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November 5, 2010
Encountering Bigotry at the Poll
I have been a political activist since my late teen years. I am talking about my experience in my country of birth, China. In the mid-1970s, I joined the underground dissident movement, fighting for democracy and freedom. It was no surprise that my comrades and I ended up in prison, where I spent almost a year, and my 21st birthday.
It seemed natural that I enthusiastically participated in democracy after the United States adopted me as one of its millions of new citizens. The first time I entered a poll, my hands were shaking. Tears filled my eyes after I put on the "I voted" sticker. For a decade since I became a citizen, I actively supported candidates, including spending more than two weeks in Florida, working for John Kerry's presidential campaign with the local AFL-CIO office. In 2009, I ran for the Virginia House of Delegates as the Republican candidate. For an entire year, I knocked on doors, standing on streets to greet people, and doing whatever other things needed in a political campaign.
Therefore, I can confidently say that I am quite familiar with the election procedures and rules. However, I never fully realized that bigotry and discrimination were intelligent-blind, until the election day of 2010.
As usual, I went to campaign for the candidate I supported -- in this case the Republican -- in front of my own polling station. Standing more than 40 feet away - required by law - from the poll, I loudly greeted every voter, and walked towards - more away from the poll - some of them.
A lady in the poll from the Democratic Party -- later I learned that she was a local operative -- became very irritated for the obvious reason. She gave me an evil look and demanded me to tell her my name and if I lived in the neighborhood. I ignored the request. She then said that I had an accent, indicating that I had no right to work there.
Failing to intimidate me, she went into the polling station and complained. A gentleman came out, telling me that I might be arrested. I said that there was no law to regulate the level of my voice and the speed of my walk - there was one in China, though. I told him that I was very well trained and knew all the rules. He understood.
Again failed to scare me, the lady began to tell incoming voters that I did not know anything. She again harassed me by insisting to know where I lived. I again ignored her, of course.
Persuaded by her, a man came to me and said, "Honey, you don't know anything."
"To you, doctor, please." I replied.
Another man approached, and said,
"Baby, what do you know? Are you educated?"
"Is a Harvard PhD good enough for you?" I asked.
At that moment, it was so enjoyable to look at that face.
It never fails to amaze me that there are so many self-righteous -- and probably stupid and ignorant as well -- politicians or political operatives who think so much of themselves, and believe that they always know better. Particularly, when they see people look like me, they assume that they know our best interests more than ourselves. When we disagree, they attack.