Wednesday, September 26, 2012

project VOTE

If you haven't watched the video associated with this blog yet, you can see it at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XChb49oUa2o

“project VOTE” came from an idea, a feeling, a discomfort I had with noticing how many people are saying they are not going to vote in the upcoming presidential election.  Wait - let me back up.

Elections are important to me.  Democracy is important.  I don’t know why really – politics are not something I remember as being central to my upbringing.  My family didn’t really discuss politics.  I don’t remember going to a polling place with my parents (though maybe I did?).  I don’t remember dinner conversations about political issues or candidates.  My first memory of elections is when I could vote in the 1984 presidential race - I was excited to cast that first ballot. 
Fast forward a couple of decades.  I now live near the capital of our country (“one stoplight from DC” as all local real estate ads in my neighborhood say).  “Local” politics in Washington DC are often NATIONAL politics.  Maybe it is because of where I live, or simply because I have “grown up” (??), but now I like to pay attention to politics, to issues, to elections.  I love watching CNN and getting news alerts on my phone.   I like discussing issues with my partner and I like learning about candidates.  And I love voting.  I try and vote in every election, even the “small” local ones.   I am also proud to work as an officer of the election in our local polling place for some elections.  It means getting there crazy early in the morning (I do not adore that part…) and working until around 8:30 pm.  It means not being able to watch the news and see how the exit polls are looking.  It means getting paid a very small amount of money for a very large investment of time.  But, for me, it means SUPPORTING DEMOCRACY.  And meeting new people.  And talking to neighbors.  And helping Americans VOTE.

I have heard many people say they are not going to vote in the presidential election coming up in November 2012.  They have different reasons for not voting – too busy, lines too long, moved and haven’t re-registered…  But the most common one I have seen/heard is, “I don’t like either candidate, so I am not voting”. 
I don’t get it!  And that response angers me.  In this election, as in all of them, the candidates are not equal.  They do not believe in the same things nor have the same plans for our country.  I understand that neither major party candidate may represent your exact beliefs, but certainly one matches what you believe in more than the other, no?    I understand that a candidate may not have a perfect record or may have done some things you disagree with even.  But, if you look at each candidate, their beliefs, and their records, surely one must match what you want for our country more than the other??  Some people begrudgingly say they will vote for “the lesser of two evils”.  I don’t think that is the right attitude to take, but if it gets them out to the polls to VOTE, so be it! 

Recently a Facebook friend put up a poll to ask her friends to reply with a “yes” or a “no” if they were going to vote.  And around half said NO.  NO!!  It is still weeks before the election and already they have decided to not participate.  It upset me.  In fact, I couldn’t sleep that night because I was lying in bed thinking about it and trying to think of ways to encourage people to vote.  That’s when I thought of “project VOTE” and the next day I decided to make the sleepless night worthwhile by beginning to make the video.
I thought the video was a project to help other people, the ones who see it, get motivated to vote.  But in reality it also helped ME.  Like most things I do, it fast became an obsession and I spent three days thinking about it non-stop.  Even the times when I was doing other things (like making mounds and mounds of fresh pesto…) I was thinking about the video.  It amazed me how many people we met who were happy to be involved.  I LOVED how much diversity we found in our neighborhood!!  I am proud to live in South Arlington, where in one walk to the grocery store you can run into people who speak many different languages and represent many different beliefs and values.  And I really liked that I learned new things about the neighbors I filmed that I already knew. 

This project was bi-partisan.  We did not mention either candidate or either party while filming it.  We simply asked people to say the word “VOTE”.  It is a simple word, and a simple action.  VOTE.  As Americans, it is our right.  As a woman, I am thankful that those who came before me fought and pushed so that I would have this right.  I intend to USE IT.  And I hope that watching this video might inspire others to exercise their right to vote. 
Here is another link to view the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XChb49oUa2o
I want to introduce you to the VOTERS in the video.   They are listed in the order they appear so you can match them with their descriptions if you like.

1.       Veronica (English) – a neighbor who lives a few houses away but we had only talked to once or twice before.  She was very happy to be filmed.  I think her husband may be a Marine or former Marine – I need to go talk to them more.  They seemed very nice.

