Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
As I write this… my inbox is stuffed with emails from Ladies and The Men. The Ladies tell me they are writers too. The Ladies would like to speak with me. They are very interested in my work. They would like me to give them all of my work from the last decade. They would like to write a book.
As I write this…Amazon has received at least $2,982,000,000 in subsidies. In April, Amazon and Walmart began allowing customers to use SNAP benefits to pay for groceries. Yet in five states, Amazon ranked among the top twenty companies with the most employees who receive food stamps.
The emails from The Men usually state that they are interested in making a film or TV show or podcast about one of my stories. They would like to pick my brain. I picture us sitting at some outdoor cafe, the charcuterie platter arrives. The (cis-hetero-white) Man takes a long metal poker and shish kabobs his way into my eye socket to the white matter of my brain. The men could become rich (or even more rich) off of my ideas. That could be reifying.
Secretly though — I hope that this brain picking is a big flop. Because then maybe The Men would save me years of time and my own resources on an unsuccessful idea. If it is a flop, I will always wonder—if the failure was in the translation—from my brain matter to his white/brain matter to your brain matter.
As I write this… there are people in the town where I live who call themselves The Patriots posting on social media. One of them is a clerk at the grocery store. The only store within twenty miles of here. The clerk posts, The only black lives that matter are the ones shot by cops. The whole thing is pathetic. What about the 2.6 million that the blm movement has made? If they truly cared about ALL black lives, why not donate that money to inner cities???
I stop what I am doing and complain to the grocery store’s headquarters. I tell the Activist Facebook group and suggest the members do the same. The Ladies in the Activist Facebook group are not convinced. People should be able to post what they want. Also, the clerk is just expressing a political view. In this town, The only black lives that matter are the ones shot by cops is a political view.
Many people feel What do I care? Is it because I’m mixed? When I tell them I am biracial, they look at me closely, examine my features, and say, I can’t see it. They are saying this as a compliment. They do not associate me with all those bad Antifa things. Those child support things.
As I write this… in California, more than 70 percent of outstanding child support debt is owed to the government — not children. In 2018, California collected $368 million in child support payments from low-income parents, paying back the government for the cost of public benefits. National data indicates that the majority of these payback payments come from parents whose families no longer receive public benefits.
When The Ladies look at me, they do not see the drain on the system narrative that they imprinted on dark skin.
As I write this… almost twenty million American children go to bed hungry each night. According to the COVID Impact Survey, 34.5% of households with a child eighteen and under are now food insecure. Yet the federal food stamp program faces budget cuts of almost 30 percent.
Then they pause — and motion to the eyes, Maybe here around the eyes. A little bit. What they are referring to here is the Asianness in me. They can see it. A little bit. But not too much.
I vote because I would one day, like to wake up, and remain in the sanctuary of my mind — uninterrupted. For at least two hours.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to Community Coalition in South L.A.
Melissa Chadburn’s work has appeared in The LA Times, NYT Book Review, NYRB, Longreads, and dozens other places. Her essay on food insecurity was published in Best American Food Writing 2019. Her debut novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, is forthcoming with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. She is a Ph.D. candidate at USC’s Creative Writing Program.