Standing at the Wall

It’s the night before a Presidential election, which will be the 12th one of my lifetime (although that first one was just a few weeks after I was born), I’ve been tired of the process, as it has played itself for well over a year now. Since I voted early, it’s almost as if tomorrow will be anticlimatic, except for the part about getting to find out who actually won. I’ll probably be watching the returns with bated breath at this time tomorrow night.

I was driving home tonight, as still another political ad was playing on the radio. In the depths of my despair over this, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I knew it was there, and have driven it past it hundreds of times before, but tonight it demanded my attention. So I turned off into a parking lot and went to answer the call I had received.

Inside the Brown line station at Western Avenue on Chicago’s north side, there is a complete section of the Berlin Wall. The wall was put up around an existing wall in East Berlin beginning back in 1975, and lasting until about 1980. A child my age who lived in East Berlin back then had only known life behind that wall.

The West Berlin side of the wall section has lots of colorful graffiti on it, while the East Berlin side is gray and solemn. You didn’t mark on that wall–or even get very close to it–without putting yourself in considerable danger. And free elections on that side of the wall? No way. That’s just how life was on East Berlin’s side of the wall.

I chose to stand on that side of the wall tonight. I realized very well that those behind the wall could have only dreamed about the chance to make their voice heard on election day. Over the course of a generation–from the early 1960s to the very end of the 1980s– hundreds of East Berliners died attempting to get over that wall. Those who lived on communist side of the wall would certainly wonder where I was coming from with my disdain for the electoral process, and the choices it allows us to make.

I snapped a few pictures, one of which appears above. Then I shut my eyes and tried to imagine growing up behind a wall. The thought that the wall might ever come down simply never occurred to me, as I growing up far, far away in the United States.

I’m sure that East Berliners would have loved the chance to hear a political attack ad on the radio, and then go to a polling booth and cast a vote. None of them would ever feel the way I do about this, either.

So I counted my blessings, standing there on the East Berlin side of the wall. I felt glad to live in the country that first tried out democracy, and then kept on practicing it for centuries afterward. As the United States was guarding its democracy, the Soviets built a wall which, as John Mellencamp once sang, came crumblin’ down back in 1989. I never thought that would happen, either.

For those with no large section of the Berlin Wall nearby, I would suggest considering the Cold War, and what seemed like the permanence of it all up until the end of the 1980s. See if that doesn’t make tomorrow’s election appear in a positive new light.

And If you haven’t done so already, go out and VOTE tomorrow. I approve this message!

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