Health experts have repeatedly recommended the use of face coverings, to go along with social distancing and other guidelines meant to stunt the spread of COVID-19. But those measures have become politicized. Kateleigh Mills with Oklahoma Engaged talked with two Oklahoma voters about how masking and voting in the age of the coronavirus have impacted them.
MICHELLE CULLOM: My name is Michelle Cullom. I am a ‘quit-too-tired’ educator. I was close to retirement and I quit a couple of years ago because my dad became real ill, and so I was taking care of him. Now, I’m caregiving for my mom, helping with homeschooling my grandkids with virtual learning. I have my own business, keeping our hands busy, where I make t-shirts. I make face masks and the like… My first reaction [to masking] was ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t tolerate having things on my face.’ I don’t even like putting scarves around my face during the winter-time when it’s really cold.
I really didn’t look at it as ‘Oh, I’m doing something politically motivated for somebody.’ I just looked at it as ‘Oh they have a mask-need, let me fill it.’ But now that I look at it as being a ‘billboard’ – being able to make that statement with it – it makes me feel good because, where it used to have to go on a t-shirt and you wear that t-shirt one time that day and you throw it in the wash – maybe wear it a week later… Now, people have that thing on all day.
I have a good friend, she wears her mask at work all day and it has a different statement, a different outlook, a different opinion on it every day – and she’s like ‘People in the office are talking.”
It did not change my political views at all because – right is right, wrong is wrong and then there’s always that happy medium. I still vote the way I vote. I still believe that everyone in the community is affected by the vote.
If I voice my concerns, if I voice my choice – if I at least let them know I took the time to stand up and say something – whether you agree with what I said or not – I took my time to vote my conscience, to vote my heart.
I’m one that votes in person. I’ve never done an absentee ballot. I will be in Drillers Stadium sometime before the 3rd when they do early voting. That’s why I’m working on my mask, because I want a mask that’s going to make a statement. No, it’s not going to try and sway anybody to vote but I think something basic like – I used my vote/voice to make a difference – it will say a lot without saying anything specific.
LANDRY MILLER: I’m Landry Miller. I’m 27 and I am a writer. I feel like trust is so important right now – that I put my trust in these experts and they say to wear the mask and so that’s what I’m going to do if it’s going to help save lives of any kind.
I have a lot of people in my life who were on that side of the fence regarding it – of being like ‘This is – you know – this is socialism, this is infringing on our rights.’ So I got to hear a lot of that conversation and I got to really listen to why they felt that way. And even though I never really found myself in that train of thought myself – the conversations we were having was ‘What makes me more comfortable?’ or ‘What is better for the community as a whole?’
The thing I heard a lot was people were saying it was a stepping stone to something worse. It seemed to be very fear driven of ‘We didn’t want to lose this freedom, because then the next time they’d try and take our freedom it could be worse.’
We’ve really turned it into a black and white issue when it is a gray area of – When is it appropriate to wear a mask, who can, who can’t… And I think that, ultimately it’s an important conversation to have to kind of figure out what is the best method is to move forward regarding them.
So what it made me realize is that who I vote for, for president, while it is important, this year is not my main concern. Pretty much everyone has already figured out who they’re voting for at this point. What I realized this year was that local leadership is so, so important. And so what it made me do was it made me finally for the first time, probably ever this year, I actually educated myself – who and what I was voting on – outside of just who I wanted to be president. So what it did for me was it made me more engaged and more educated as a voter. So yes, I am ultimately going to vote the way I thought I was going to vote in March – it made me realize that it’s so much more important than just ‘Who is going to be president?’
Kateleigh Mills produced this story for Oklahoma Engaged, an election project by NPR member stations in Oklahoma supported by the Inasmuch Foundation, the Kirkpatrick Foundation, and Oklahoma Humanities.