As luck would have it, though I work with farmworkers in Florida, during the historic 2020 election season I found a home in North Carolina. As part of a statewide coalition effort, I helped the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective to make early voting locations into Safe Sites. Amid reports of voter intimidation incidents throughout the country, Safe Sites offered the opportunity for all voters to cast their ballots without fear for their personal safety.
The project aimed to create an atmosphere that would curtail any kind of problem between voters with different points of view before a potential situation could escalate. When I volunteered to help, I imagined myself being part of a human wall staring down would-be intimidators. However, the volunteers – including members of NCCJC, the Down East Coal Ash Environmental and Social Justice Coalition, and Friends of the Earth – created an environment reminiscent of a festival that worked more effectively to dissipate tensions that might arise.
For me, the experience was fun as well as insightful. I made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I got to visit parts of rural North Carolina I had not seen before. More importantly, in the time I spent offering bottled water, masks, and guides to voters, I saw in unfamiliar faces the familiar air of the folks I grew up with and the ones I work with now. I saw rural America struggling with the legacy of racial tension and economic inequality, and at the same time hopeful for a brighter future. Perhaps my vision of a brighter future for North Carolina, Florida, and the United States is different from that of many voters, but then again, perhaps it is closer than I imagine. The most valuable lesson for me is that despite our differences, the best democracy is the one where all citizens can freely exercise their right to civic engagement.