At age 74, old by any standard, I plan to hit the streets on Tuesday night and the rest of the week, if need be, to call for a fair and thorough vote count.
I took my first step toward supporting democracy by voting 10 days ago. Given the current state of U.S. politics, I may have to follow up with my street presence, even at this age, even if it means going out Tuesday night.
Pennsylvania, as a swing state, carries huge clout. Having every vote counted here could decide the election. We seniors—19% of Philadelphians are age 60 or older, according to the 2019 Census Reporter—can pack a wallop.
That’s why if there’s any sign that the election is being illegally impeded, that voters are being intimidated by vigilantes or even officials seeking an illegitimate result, I plan to contact the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) and the Raging Grannies to find out about demonstrations. I may also head to City Hall to Octavius Catto statue, where demonstrations often take place.
I’m not naïve. A senior on the street makes a target for trouble at the best of times. On Tuesday night and for the immediate future, people my age face a triple threat. COVID-19 sickens more of us, and standing in crowds raises the risks of catching the virus, even if we responsibly wear our masks and attempt to distance. In addition, as a senior with hip and knee replacements, I can’t run as fast if any demonstrations take an ugly turn. I doubt with the high tension after Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing that some members of the Philadelphia Police or the National Guard would check to see if I have gray hair before hitting me.
But, as a Black senior, I have to pick my poison. Can I afford to stay home when cuts to Social Security are at stake? Can I stay indoors when money for mental health care is on the ballot, and I have a grown son with mental illness?
Granted, it won’t help my son or me if I end up in the hospital due to injuries at a demonstration. But I have to weigh that against the dangers of sitting at home while the vote count is skewed or strangled. As things stand now with tensions enflamed, including by the current U.S. administration, I have brown skin, female gender, and age going against me. Staying home in a rocker and yakking about it will accomplish nothing. On the other hand, massive demonstrations have changed governments when all else failed.
Consider the attention brought to policing by wrought by peaceful demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd. Watching Bringing Down a Dictator—a documentary available on YouTube that covers the nonviolent, student-led protests that led to the defeat of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was charged with war crimes—also makes the point that we must hit the streets in case of injustice.
With some savvy gleaned from taking part in June’s huge protest at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Aug. 28 March on Washington, I’ve found ways to stay close enough to other demonstrators to be counted as part of the crowd, yet far enough to allow some social distancing. I’ll attend demonstrations, if I see the need to, with a friend and maybe wear a helmet. But go I will. And I’ll keep protesting night after night if any officials raise objections to allowing time and resources for a complete count of the vote.
Some of us seniors can’t protest on the streets because our health won’t allow it. In that case, we can let our fingers do the marching by calling our senators at (202)-224-3121 or Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s public engagement line at (800)-525-7642 to insist on a fair count.
Let’s seize what for many of us may be a last chance to shape a legacy for generations to come.
Constance Garcia-Barrio, a Philadelphia freelance writer, is working on a novel based on the city’s African American history. Cgarciaemail@example.com