Election Day Protests spark Reflection

Election Day! It feels so much like a holiday, it should probably be one.

Obviously we treat it like one anyway.

This spring, I crossed two rivers to PFT headquarters on the South Side, to lend a hand to one Democratic State Representative pitted against another. The Legislative redistricting racket did a number the ‘Burgh in that one. If the system we use now is based on partisanship and seniority, structurally assisting establishment legislators, does it not therefore structurally disadvantage politically forward-leaning ones, which are more frequently the young bloods? Getting elected is not enough, there is nowadays a second threshold of paying dues to caucus leadership.

I phoned likely voters for an hour (“We’re just reminding you that it’s Election Day! Have you made it down to vote yet?”) and spent another hour kibitzing about the land bank over cold coffee before wheedling an outdoor assignment. The weather was sunny, and it is easier on the conscience to distribute palm cards at voting places than to ring peoples’ telephones. As luck would have it, a volunteer in Carrick required relief.

Carrick. The Scranton of Pittsburgh. A ‘Hood of Coal and Glass. Yestercentury’s upper middle-class splendor settled into today’s affable “affordability”.

The trouble started when school let out. A pack of about ten boys ambled past, jostling and hollering. They doubled back, moped past us again, turned around a second time and decided to hang out on the sidewalk in front of our Church for two hours or more. To deliberate, argue, posture, curse, shove each other, and play with rocks. They somehow separated a torso-sized chunk of curb or wall, concrete poured over stones, picked their spot carefully, and covertly slammed it into the short retaining wall or the sidewalk. We began to take sharper notice.

There was something so… malignant about their energy. Here above the hill were acres of grass perfectly suited to football, baseball or any Calvinball. And there across the street were some girls of their age, bursting with puberty. Or surely there must be video games somewhere; I’m not demanding homework and chores. At least be skateboarding. Hone a skill.

What is just me? No. It was just me and the two other political activists, “opposing” ones, from Carrick, handing out their own campaign material. And the precinct Elections Judge, rubbernecking way up from the vestibule. We all eyed them pointedly, leerily, but blankly.

A lady from down the street approaches them, tries to reason with them. “I know it’s fun throwing rocks, but…” Not much effect.

A stream of old men began parking at the Church for duck pin bowling across the street, carrying little bags. Most of them in their turn issued the children a snide scolding, or a stern pleading, or warning and conversation of some sort. No effect.

One of the kids, their leader, replied to a gentleman: “Man,” loudly enough even for the Judge of Elections to hear, “you’re making a big deal out of nothing.” Dripping with condescension.

We weren’t merely the victims of sullen, unwitting dunderheads. We were being trolled.

Why were these 10-13 year olds radiating careless spite at all compass points, inviting confrontation?

Two or three of these little punks might have been okay, but numbering ten they kept trying to “top” one another.

Were we the problem, I wondered? All the campaign signs set up, more and nicer vehicles in the parking lot, do-gooders standing around looking askance at their antics — was the Primary Election gentrifying their stomping grounds? Do they have a knee-jerk problem with norms and authority? Or do they believe society is failing them, and are lashing out passive-aggressively at the Elections Thing in response?

But I also wondered, who cares? Forget today, how are we reaching out to children and socializing them? These behaviors will lead to little that is positive, and much more that is risky or destructive.  Does society reach kids like these and introduce itself? Put aside families or guardians for a second — when is “Society,” you know, government, schools, health care, social services, cultural and athletics institutions, heck even the business community — when are they coming out and saying, “Hello. Hold up. Don’t hate us and hate everything, before you ask us what you want. Let’s talk. Maybe it will be worthwhile for the both of us.”

That “talk” needs to be ongoing in some form already by age nine, apparently. But how? Through what?

That got me to thinking about a level, peaceful, comprehensively sustainable City budget, if only because of what that might inspire or enable in terms of high quality preschool, community schools or infrastructure economics. The City has a lot of potential, but much depends how we navigate these early hurdles.

Anyway. Election Day proceeded without a hitch. The sullen youth eventually departed. One of them dawdled in the street after crossing, earning a honk from a driver. “I’m crossing! The [expletive]! Street!” he hollered back in a weird throaty half-measure, flapping his arms.

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