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Woog's World / Time to storm the voting booths

Published 11:54 am, Sunday, November 4, 2012
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Election Day is Tuesday. Today is Friday. This column was written last weekend. I wanted to finish it before Hurricane Sandy (aka Frankenstorm, "the worst weather event of the decade/of the past 100 years/since God created heaven, earth and climate change") hits. I have no idea what Sandy will bring -- though living in a town where a simple spring breeze causes massive power outages, I can guess -- so I'm not sure whether we'll be voting the usual way this year.

Will the polling places have power? Can we drive there unimpeded? Will our ballots be tallied instantly, as we've come to expect, or will some unintended consequence of the storm force us to revert to sending the results in by horse and rider to a central location, weeks from now?

Whatever. That's all about next Tuesday. Here are a few thoughts from elections past and present -- the "known knowns," to use Donald Rumsfeld's phrase:

Two days before the 1960 presidential election -- on Sunday, November 6 -- John F. Kennedy came to Connecticut. Nearly 50,000 people waited hours in the cold rain -- until 3 a.m. -- to hear the Massachusetts senator speak from a second-floor Waterbury hotel balcony.

After a couple hours sleep, Kennedy attended early mass at a church next door. He headed off to Hartford, New Haven and -- finally -- a Sunday afternoon rally in Bridgeport.

I was in the Bridgeport crowd. I don't remember much at all -- I was just in second grade, brought there by my father -- but I do recall a tremendous sense of excitement before JFK arrived and throughout his speech.

Connecticut had not gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. But in the aftermath of Kennedy's electrifying Connecticut visit, state Democratic chairman John Bailey predicted he would beat Richard Nixon by 30,000 votes.

Bailey was wrong. JFK won by 91,000.

That 1960 election marked another milestone on my road to political awareness. My father ran for Westport's Representative Town Meeting and took me along as he campaigned door to door. I was impressed by the questions voters asked (not that I understood them), and by my father's seemingly thoughtful and all-knowing responses to them (not that I understood those either). After he won, I was proud. I thought that being an RTM member was very important (not that I knew what it was).

That may be the last time I've seen an RTM member campaign door to door. At least, no one has ever knocked on mine. But I recognize the importance of the body -- "all politics is local," as Tip O'Neill has noted -- and I've always tried (not always successfully) to vote for my RTM members based on criteria beyond name recognition.

I do remember my first vote ever. It was not the RTM; it was for president of the United States. The 26th Amendment had just been passed, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. After years of protesting that we could be drafted but not vote -- not that, thanks to a student deferment, I was in danger of being drafted -- I was proud and pleased to register and vote. I cast mine for George McGovern. Although he lost in a landslide, I was thrilled to be on the wrong side of history. (Or perhaps, judging from Watergate -- already unfolding, though unknown to us at the time -- the right side.)

However, judging from recent comments in the Staples High School student newspaper Inklings, the act of voting no longer thrills young people.

"I don't see a lot of political activism at Staples. I think kids generally don't care about this election," said senior Cole De Monico. He cited a variety of reasons. The top two are "I can't vote" and "I don't like politics."

Inklings quoted one student as saying, "I usually don't understand political issues, especially those about the economy. I know who the candidates are, but everything else goes over my head."

While teachers -- particularly those in social studies -- make an effort to encourage classroom discussion about the upcoming election, there is not a lot of hall chatter around it. That's a far cry from the Staples of the 1960s and early '70s, in terms of political activism. Then again, our country and society are vastly different too.

But one thing is certain. When we vote on Tuesday, the polling places will be awash in signs. We'll check in, check (okay, circle) our candidates' names, and exit feeling satisfied to have done our patriotic duty.

We'll know in a few hours if our candidate won or lost. (Or, thinking back to 2000, maybe longer.) We'll be happy or sad. Either way, the world will go on.

Unless, that is, Hurricane Sandy proved to be even worse than predicted.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net.

His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.