Volume 74, Number 27 | November 10 - 16, 2004

Notebook


Feeling a draft and worrying for the youth of today

By Tim Gay

Everyone boarded planes, trains and buses bound for Ohio and Pennsylvania. Except for me.

As the deputy chief for elections in Manhattan, I was overseeing a choreography involving 9,000 poll workers and 1,836 voting machines going to 300 schools, synagogues, churches, senior centers and tax-abated luxury buildings. The Manhattan office operated around the clock for weeks, processing record numbers of new registrants, absentee applications and overseas-based federal voters.

After working from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Election Day, I came home only to be mesmerized by television. The exit poll leads of 2 p.m. suffered a meltdown in Ohio by nightfall. At 2 a.m. I fell asleep, with déjà vu of 2000.

So the morning after, I was dismayed but not surprised.

I had parked my old Bronco in front of Food Bar on Eighth Ave., with my Board of Elections parking pass on the dashboard. As usual, a dozen or more gangly teenaged boys were leaning on my truck. Once upon a time, I would have been intimidated, but now I just say, “Pardon me, men, gotta go to work.” They almost always politely step away.

As they got off my truck last Wednesday, one asked, “Who’s ahead now?” I told him it looked like Bush, although Kerry hadn’t conceded.

Thus began an animated teen-to-adult conversation, composed of short exclamatory sentences and wild gestures.

“I’m 16. I could be in Iraq in two years.”

“I’m 17, and I won’t go.”

“I wish I could have voted. President Bush is going to draft us.”

“We all better register to vote. We have to. This is crazy!”

There they were, tall and skinny in their baggy hip-hop clothes, a group of black, Hispanic and white teens. All are students at Bayard Rustin High on 18th St., and each one of them expressed alarm about the election and the wars that they could be fighting in the very near future.

There was a similar gathering about 100 miles north of Chelsea.

Dozens of bleary-eyed teachers, principals and administrators from the New York State Association of Independent Schools (i.e., think Chapin, Dalton, Rudolf Steiner, Nightingale Bamford) and its Connecticut counterparts were arriving at Mohonk Mountain House in the Shawungunk range of the Catskills.

One of the Mohonk attendees described her reaction to the election results the night before as “shock and awe.” However, going to the conference on the morning after provided a measure of solace for her and the teachers.

“My impression was that we were all stunned, and felt we were isolated from the majority of the U.S.,” she said. “Once we got together up there, we were happy to be with each other for support.”

The conference examined educators’ responsibility for the future leaders of the world. Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation, spoke to educators on the importance of independent education and independent journalism.

Robert L. Gallucci, dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, addressed the history of U.S. nuclear deterrence policies and the threat presented by so many countries having access to enriched uranium.

Gallucci’s career with the U.S. State Department included the post-Gulf War arms inspections and the negotiations of the 1994 Agreed Framework, which impacted North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. He told the educators that it is possible the U.S. could be the recipient of some form of nuclear attack in the next five to 10 years.

Which brings us down from the mountain and back to Eighth Ave.

If there is a nuclear encounter in the U.S., it will most likely be in a major urban center — perhaps New York, with its dense urban and suburban population.

If the wars continue, young people will fight those wars — perhaps the teens hanging around on my truck.

And if the wars continue, our leaders will have to decide if and when it is necessary to draft our soldiers.

Perhaps that is why so many New Yorkers got out early and voted in record numbers on Nov. 2.

Back to the mountain: “Mohonk didn’t have television in the guest rooms,” the teacher noted, “so we were all spared the talking-head day-after analysis.”

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