According to Wikipedia, “The smoke signal is one of the oldest forms of long-distance communication. It is a form of visual communication used over a long distance. In general smoke signals are used to transmit news, signal danger, or gather people to a common area.” Smoke signals have been used all over the world and throughout history in many different cultures including China, ancient Greece, and the indigenous peoples of America.
Back in May and through the summer, the activity of writing postcards to voters (Postcards from the Edge) encouraging them to vote, helped to assuage some of the anxiety I was feeling about the election and about our democracy. Of course, the news has gotten progressively worse and crazier since the late spring and my anxiety continues as a persistent backdrop (and sometimes forefront) to each and every day.
The postcards I wrote had a date of October 30th printed on the front as the last date to request a mail-in ballot. Indivisible Chicago, who is sponsoring the particular postcards I wrote, requested that before we mail the cards on Oct. 24 we use a black marker and strike out this statement. Indivisible Chicago shared that while the legal deadline is the 30th in Michigan, that “voters who wait until the final week risk not receiving their paper ballot in time.” In other words, in the time between when the original postcards were printed and today, the risk of people not receiving their ballot in time or even their ballot not being counted has become a very real risk.
Today I struck out the line on all 500 of the postcards. I was angry that this was put on the cards in the first place. Angry that though it is legal for people to request mail-in ballots at such a late date, because of obstruction at the post office and danger of obstruction during and after the election, the chances are pretty high that anyone requesting such a ballot at the end of October will likely be disenfranchised. Angry that my country has slid into free fall regarding the fundamental right to vote.
Tonight we grilled fish for dinner. As I prepared to start the coals, I grabbed the sheets of names and addresses I was assigned for the postcard writing and stuffed them into the bottom of the charcoal chimney. I lit the paper and watched as the smoke in the charcoal chimney dispersed. For a brief moment, I really felt like I was sending smoke signals. I imagined Vance, Amber, Kameelah, Brett, Deontae, Mai, Dainesha, Bryan, Linda, Sky, and Towanda getting a whiff of this smoke and committing to vote. I imagined the smoke traveling over Grand Rapids, Southfield, Traverse City, Flint, cruising over Detroit, Warren, Ypsilanti, Dearborn, and Swartz Creek, reminding people to exercise their fundamental right to vote. I also imagined the smoke swirling around and undercutting those who would undermine these rights.
For the briefest of moments, I imagined the smoke signals from our house, from our hearts, smudging and purifying democracy.
If only it were so simple.