Thursday, September 21, 2023

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Video: What I remembered when I voted this Tuesday (with transcript)

by Melanie Jongsma, Publisher

(Music: Price of Freedom, by ZakharValaha)


Hello everyone, I am Melanie Jongsma, of The Lansing Journal, and I’m taking care of this week’s video without Managing Editor Josh Bootsma. Josh has been working remotely this week, and after discussing a number of ideas for our usual video, I asked if I could just go ahead and share some thoughts that have been mulling around in my head for a while. And Josh was willing to let me do that.

This past Tuesday was Election Day in Illinois, for the Illinois Primaries. My polling place is Bethel Church in Lansing, so I went there with my Voter ID and my list of candidates that I had researched, and I voted.

Something about voting on Tuesday helped restore my hope in democracy — but it wasn’t about making my voice heard, or participating in government, or standing up for the values I believe in. Those things are certainly important — and good reasons to vote, but that is not what spoke to me this week.

What restored my hope this Election Day was simply watching the very local, very grassroots piece of the process here in Lansing.

There were about a dozen election officials serving the three precincts who vote at Bethel. Those officials are regular people who live locally and who devoted more than 13 hours of their time on Election Day so that residents could cast their ballots efficiently. They provided instructions and answered questions. They joked around with each other, and with me. They chatted about their gardens. They showed each other photos on their phones. They got each other coffee. They thanked the voters who came in and completed ballots.

It was just, really, nice.

That group of officials included Democrats and Republicans, men and women, old and young, Black and White. And within that polling place, they created community — through their smiles and their helpfulness and their hard work.

Now, I have voted dozens of times in Lansing, and I’ve covered a number of elections for The Lansing Journal. And honestly, I always enjoy the people I meet who are working the polls. They always make it a fun day for me.

But I think this Election Day had a special impact on me because of all the vitriol I have been seeing online during recent weeks. Social media and broadcast media have been rife with news — and opinions — about some very complex and emotional issues, and it has grieved me to see the over-simplified stereotypes we assign to each other.

We live in a world now where many of us need to spend a lot of time online. We depend on technology — and that’s not inherently bad. Technology is an amazing tool for distributing information and for making connection possible.

But it’s only a tool. And that tool can be used to divide as well as to connect.

It’s up to those of us sitting at our screens and keyboards to choose how we will use these tools. It’s up to us to be thoughtful about the information we share and to be aware of the impacts of sharing it.

It’s important for us to remember that there are real people on the other side of our screens reading what we are writing, real people with unique and personal experiences that have brought them to whatever opinions
they might hold today. The labels we assign to people cannot convey all the nuance and pain and personality in each of us.

I don’t know if this is a revelation to you, but not all Black people are alike. Also, not all Republicans are alike. Not all Christians are alike. Not all women are alike. Not all Millennials are alike. We are all complicated individuals, and social media does not usually allow that mosaic of gradients to come through when we try to share about something important and complex.

Voting this Tuesday, in person, with other people, reminded me that technology often makes things easy, but it cannot be a shortcut to genuine connection. Real community-building is a difficult work that takes time and humility.

This weekend, across the United States, we are celebrating democracy. Whether you go to Lan-Oak Park in Lansing to watch the fireworks on Sunday, or you have your own Independence Day traditions with family and friends, I hope you’ll find ways to be intentional about building community. In person. Invite a new neighbor to celebrate with you. Try to appreciate whatever loud music you can hear down the street. Maybe stop the firecrackers before midnight out of respect for the dog owner next door.

Take a break from social media and just be a person. Be a neighbor.

In all our interactions — online or in person — let’s remember: People are complicated. Democracy is messy. And technology is not a replacement for community.

Thank you for granting me a few minutes of your time so I could share what I’ve been thinking. Josh and I will be back again next week for our regular video.

In the meantime, stay safe everyone. And be kind.


Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.