Like many Georgians, over the last 20 years, I have enviously watched my friends in so-called battleground states feel a real sense of purpose with respect to their votes.
Those friends in Iowa who launch presidencies? Yeah, I was jealous. My brother in Philadelphia, whose vote would help determine a President? I wanted to be him. If only I could be one of those voters too – feeling the thrill of voting in a state that really, truly mattered in an election. I knew what I would do. I would balance my politics, my principles, and my Jewish values, debate them with my friends and family, and solemnly cast a vote; perhaps it would even be THE vote, that could decide the election.
Or so I thought.
Like the proverbial dog (or as we say here in Georgia, dawg) that caught the truck, this battleground state thing is not all I imagined it to be. I didn’t consider the endless television commercials that deaden my heart, the suffocating amounts of environmentally unfriendly fliers that fill my mailbox, and the annoying robocalls that incessantly assault my iPhone. I’ve received more postcards from random strangers than I ever have received from my kids at summer camp. And I certainly didn’t anticipate old friends and distant family caring about my political activities so deeply and annoyingly.
It’s not that I’m ungrateful – I particularly appreciate the prayers and well wishes people send my way. Sure, there have been a few haters out there too who, knowing my political views, sent me messages by email and Twitter wishing I would fall ill or hurt myself before I could vote.
So just in case, I voted early.
But perhaps the most surprising and disheartening part of being a Jewish voter in a battleground state is that suddenly we are expected to become the ultimate arbiters of what constitutes antis-Semitism, and what exactly makes someone anti-Israel. Make no mistake: everybody has an opinion they want to share. My Democratic friends warn me about Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue, pointing to their allies and advertisements as purported evidence of antis-Semitism and the mortal threat to Jewish Americans. Conversely, my Republican friends talk about Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock as if the very existence of Israel depends on their defeat.
I mean, can you imagine the pressure we Jews of Georgia are feeling right now?
We were not prepared to be the Jewish judges and juries of the Senate runoff, nor were we particularly prepared for some of the divisions it has caused in our community. That whole “who is a Jew” debate? That is something we thought was saved for papers like The Forward, not The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And debating over who loves Israel more? That’s usually not our biggest concern down South. We tend to argue over other troubling issues, like where we can find a real New York or Montreal bagel in this city.
Yet, despite all of mishigas of being in a battleground state, and the quiet judgment that will be levied on me by others (regardless of the outcome), for me this election is a very real and optimistic reminder of not only where I live, but what I stand for. And fortunately, I know that is the same for many Georgians, Jewish and otherwise.
For those of us who live here in Atlanta, the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, we breathe the history of sisterhood and brotherhood that permeates our city and our streets. We don’t dream of Sweet Auburn. We visit it. We don’t imagine “Good Trouble.” We make it. And we do big things together, like host the Olympics, address racial inequities, and build businesses and prosperity – so that we can truly be a city too busy to hate.
So, in many ways, this election is a shot in the arm for those of us who believe that the root of solving problems is rooting for one another. A white man with Jewish heritage and a Black spiritual leader sharing a stage, cheering for one another, isn’t only Georgia’s history. It’s Georgia’s future too. This election has reenergized that vision, and regardless of the results on Tuesday night, we won’t go backward. Not in Georgia, and not in America.
Paraphrasing the words of Hannah Arendt, we live in a time of “no longer and not yet,” and in an America that sometimes seems disturbingly similar to other places where Jews became concerned about who they were and what could do to serve, and save, their society. This election is giving us Georgians a chance to do our part in shaping our nation’s history.
The question is, will the rest of y’all do the same where you live too?
We are sending you our prayers.
Seth Cohen is the founder of Applied Optimism, a community and experience design lab that helps companies, nonprofits, and communities design optimistic solutions to complex challenges. Seth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org