Think about a healthy society the same way you think about a healthy body – vigorous exercise builds strong bodies and stronger minds. While we must individually keep physically healthy, as a society it’s good to flex our civic muscles once in awhile, and I’m not talking about protesting.
Standing in a slow-moving line, in the muggy heat, is not something many people enjoy, even if the reward is an ice-cream cone or some free concert tickets, but thousands of Wake County voters waited patiently, and gregariously, in line for well over an hour to cast their primary ballots on Saturday morning. My wife and I were among the throngs in Raleigh, and I must admit that it was a lovely line in which to be waiting. Everyone was in a great mood and actually excited to be voting.
I’ll say that again: excited to be voting.
A block away, on Fayetteville Street, vendors lined the street with tasty goodies, businesses promoted their products, and families of all stripes, sizes and colors meandered back and forth between them, all the while bike riders participating in the AIDS charity bike race were zipping down the course toward the Old Capital building. It was a great party.
If you happen to be out and about in downtown Raleigh on Saturday, there’s a good chance you were there either for OutRaleigh, the annual LGBT festival, or you were there to vote on the last day of early voting in the primary. Either way, you were treated to a fine display of what makes this city, and this state, the place everyone wants to live.
Somewhere, among all of the political strategy and moral pontificating which has, and will continue, to mark this primary season, I’m afraid we may have forgotten what it is we are all fighting for in the first place. At its core, we are debating what we want our families, and as an extension our communities, to be. For me, Saturday morning in downtown Raleigh is my idea of community.
As I meandered up and down the street, I saw several friends I hadn’t seen in some time, so I stopped and talked and caught-up on goings-on. I watched curious strangers wander into the mix, not quite sure of what was going on but obviously delighted to have happened upon the scene. I even watched as a man with a microphone stood on a step-stool and began to preach against the "godless" way of the assembled crowd – to the apparent the interest of no one. (He finally stopped.)
I know that Raleigh does not necessarily represent the rest of North Carolina. As a city, we are disproportionately wealthier, better educated, more civilly engaged, and more liberal then the state as a whole, and we are more of a self-selecting group, since we are more likely to have the means to move to another city if we so choose.
But we don’t. I am not a native Raleigher or even North Carolinian. This city is my home by choice, not circumstance, and many of my friends and neighbors have similar stories to tell. We want to be here. We want to contribute. We want to be proud.
And we are willing to work to make it happen.
On Saturday morning, I was proud to engage with my fellow citizens in two of democracy’s most important civic exercises: voting and free assembly. Regardless of the outcome of the primaries, I think we are well on our way to being a stronger city and state, no matter the underlying disease which may have caused us to become health-conscious in the first place.