsylvanians stopped by to vote (out of 531 registered voters), say hi to their neighbors and patronize the small bake sale benefiting the Grange. 

As clerk, I was the junior staffer of a team with two other women. We made sure that those voters were on the voter rolls and that their ballots were safely inserted into the locked ballot box. If they were registered — and everyone who came to vote was registered — those who had not previously voted at this place showed ID and the rest provided signatures to be matched with those on file. At least a dozen who did not need to provide ID volunteered to show their drivers licenses, possibly eager to prove the point that voter ID requirements are so reasonable.

Over the course of the day, several voters felt entitled to loudly share their frank opinions.  Unsurprisingly, because this is such a rural area, those opinions reflected Republican talking points:  “America is full of free-loaders who want to live on government benefits”; “I am so tired of hearing about COVID” (which does exist but is apparently not a huge risk); “these voting systems can’t be trusted”. Agreement with those opinions appeared to be unanimous (while there may have been dissenters, like me, they chose to remain silent).

My colleagues were not the instigators of these discussions, but they were clearly in agreement. Still, despite our diametrically opposed political views, after spending 14 hours with them, I developed a strong appreciation of their attributes:  the younger one, who I guess is in her 50s, owns an organic food store, is trying to grow sourdough starter, and helps her husband raise grass-fed beef cattle. Like me, she is curious, gregarious and entrepreneurial.  I wonder if her political views would be a little more like mine if she hadn’t lived entirely in a homogenous, conservative culture — a beautiful place, on a family farm surrounded by loving relatives and a close-knit church community. The other woman is in her 80s, has an infectious giggle, a profound sense of her own privilege and a sincere interest in why she and I view the political world so differently. At her request, she and I discussed Joe Biden vs Donald Trump in one very civil conversation and I hope we can talk about politics again. She says she wants to know why others disagree with her but no one will talk to her about it; I have only a slim hope that I can influence her at all but two people talking across the divide would be a small contribution to preserving our democracy.

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