It is the afternoon of Nov. 3, 2020, and I am standing inside the West Chester University Student Recreation Center polling location, being greeted by a group of poll workers dressed in blue who explain to me that they have never seen an election so slow in all of their careers, but that they are staying optimistic by remembering that 60% of registered Democrats in that precinct have requested mail-in ballots and that 74% of those had already been returned prior to the start of the day.
It is the evening of Nov. 3, 2020, and I am standing in the parking lot of the West Chester Iron Cross polling location, listening to a Black man named Roland Jennings, who volunteered his day to stand outside on behalf of the Chester County Democrats, explain to me how on his walk there, a man in a truck pulled up next to him in front of the courthouse, looked at his Biden-Harris sign, and told him “I have a rope in the back seat here,” an obvious and deeply disgusting reference to the lynchings which have historically threatened Black Americans.
It is the night of Nov. 3, 2020, and I am standing outside of the West Chester First Presbyterian Church polling location, speaking to four Henderson High School students who are a part of their school’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement, an organization which raises awareness to climate concerns. Too young to even cast a vote themselves, the students had been huddled outside since 7 a.m. that morning, encouraging every voter to “triple their vote” by texting three of their friends to get to the polls today before going inside.
I have been learning and working in the realm of journalism since I was 15-years-old. This is the first time I have covered a presidential election that I have actually been able to vote in.
A great deal of journalism during an election season has to do with results. As I write this, I guarantee you that you could flip the television channel to any random news station, and they will be talking about results, results, results.
And this is very important. I’m sure I do not need to tell you why it is crucial that multiple outlets across the country are providing citizens with to-the-second coverage on who is winning or projected to win certain counties, states, regions and the like.
But, there is a second element to what it means to be a journalist during an election, particularly during the 2020 presidential election.
According to the American Press Institute, as journalists, our first loyalty is to the citizens. We are to monitor power and root in the discipline of verification.
I’ve never felt more in tune with those responsibilities than I did while serving as a local journalist on Nov. 3, 2020.
As I took to the streets of West Chester, I realized what my duties were. Myself and my fellow Quad writers weren’t chasing a specific story, we weren’t looking for quotes to back up a claim. We were going in, cameras, notepads and recorders in hand, aiming simply to serve as a vehicle for the voices of the people who were committed to doing their civic duty to their country and their community.
Of course, up-to-date results need to be talked about. But the people who contributed to those votes and are sitting at home, reeling over what they may have seen or done that day, need to be talked about, too.
It is a really beautiful thing to be gifted that responsibility. For better or for worse, when the stories are joyful and when they are painful, it is an indescribably unique perspective to stand with citizens and hear their experiences and what brought them each to the polls.
It is a privilege to hear these people with whom I share a community tell me their stories and allow me to make them heard in whatever way I can.
Through frozen toes, lost pens and whatever other minuscule challenges presented themselves to me and any of the other folks across the country who covered this election, I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, it was an honor and a pleasure to be a local journalist on Nov. 3, 2020 and to be given the opportunity to speak and be trusted with the stories of the citizens who took it upon themselves to make change happen.
Ali Kochik is a third-year English Writing major with minors in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies. AK908461@WCUPA.EDU