Friday, October 3, 2008

Squeaky Wheels

I went to Trader Joe's yesterday and remembered to take my resusable canvas shopping bag in with me. The checker asked if I would like to fill out a raffle ticket; if you didn't know, customers who use those bags can enter a weekly drawing for a prize. I told her, "no thanks, I never win anyway."

"Well," she replied, "I have to tell you that if you don't enter-"

"You can't win," I laughed, finishing her sentence. "That's what I always tell people about voting - if you don't vote, don't complain about the way things are." That and the current election fever in general got me thinking back to the 'elections' of grades past for our class officers.

Did your elementary school classes have a president and a vice president? How were they elected and what exactly did they do? I remember teachers asking for nominations, at which time several hands would go up and names went on the blackboard.

Invariably someone would raise their hand to nominate themselves, provoking laughter from the rest of the class and a rejection of the request from the teacher. That person would then cast pleading looks at their buddies, pointing at themselves and gesturing for them to raise their hands. Sometimes that resulted in the glee of victory if their buddy declared a nomination, but other times a steaming look of anger and rolling of the eyeballs if their buddy refused to cooperate.

"I thought you was my friend!" would be heard later on in the play yard or after class. "I guess I know who I can count on."

Once the teacher had secured enough nominations, all the candidates would come to the front of the room and close their eyes while the class tendered their votes by a show of hands. Some teachers made everyone put their heads down on the desk so no one could see how anyone else voted. And of course someone always had to peek.

"How you know I was peeking? You musta had your eyes open too if you saw me!"

Candidates were also surprised that they were allowed to vote for themselves. That seemed so.. presumptuous.

And that was it - the person with the most votes was the president and the one with the next highest total was vice president. What did that mean? Usually not very much. Maybe the president would lead the Pledge of Allegiance each morning and if he or she was sick, the vice president would step in.

Basically, being president was a popularity contest.

Things were a bit different in junior high. At Foshay we assembled in the auditorium where we would hear speeches from the candidates. The one thing I remember from all of those assemblies was that not one person ever gave a serious speech. It ranged from making outrageous, undeliverable promises such as changing the school hours or lunch menu, to one guy whose act was to go up and pretend he forgot what he was going to say so he stood there and said, "uh, uh" for a few minutes while people laughed, to those who told us why they were "the coolest" using a precursor of today's rap style, to Eileen Tawa whose campaign slogan was "Tawa Pawa" (power), which got the whole assembly cheering and whistling for her.

Since many of the candidates were relatively unknown, the elections turned into a matter of who was the funniest among the bunch.

Finally at Dorsey there were candidates who addressed the issues. At Foshay I had expected to hear people speak seriously about what they intended to do and was surprised at how flippant the entire process was. I assumed that same tone would carry forward to high school and was suprised that the candidates were more serious.

I didn't really care who got elected, though. Would it really make any difference? They were all just puppets, part of the illusion that students possessed power to actually change anything of significance.

I wonder if the same people that sought to be elected as I was growing up retained that desire and are the same type of people who ran for political office when they reached adulthood? I think of countless homeowner associations and city councils that are filled with types like the students in my elementary and junior high schools that ran for office.

Some food for thought: What if your workplace had elections to choose the supervisor or manager? Or even the big boss? Imagine that happening - what do you think would happen? And every x years, there would be another election just like there is now for public office.

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