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Notes from a market.

It’s punishingly hot out. The air is thick and still, the sun high overhead. We watch the folks from MIRA set up a tiny gray card table, their movements unhurried and practiced, their faces kind, smiling. I’m smiling, too. But it is punishingly hot out.

After a few minutes, name tags are passed around, each a little laminated orange card with “Voter Registration Volunteer” printed on it. (Mine’s creased something fierce, and I assume it’s seen a considerable amount of use this year. I clip it to my shirt pocket.) Pens are distributed, and finally, clipboards. Each clipboard has a dozen or so registration forms printed in English, with some in Spanish toward the back. The backside of the clipboard has a “REGISTER TO VOTE!” sign taped to it.

We’re given a brief orientation—here’s what to say, here’s what they’ll need to fill out, make sure the forms are legible—but before it’s finished, people begin trickling out of the citizenship ceremony. As the first folks step into the sunlight, scanning the crowd for friends, family, I hoist my clipboard into the air, sign facing the building’s exits. We’re all hawking a little democracy.

Then, a flood of new citizens. Many, many folks have their photos taken in front of the building’s plain-looking doors, holding their citizenship papers in front of them. Some smile; some are solemn. I see a man ringed by his family, clutching his citizenship packet while a tall man wearing soldier’s fatigues congratulates him heartily. As one man fills out a form on my clipboard, his young daughter waves an American flag at me. I tell her I like her flag, and she smiles, replying briefly, shyly in Spanish. I smile back.

I make eye contact with one woman as she strides out of the building. I smile, raise my clipboard, and chirp, “Congratulations! Would you like to register to vote? It only takes a minu—” “No! Sorry! I have to get to work! It’s Thursday,” she yells over her shoulder. And then she steps into the Thursday crowds, gone.

One of the last people to step out of the building is a woman who can’t stop smiling. Most of the crowd has gone; her partner has his arm around her, even in the heat, and he’s beaming. The woman rests her hand on the head of a small child who’s peeking out from behind her skirt. One of the volunteers goes up to the group, offers congratulations, and asks if it’d be helpful if she took their picture. She snaps a few photos of their delighted faces, returns their phone to them, and asks if any of them would like to register to vote.

Ethan is wearing a baseball hat and holding a voter registration clipboard

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