If the enemy of the optimist is reality, what happens when you live in two realities at once? Does the glass-half-full battle on two separate fronts? Or is there a possibility that in an alternate reality those of us who believe in the future might have a chance?
This is the question I found myself asking when, on December 4th, I learned that exactly sixteen people had voted for me to be the mayor of New York City. I was proud and excited – I received more votes than Barack Obama and Mariah Carey combined – and I quickly posted on Facebook to trumpet my success. I posted a picture of a beautiful cake and thanked my “sweet sixteen” for following through with writing me in on the ballot.
That post received 67 likes, 45 of which were from people who, as far as I know, live in New York City and are not felons. Assuming everyone who voted for me saw the post on Facebook and liked it, that’s a difference of 29 people who like that I received 16 votes but did not vote for me.
Or, to put it a more striking way, my Facebook posts from the day of the election, a month previous, received a collective 185 likes. The write-in candidate who received the most votes in the election, at 196, was a lizard named Christine Quinn. If every person who liked a status of mine on Facebook had actually voted for me on Election Day, I would have come in a close second.
I love my sweet sixteen votes – don’t get me wrong. I wish I could have each individual ballot framed and hung on the ceiling of my bedroom so I could stare at them every night before I go to sleep. But I know that as I count them, a little snakey voice will keep whispering in my ear “Where’ssss the ressssst?”
Why do so few people vote? Why do so many click “like?” How can these two numbers be equalized? I think the problem is that we exist in two realities at once.
The first reality is the actual streets of New York, where poverty and homelessness are the worst they’ve been since the Great Depression (seriously) while simultaneously the entire central area is being evacuated to make room for an ever growing population of people with so much money that they can build special elevators for their cars in refurbished brownstones that used to be charming tenement hell holes.
The poverty is kept out of sight more effectively than ever. After the projects, the next innovation for separating the poor people from the rest of everyone was to just move them out to where the subway doesn’t go, sequestered in buildings the slumlords used to rent to anybody, but now use to reap in a fortune in. More importantly, the city managed to keep the problem out of the press until very recently, making sure that big soda and smoking bans occupied the mind of the public.
So that’s one reality. Then there’s the reality where together we spin endless reams of positivity into spirals in the sky. The reality where we all echo each other instantly – retweet, regram, share – into infinity. I like this reality! In fact, it might be my favorite. In this reality, anyone who is sexist or racist immediately gets what’s comin’, and everyone has tons of friends, and there are beautiful pictures of cats everywhere. And in this reality, I get tons of votes for mayor – hundreds, maybe more.
Is it wrong to think we should join these two realities into one? That the morality and effort we put into our online lives could be echoed in person? What if we made New Year’s resolutions to only say things online that we would actually say in person, to only click “attending” on events we actually go to, to follow up our words with actions in the real world. Sharing might be caring, but if we all actually responded physically to the posts we shared, we might actually have something like a revolution on our hands.
I doubt I’ll ever run for mayor again; I am willing to take no for an answer. But that doesn’t mean I am going to stop talking – IRL, and LOUD – about New York and America and how, if we work together, we can change both of these places into something better.
If you believe me, there’s lots of things you can do. Just close the computer, and go take a walk around your neighborhood. Say hi to someone you’ve never met in a store you go to frequently. Pick up a piece of litter. Buy someone a cup of coffee if they look haggard.
But don’t share this article. Why bother?
Ari Spool will be the next mayor of New York City. Previously, she was the editor of Impose Magazine and 'SUP Magazine; she currently attends The New School for Public Engagement.