2.       Daniel – (English) – filmed on the basketball court near our house.  After we filmed he, he said, “Wait, vote for WHO?” and I explained we weren’t pushing one side or the other, just to VOTE.  He was cool with that.

3.       Joanna (Polish) – filmed outside the Newseum in DC.  Turns out Joanna, from Poland, is a nanny working in Maryland and was walking around town with another nanny, and they ran into two guys visiting from other countries.  So the four of them, all visitors to the USA from other countries, were exploring DC.  She told me how friendly and helpful Americans have been.

4.       Eric (English) – filmed by a soccer field near our house.

5.       Julie (English, though she also speaks Spanish and didn’t really speak much English until she went to kindergarten) - the granddaughter of our next door neighbors.  Julie visits her Abuela and Abuelo often and is a sweetie.

6.       Lezandro – (Spanish) - he and his wife (Birgul, also in the video) were at 7-11 debating   
       which movie to rent from the outdoor RedBox.  They were very interested in the project
       and it turns out they are both immigrants – he from Columbia and her from Turkey.  It
       seemed their common language was a second language for both – English.  Beautiful
       couple. 

7.       Mike and Mary (English) – filmed outside the Newseum.

8.       Allison (English) – filmed in the driveway of a neighbor in her convertible VW Bug.

9.       Kemper (English) – my great-nephew.  Adorable boy and super smart, and his mom (my
        niece) is teaching him so much about respect, diversity, and equality.  I think Kemper
        will be very involved in the political process when he grows up.  Filmed on Skype – how
        we usually see him (he lives in Omaha).

10.   Jordan’s Mom (Mongolian) - filmed at our neighborhood playground, where she was watching her daughter play.  We didn’t get her name written down, which I regret.

11.   Shanequa (English) – filmed at a bus stop near our house.  She was a confident woman.

12.   Keturah (English) – the daughter of a neighbor.  We filmed her parents and then she came over and volunteered, too.  I am not sure if that was her idea, or she was told to come.  J  Filmed in our side yard.  She is an honors high school student, and when she was young I bought lemonade at her frequent lemonade stands.

13.   Jamilla, Amina, and Cary (English) – we filmed them outside a county building near our home.  He looked like a great father and the girls seemed happy to be sitting with him in the sunshine, all wearing their glasses.

14.   Katim (Arabic) – filmed outside our local grocery store.  David ran in to buy pepper and I stayed outside to film.  I was glad, cuz I met Katim!

15.   Ben (English) – the first person I filmed.  It was early Saturday afternoon and I had just gotten the camera set up and was thinking of where to film when Ben walked by, maybe on his way home from the local temple.  I explained the project to him and asked if he would be involved and he was happy to.  After I filmed him, he asked if I would send him the video and I gave him paper to write down his email address.  It being Sabbath, he said he could not write, so I wrote it down.  I LOVED that the very first person I interacted with for this project brought diversity and a lesson for me. 

16.   Frieda (German) – Frieda is the other nanny (from Germany) working in Maryland.  She was happy to be filmed and to talk about the project.  Filmed outside the Newseum.

17.   Michael (English) – we met Michael outside the Newseum and he was the perfect
        person for this project!  He, too, is very interested in rocking the vote and getting people
        to the polls.  He had just begun a big project of his own – registering high school
        students to vote.  He had gone to one school, where he registered over 100 voters, and
        has two more planned before the upcoming election.  We talked to him for quite a
        while.  Go Michael!

18.   Birgul (Turkish) – filmed outside our local 7-11, Birgul was so kind.  She and her husband (Lezandro) totally got behind the meaning of this project.  We talked with them quite a bit about the importance of voting.  After we were done filming them, she came back up to us to talk linguistics – she asked if I was looking for the “verb or noun” when I asked her to say “vote”.  Ahh – a woman after my own heart!!  She asked us to re-shoot her, as she had said the noun of “vote” on the first time and wanted to make sure she accurately represented her language.  What you hear on the video now is the Turkish VERB for “vote”.  J

19.   Lt. Col. White (English) – I was honored that he agreed to be filmed.  He and his wife were walking along the sidewalk in front of the Newseum.  He was in his dress military uniform and his wife was very dressed up, too.  I thanked him for his service and said that they must be on their way to a special event because they looked so nice.  She said that they were just coming from Arlington, and from the sadness in his face and voice I could only presume she meant they had just attended a military funeral.  I asked if he would be willing be to in the project and he was, and even though he only said the one word on camera and was wearing dark sunglasses, I could feel the sadness.  His wife radiated pride for him – she filmed him saying “vote” on her phone while I taped him.  Thank you for your service to our country, Lt. Col. White. 

