By Lichel Johnson
(Editor’s Note: Lichel Johnson is one 16 current and former high school students from Stratford who worked as paid workers at Stratford’s 10 polling locations on Aug. 9th. The Crier invited them all to describe what it was like to work at the polls at such a young age – and on the hottest and muggiest Election Day in memory. Here is her report from District 3, Johnson House polling station.
My name is Lichel Johnston. I am 17 years old and will be a senior this fall at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Fairfield.
As I sat on the metal folding chair, beads of sweat dotting my forehead and dripping down onto my t-shirt, I carefully ripped “I voted” stickers and diligently handed them to each voter as they dropped their ballot. People from all walks of life- some old, others young, some black, others white, women and men- proudly placed their stickers on their chests and made their way out the double doors ready to conquer their day.
It was 7 A.M., and I was starting my second hour as a 17-year-old poll worker.
After I had read just about every flashy poster adorning the gym walls and imagined myself shooting a basket from just about every line on the school basketball court, I realized I had exhausted my resources and decided to quickly text my mom, who had just gotten into work. When I began complaining about how muggy and humid it was in the gym she responded with, “Ay Mija, you have no idea the privilege you have to sit there.”
Privilege? Is that what this was? Waking up at five o’clock in the morning and sitting in 90-degree weather did not seem privileged to me, and when I told her this, she simply laughed and said “You have no idea.”
No idea about what? I was confused by her words, my mouth was dry, and the ice in my bottle had melted leaving me with warm water and a puddle of condensation. When all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see an older gentleman wearing a blue shirt with the word “FREEDOM” plastered in bold letters, and whether it was the coffee finally kicking in or the granola bar I had eaten for breakfast, it all clicked.
My mother is an immigrant to the United States from Cuba. She made the journey all by herself almost 25 years ago when she was just 21 years old. The privilege she spoke about in her cryptic message was simply being able to vote. Now I say simply very loosely because for her, living under a dictatorship stripped her of the many freedoms we as Americans are able to enjoy and often take for granted.
While I sat in the heat as a promoter of democracy, she sat in the heat forced to hear empty promises of how her country would one day be restored to its former glory. With every ballot that I watched drop and every sticker that I gave, I saw citizens serving their community as they saw the best fit.
Whether Democrat or Republican, all the voters gathered in that humid room for the same reason- to leave their mark and bring about an opportunity for change. This realization made me incredibly proud to be where I was- to be a facilitator of this freedom and to relish in the luxury of helping others to “simply” vote. It is a memory I will hold onto when return to Notre Dame this fall as a senior.
So as I went about my day, I remembered who I was doing this for…for my family in Cuba who are falsely given the hope of a democracy, for the young girls in Saudi Arabia who will never get to experience an election simply for being a woman, and most of all for my mother who that Tuesday morning reminded me of how incredibly privileged I was to be a poll worker.
To be a freedom fighter.