Voting uncomfortably: New Jersey voters should take nothing for granted
Published November 6, 2017 | Rachel Wagner
It’s nice to drive around Newark and see Phil Murphy signs that say “Stop Chris Christie and Trump!” It’s more than nice. It feels great to be in a politically safe space.
I also work at a university, so even when I go to work I feel safe. I can say what I want and can assume that most of the people around me at work and at home are anti-Trump.
But is that enough? With the election for governor coming up this Tuesday, I’m wondering if what I’m feeling is a false sense of security. It’s great to work in higher education and have political representatives in people like Senator Cory Booker and Mayor Ras Baraka, but I’m realizing that I need to keep on questioning my comfort, just like I did last November.
My experiences during the most recent presidential election and gubernatorial primary election were strange partially because, at the time, I lived in Elizabeth but voted in Newark (old address).
Both election periods seemed physically non-existent around me in Elizabeth. The population where I lived was so Latinx that it felt like there was no need to even say anything about it. No one was messing with Trump.
But when I showed up to vote in North Newark, a white lady was standing outside passing out Trump fliers. It was physically uncomfortable to watch people take her paper, walk a few steps, and then realize what she had just handed them. Some people gave her dirty looks; most people threw her papers onto a bush. Then, a sole white guy walked up to her, read her card, and high-fived her.
For the primary election a few months ago, someone was passing out Murphy stuff at the same exact spot on the sidewalk. I didn’t realize people were so into Murphy until I was driving to vote for Jim Johnson for the primaries. Right now, where I live in downtown Newark is blanketed in pro-Murphy posters, but those signs aren’t everywhere in the state. Newark is a politically savvy city, and I can trust that Murphy will win here, but what about everywhere else? Looking at the map from the 2016 election and seeing all that red dotting the center, and running along the edges, of the state is truly scary.
At a meeting a few weeks ago, I was complaining with a colleague about Trump, and then I brought up the governor’s race. She seemed unsure of Murphy because he’s pro-recreational weed. I told her that I actually agree with him on that—do you know how many people go to jail and prison for weed?
She conceded that was true, but said she just didn’t like idea of profiting off of it. I was like, but the other lady is a Republican… I couldn’t believe how thin the line was between being anti-Trump and being pro-revolution. And she’s not wrong—there’s nuance to the conversation about legalizing weed, and legalizing it will not automatically stop the prison industrial complex. But right now, we don’t have nuanced options. Right now, it’s all black and white.
I have an officemate who I talk to often about social justice. She lives in West Orange and makes phone calls, showed up at Hillary Clinton’s book signing to pass out fliers, and more. Her district’s representative is a Republican who she wants to see pushed out.
She interviewed Ras Baraka recently and said that she realized afterwards that she was too eager. She couldn’t help feeling that way because listening to him say all of the right things was such a big change from what she’s used to. All I could do was nod along. Living in Newark, I’m lucky to have a mayor who not only denounces Christopher Columbus on the second Monday of October but also shows up to meetings in West Orange to talk to excited citizens. But after our conversation, I was stuck wondering if I was back in the same bubble as last year—assuming everyone around me is ready to vote against Republicans.
With Chris Christie finally on his way out, there is still a Johnson poster on the highway entrance from the Oranges. Left over political “stuff,” in terms of both the signs and the frustration with the last presidential election, could really spark more necessary conversations about the governor’s race, even at the last minute and even in a blue state.
A lot of people just need a reminder to vote on Tuesday.
Rachel Wagner is a writer from New Jersey. She contributes to Book Riot and does freelance work. Rachel is also an instructor at Seton Hall University, where she received her graduate degree in literature. She lives in Newark with her son.
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