Friday, October 07, 2011

Living with highs and lows of elections

From today's Briefing:

Fifth-grade election season is tense. And mercifully short.
At our elementary school, only fifth-graders are allowed to run for student council offices: president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. They are elected by fifth- and fourth-graders.
To be eligible to run, a student must receive permission from all five grade-level teachers and turn in a written speech in advance. Two posters of a prescribed size are posted on a Monday, followed by speeches and voting that Friday.
Cooper and 43 of his fellow fifth-graders summoned the courage to enter the election. My son was among 15 candidates for treasurer.
Our kitchen table became campaign headquarters. Cooper drafted a succinct speech, extolling his trustworthiness and ideas for raising and spending money. Together we crafted posters with catchy slogans, friendly-yet-serious photos of the candidate and colorful-yet-tasteful borders.

Cooper was realistic about his chances in a heavy field.
“I need to win votes from fourth-graders,” he told me with the gravity of a cable news commentator.
He would lobby fourth-graders during the day in hallways covered in campaign posters (some decorated with battery-operated blinking lights) and share with me at night the votes he’d corralled.
My resident politician spoke with guarded optimism of his chances, never wavering in his aspiration.
He carried confidence as he walked to school on Election Day. It was the same confidence that followed him on stage and propelled him through his speech. He showed no sign of nerves or unease (perhaps because I was feeling it all for him).
His opponents were equally at ease with a microphone, in front of more than 200 peers plus teachers and parents. One treasurer candidate surprised the voting bloc with a speech gamely sung to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was a bold move, deservingly met with rousing applause.
Votes were collected before lunch, and winners were announced just before dismissal.
A friend inside the building had offered to text me the results so that I’d know what kind of Cooper would be walking home.
I would be receiving a disappointed Cooper. His friend with the beautiful voice and clever National Anthem-turned-speech earned the most votes.
Cooper’s backpack slid off his sagging shoulders as he told me he lost. Tears followed.
“I really thought I could win,” he said. “I thought I had enough votes. And I didn’t know you could sing your speech!”
In that moment I offered no platitudes. I remember being 10 and being disappointed and frustrated by grown-up attempts to make me feel better. (Though I later did concede that the song was a brilliant move.)
I sat next to him on his bed, my arm wrapped around his shoulders. Empathetic little sister sat on his right, matching his sobs and wailing, “I’m sorry you didn’t win! I’m sorry you’re sad!”
I silently wondered if professional campaign managers are trained not only in the art of strategy and polling and marketing but also in the art of consoling.
My consolation skills may or may not be put to the test again today. Cooper may have lost the race for treasurer, but he’s not giving up on his political career. Today he’s running for homeroom representative, jockeying to be the one boy elected from his class to serve on the student council.
He threw out last week’s speech and has written a new one. In it he quotes his favorite president, Abraham Lincoln:
“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”
And Cooper added some of his own wisdom:
“I am trustworthy, kind, loyal, smart and I never give up.”
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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