20.   Emron and Nam (Bengali) – filmed at our neighborhood park.  They were filling their basketball up with air at their car before hitting the court. 

21.   Nola (English) – a neighbor girl, filmed in her yard.  She was blowing bubbles when we
        went over to film her parents and I like that we could capture that on film.

22.    Rob (English) – filmed outside the Newseum.  The boyfriend of a friend who just happened to walk by while we were there and say “hi”.

23.   Adrian (ASL) – filmed at Gallaudet University.  I wanted to film a Deaf person signing “vote” and, to my disappointment, did not organically run into one while we were filming this project.  So we drove to Gallaudet and saw Adrian.  He was a great subject and thought the idea of the project was fantastic.

24.   Lula (Amharic) – filmed at a bus stop near our house.  She was a very sweet woman and happy to be involved.  She spoke five languages, and we chose to have her say “vote” in Amharic.  We also filmed her saying it in Tigrinia, which to my untrained ears sounded much like the Amharic word.  I loved that when she said “vote”, her hand came up in that lovely, empowered gesture.  I was a juror in a murder trial where much of the testimony was gruesome and spoken in Amharic, so I am grateful to Lula for speaking it for me to hear in a positive manner, helping to wash away some of those memories for me. 

25.   David (English) – the grandson of our neighbors, filmed in their yard.  He doesn’t come over to visit much anymore now that he is a teenager, but was there watching the Redskins game.  I saw him in his black hoodie and hoped he would agree to be involved.  He took time while the game was ON to film - dedication!

26.   Joanna (Polish) – filmed outside the Newseum.  Ironically, the 2nd woman named Joanna who spoke Polish who we filmed in the same location over the span of about ten minutes!  We showed her the tape of the first Joanna from Poland, but she didn’t recognize her.  J

27.   Rasheed (English) – filmed near a park in our neighborhood.  He was one of two people I was brave enough to ask to film even though they had ear buds in.  I loved his look and his attitude (plus his “Every Damn Day” t shirt).  He had a terrific smile.

28.   Eugene (Russian) – filmed in his backyard.  Eugene is a neighbor and we had no idea he was fluent in Russian.  His parents immigrated to the US.  I love that this project taught me things like this.  His mom works as an interpreter. 

29.   Tallis (baby talk) – filmed via Skype.  Tallis is my great-niece and simply adorable.  Her
        mom takes a photo of her every month holding a paper sign with her age on it, so I  
        thought having her hold a “vote” sign would be appropriate.  She is Kemper’s little
        sister.

30.   Patty (English) – filmed at a “bump” in our neighborhood.  I learned two things filming Patty – 1. The little landscaped area that sticks out from the sidewalk is called a “bump”, and 2.  Patty is the one that landscapes the bump near our house!  I had no idea who kept it so pretty.  Thanks Patty!  Patty is Keturah’s mom (her husband John was also filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor, sorry!).

31.   Justin (English) – filmed lying in grass in our neighborhood.  I saw him lying there –
        head propped up on his skateboard and one shoe off – resting.  He seemed like a great
        representation of his generation – hip and laid back.

32.   Tesfye (Tigrinia) – filmed while pumping gas at our local 7-11.  Tesfye is a cab driver, many of whom in our area who seem to speak Tigrinia or Amharic. 

33.   Jarom (cued speech) – filmed at Gallaudet University.   He was a friendly guy from Utah, and after signing for me in ASL asked if I wanted him to sign it in another language.  What – why sure!!   J  He said he knew several different ways to sign it, one being cued speech.  Cued speech is a visual representation of English using hand shapes and placement to show the phonemes.  He grew up cueing at school and with his family. 

