Chit-Chattin’ In The Chemo Room

(cross-posted at Last Left Turn Before Hooterville)

I spent the holidays this year in Florida with my father, who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Yesterday my sister and I went with my dad to his radiation and chemo treatments. His chemo is done at an ‘infusion center’ where a bunch of people sit around in La-Z-Boys and have the chemo infused with an IV. It takes a couple of hours, usually, but yesterday it was a little backed up because of the holidays. Anyhow, we’re sitting around with a bunch of people we don’t know with nothing to do for 2 or 3 hours, and no TV because some piece of equipment had been stolen (go figure). In addition to my dad, there was a cheerful elderly gent who had just celebrated his 53rd wedding anniversary, a girl who appeared to be in her early 20s, whose son was having his 9th birthday that day, and an African-American woman in her 60s. At first, we kept our conversations among ourselves, but soon we began chit-chatting with the strangers about where we’re from, etc. When I mentioned that I lived in California, someone asked about the Governator, and we were off and running.

D.J., the nurse who runs the infusion center, is a sassy, hyperactive, opinionated old babe in her mid-60s from West Virginia, a great-grandmother who loves the Gators and Boot-Scootin’ and hates FSU and Senator Byrd, so things got lively. Fortunately for us, my sister is a Gator. We started off with a general consensus that the younger generation (18-35 or so) is not very involved in politics, which is a tragedy. Geraldine, the African-American woman, told us that she and her best friend were involved in a ‘Get Out The Vote’ effort. She said that when they went ‘door to door to door’, almost everyone she talked to was of the opinion that their vote was useless anyway, so why bother? Score one for the Republicans on that one – they’ve done a bang-up job of convincing demographically Democrat African-American voters not to even bother showing up at the polls. After the way they were disenfranchised in 2000 with the ‘felon purge’ of tens of thousands of eligible voters and underserved with voting machines so working folks had to wait 8 or more hours to vote, who even needs to mess with the machines? Geraldine was a precinct worker, and told me that in 2004, the precinct that she worked in had nowhere near enough voting machines, and said that the line to vote went around the building 5 or 6 times. They had to request extra voting machines, which took their own sweet time in arriving. I wonder how many voters got turned away that day? And that was just one district. You can bet good money that the well-off Republican districts were not short any voting machines!

Well, as you can probably guess, Geraldine and I were off on a tear. We spent the rest of the time discussing the sad state of the nation. Most of what we talked about revolved around being informed. As a blogger, most of the people I meet up with, liberal or conservative, at least know who most of the players are, or they wouldn’t be political blogging. But in the real world, I find that most of the people around me have never even heard of Tom DeLay, much less know how Congress works (or doesn’t work!) or anything else about our political process! There is a general apathy, a disengagement from the reality of American life, that makes me very sad. In its place is info-tainment; people who are more in touch with the minutae of celebrities’ lives than their own flesh-and-blood communities; people who are emotionally involved with fictional characters on television and apathetic about the deaths of Americans and other people around the world that our government is responsible for, and by extension, we are responsible for.

Because what was apparent to Geraldine and to me was that, in not speaking out or taking a stand, we are complicit. By not voting, we are complicit. We actively support what we don’t oppose. If we have no voice, if with every Democratic vote together we do not have enough to move our plan forward, the only option we have is opposition. We cannot allow ourselves to be hobbled by Republican accusations of ‘obstructionism’ when that’s all we have. And if we allow ourselves to be silent and apathetic because we don’t feel that our lone vote, our lone voice can make a difference, then we’ve defeated ourselves without the opposition lifting a finger.

And that, dear friends, is the real tragedy.

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