By Zenessa Anderson
On November 2, I served as an election judge. It was one of the best, but most exhausting, days of my life. From early morning to long after sunset I helped get people registered, kept the process moving smoothly, and counted. Counting, double checking numbers, and counting a third time, all to make sure that the American People are heard. We carefully followed guidelines, signed off on each step, and checked on each other’s numbers. We worked thoroughly, and at the end of the night I was ready to sleep for a century. It wasn’t very physically exhausting – counting and registering people doesn’t require much in the way of exertion, but the mental strain was greater than I had expected. The stress of getting everything correct is the most important thing on every worker’s mind.
As stressful as election night was, it was the days leading up to November 2 that concerned me the most. I saw division and instability that shook me to my core. Being a gay woman, I knew my rights were once again a talking point. My life was a debate topic that people could “agree to disagree” on. I saw my POC (Persons of Color) brothers and sisters filled with determination to make life better for themselves, I saw my disabled and chronically ill loved ones worry about their healthcare, I saw Mexican-American children shouted at by classmates that they should go back to where they came from. Through all of this, I felt helpless. There was only so much I could do, I couldn’t educate every person or volunteer every hour. The helplessness turned into despair. I wanted to give up. Then, I realized that the best thing I could do for the world was to forgive myself. I couldn’t hold myself to an impossible standard, I could only do my best. I would keep moving forward. If I could just move forward, I could do anything. We will never fix any of our great country’s flaws in one night, but every night we can move towards a better morning.
Mental illness has always been a part of my life and it often hasn’t been kind to me. This year has been especially hard because of all the stressors in the world. A pandemic, protests for justice, a historic election. Any of these things on their own could make someone anxious, much less all at once. If you have been feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. We all have had a hard year, and we all need to be kind to ourselves. The hardest thing for me to learn was to slow down. I wanted to do everything, help everyone. I didn’t care that in the process I was grinding myself down to an unrecognizable powder of my former self. It wasn’t until I learned how to move steadily that I really started making a change in the world. If you try to do everything at once, you will crash and burn. “The Tortoise and the Hare” was completely correct: slow and steady wins the race. We can’t do it all at once, but we can do a small thing every day.
We may not be doing all we wish we could, but our best is better than stagnation. We are stronger than we think, and we will continue to make the world a better place. The election may be over, but our journey as a country is far from ending. As you move forward, think of how you can lift others up around you. Forgive yourself for your imperfections and dedicate yourself to learning and improving yourself. Who you were yesterday doesn’t have to be who you are tomorrow. Tonight, don’t focus on what you could have done but didn’t do, remember the work you have put in and make a plan to keep working. We have to just move forward, and we will grow every step of the way.
Zenessa Anderson is a student at Rushford-Peterson High School. She is one of nine area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 22nd year.