34.   Karen (English) – filmed in her yard.  She is a neighbor, mother of Nola and wife of Eugene.  She was outside playing with kids and doing chalk drawing when we came over, so that is what we filmed.  If you look very closely you will see one of Nola’s bubbles float behind her!

35.   Taylor (English) – filmed in our driveway.  He was walking by and I liked his hat.

36.  Vanessa (Spanish) – filmed outside the Newseum.  We were talking with another guy
       about the project when our friend Vanessa spotted us- so random!  Of course, we invited
       her to  be involved.  I think she looks beautiful on camera.

37.  Maria (English) – filmed in our neighbor’s yard.  Maria was our most excited subject and
       wanted us to film her over and over each time we saw her. 
 
            38.  Moosa (English) – filmed in his UPS truck in our neighborhood.  I really wanted to film
                     Moosa, but didn’t want to interfere with his work.  He was kind and paused for a few
                    moments for me to explain, then was happy to be filmed.  From his accent it was  
                     obvious that English is not his first language, but I didn’t want to bother him more by
                     asking to re-shoot in another language. 

 39.  Glenn and friends (Tagalog) – filmed outside the Newseum. 

 40.  David (French) – my partner, filmed by the basil in our garden.  He is a native English
        speaker but also fluent in French, having gone to graduate school and taught in Paris.

41.  Carla (English) – filmed in the local 7-11 parking lot.  Her friend recognized David (my
        husband) from being on a local TV show.  I think they thought we were working on that
        show at first.  Carla looks terrific on camera.

42.  Loving (English) – filmed near the Newseum (on the sidewalk in front of the Canadian
       Embassy in DC).  Loving was someone I really wanted to film but was nervous to ask.     
       He looks like he lives on the street, but was sitting with his things working on a laptop  
       powered by two solar panels.  He had signs protesting our over-use of oil and the
       damage we are doing to the environment because of it.  He has tattoos on his face and
       was wearing ear buds while working on his computer.  I worked up the courage to talk
       with him and am so glad I did.  He was very knowledgeable about solar energy and
       showed me his panels and the batteries that they feed into.  We talked for several
       minutes about the technology, then I asked if he would be willing to be filmed for the
       project.  He was happy to, and the result is one of my favorite clips in the piece.  His
       genuine delivery of “vote” and strong eyes enthrall me.  I knew that I recognized him and
       had seen him on the streets before, and now that I Google him I see that he supports a
       woman named Conception who protests near the White House in Lafayette Park.  I am
       glad he was near the Newseum the day we filmed there or I wouldn’t have gotten to
       have such a good conversation with him.  Luck. 

43.  Mamadouba (English) – filmed in his ice cream truck at a neighborhood park. 
       Mamadouba wins my award for the loveliest name of anyone we met on this project.  He
       has a terrific smile.  I do not know what his native language is, but his English has a
       beautiful accent.

44.  Giang (Vietnamese) – Giang is the son of our neighbor (filmed in her driveway).  The
       neighbor speaks no English, and we do not speak Vietnamese, so our interaction with    
        her over the years has been through smiles, nods, bows, and occasional sharing of our
        fresh peaches and her delicious spring rolls.  I was very happy when her son pulled into
        her driveway to visit so that I could explain the project and film him. 

45.  Tomar (English) – filmed outside the Newseum.
            46.  Susan (ASL and English) – me!  Filmed in our backyard.  I like the birdbath in the
                     background – wish I had filled it up with water before we shot and that a bird had been
                     in there.

 47.  Firefighter LeDrew (English) – filmed in Fire Station Number One, Arlington, which is
         very close to our home and firetrucks often pass by with their sirens blaring.  I wanted
         to film a first responder, so we stopped by the station.  The first guy we explained the
         project to said, “LeDrew will do it!” then yelled for her.  She was happy to be involved
         and proudly stood in front of her truck.  Arlington County Firefighters were some of the
         first on the scene at the Pentagon on September 11th and I recently learned that they
         were the first in the nation to hire a career female firefighter.  Go Arlington!

 And those who ended up on the cutting room floor – sorry….

 

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