MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now, it's time for our monthly essay series, This I Believe, where we ask our listeners to tell us about the beliefs that have shaped their lives. Today, for our special election-day edition, we've asked This I Believe curator Jay Allison to bring us a sampling of essays from listeners on their thoughts about politics and the political process and democracy. Hi, Jay. Welcome back.
JAY ALLISON: Hey, Michel. How are you?
MARTIN: I'm great. Now, I understand that This I Believe has received about 50,000 essays since NPR relaunched the series back in 2005. Is that right?
ALLISON: Yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: And how many of those have been about politics and the political process, and have you seen more of them as we get closer to the election?
ALLISON: They are increasingly about politics as we get closer. We have some of the belief about democracy and the Constitution, about patriotism, responsibility as citizens, that's a big one. And we hear a lot about what's right with government, hopes for government, fears about government, and particularly people trying to find common ground in political discourse.
And we have one essay from Cande Iveson. She's from Columbia, Missouri. She spent about a decade advocating for children friendly, friendly policies around her home, and she says her experiences doing that and experiences in politics inspired her to write a This I Believe essay.
MARTIN: Well, I can't wait to hear it. Let's play a little bit.
Ms. CANDE IVESON: I was born in the middle, geographically speaking, in the heart of the country, Missouri. Our house was in the middle of town. My town in the middle of the state. My state in the middle of the United States. As a child, being in the middle seemed somehow extraordinary, magical, fabulous, the best place to be.
Growing up, I came to understand that the middle was also a place between two opposing points of view. And in the last few years, this middle ground hasn't been so comfortable. I've even doubted whether there was a real middle or just an empty space between extremes.
Today, I reaffirm my belief in the intrinsic value of the middle. I can be and am a political independent with Democratic and Republican friends, social and professional. I also believe that there are a huge number of other people in the middle. They don't see themselves, their values reflected in either extreme. I believe it is possible for a strong middle to break this stalemate. I believe that being in the middle can once again seem extraordinary, magical, and fabulous, the best place to be.
ALLISON: Yeah, and Cande - that was Cande Iveson. She said that, earlier this year, she wanted to take a more active role in government in Missouri where she lives. So she ran for state rep, but she lost in the primary.
MARTIN: That's interesting. Jay. On this program, we've been hearing a lot from people who feel torn by their choices this election year. This time around, political divisions are affecting even close relationships. Is that what you're hearing?
ALLISON: Yeah, that occurs, and sometimes, families are divided in this election or generally about politics or faith. We have an essay from Robin Mize. She's a family therapist in Takoma Park, Maryland. And her essay describes how she's learned to respect people in her own life who think very differently from her about politics.
Ms. ROBIN MIZE: I come from a family where the liberal is a rare bird. Four of my siblings are staunch conservatives. Sometimes I wish I could agree with my siblings and not be troubled by these uncomfortable differences of opinion. And this brings me to what I believe.
I believe we are all doing the best we can. The other side isn't any more ignorant or selfish than we are. I choose to respect their opinions, even as I disagree with them. I'm grateful that my children must accept this diversity, too. They are forced to love the enemy because the enemy is their loved one. It seems to me that here, in my family, as an essential element of our democracy, we agree to disagree. Our ability, not only to accept, but to respect our differences is our common ground.
MARTIN: That was Robin Mize, a family therapist in Takoma Park, Maryland, which is right outside Washington D.C. And if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. And this election day, we are sampling some of the essays NPR listeners have submitted to NPR's This I Believe essay series. Our guest is series curator Jay Allison. Jay, there may be millions of Americans voting today for the first time, and I know you brought some writing about folks who are new to the process.
ALLISON: Yeah, we do. I have a couple of essays. You know, this series, This I Believe, has been popular among young people. It's also been popular among new immigrants to the country, and we have essays from each who may be voting for the first time.
This one's from Michael Seifert - Father Michael Seifert. He's a Catholic priest in Cameron Park, Texas, which is a small town down by the Mexican border. And according to the Census Bureau, it's one of the poorest communities in the United States. Father Michael's church has over 3,000 parishioners, all of them Mexican-American. And he says that, when they organized to vote, amazing things started to happen in their community.
MARTIN: All right. So, here's an excerpt from the This I Believe essay from Father Michael Seifert.
Father MICHAEL SEIFERT (Catholic Priest, Cameron Park, Texas): When I arrived here in 1997, Cameron Park was a place that lacked the most basic services that the rest of Americans take for granted. There was no police, no mail, no school bus service. When we asked the county commissioner why the roads weren't paved, he responded, why bother? You aren't really Americans. You don't even vote.
Still stinging from his rebuke, the community organized itself. Our voter participation rate skyrocketed. The local politicians took notice, and they responded. The roads were paved. A park was built. Streetlights were installed. An old friend noted that now, Cameron Park looks like America.
Well, of course we look like America. We are America. And when we vote, we are speaking unmistakably as Americans. I believe in the obligation and privilege of the vote. And I believe today in my neighbors of Cameron Park who will go to the polls, and who will, by means of their vote, make an act of faith in America, our America.
ALLISON: Father Michael Seifert said that he got an email a couple of weeks ago from a young parishioner who moved away to college. And she had just mailed in her first absentee ballot, and she wrote him to just say how excited she was to vote in her first election. And he says he sees a lot of that excitement and pride these days.
MARTIN: That's great. And you have another view from a first-time voter.
ALLISON: Yeah, she was - her name is Nora Lupi. She was 16 when she sent us the essay, and now, she's a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin and very excited about voting in her first presidential election. She has attended rallies on campus, volunteering for campaigns, and she sees getting involved in politics as a way of giving voice to young people, something she says she believes is missing from the democratic process.
Ms. NORA LUPI: I was raised in a family where politics were always discussed and debated. Many times, my parents and I argued for half the night over the same issues the Supreme Court deals with. It was in this climate that I started to form my own opinions about the government. I learned that my opinions matter.
So, why does it constantly seem as if teenagers are insignificant? Unfortunately, I know that the answer is that the government is not looking far enough into the future. I am not recognized as a future president, a future CEO, or a future revolutionary. All I am to them is a loud, obnoxious teenager. I think it is time for me to be recognized for my knowledge, my interests, and my ability to lead. I believe in so much more than freedom of speech. I believe in the power and strength of the future America. I believe in us.
ALLISON: That's Nora Lupi. She said that she and her friends got together. They watched all three of the presidential debates, and they're planning a party tonight to watch the returns.
MARTIN: And where are you going to watch the returns, Jay?
ALLISON: I'll be listening on National Public Radio, Michel.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Good answer. Jay Allison is the curator of the This I Believe series. He is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory, and Vicki Merrick of the new book, "This I Believe, Volume Two: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women." And he was kind enough to join us from WCAI, the cape and island station in Woodshall, Massachusetts. And Jay, thank you so much for bringing us these essays today. This was really great.
ALLISON: Always a pleasure, Michel.
MARTIN: And if you feel inspired by politics or anything else in your life, we hope you will write an essay for This I Believe. You can learn how to submit your statement by visiting npr.org/thisibelieve. And while you're there, you can read and hear all the full essays we've given you excerpts from today.
And finally, a reminder. Tonight, Tell Me More's team of producers will be blogging all night long. We'll have virtual updates on the latest returns as they come in, as well as all the election-night hoopla we can stand. So, join Tell Me More tonight. You'll find us at our blog. Go to npr.org and click on Tell Me More. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.