If we start seeing Kansas as dots of blue and red, it looks like a place of possibilities

Flags of inclusion flew along with United States flags in the Potwin neighborhood of Topeka during the week of the election. (Jeffrey Ann Goudie)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a Topeka-based freelance writer and book critic.

How we frame what we see shapes and, yes, frames us.

On Election Day, my husband and I headed out for our morning walk. I had a mission: to document the extraordinary number of inclusivity signs and flags in my two-block by four-block Topeka neighborhood of Potwin. We counted 15 gay pride flags, two small rainbow banners, five Black Lives Matter flags, two Black Lives Matter signs and five personal progressive creed signs (“In this house we believe …”). The rainbow and Black Lives Matter flag counts include the ones that flap in the wind on our front porch.

That night, as the early election results trickled in, I did a double take. The breaking news crawler on the bottom of the television screen showed Kansas going for Democrats Joe Biden for president, Barbara Bollier for U.S. Senate, and Michelle De La Isla for Congress. “Oh my god,” I shouted to my husband, “look at Kansas.” He counseled me to wait for the western Kansas vote. Our son called from Minneapolis and our daughter from California. “What’s with the blue wave in Kansas?” they wanted to know.

Turns out the blue wave was more like a ripple, soon immersed by the red tsunami that drowned the state, with some notable exceptions, namely Johnson County.

I’ve always known I live in a blue bubble. I had been phone-banking for a Democrat in southern Minnesota running for the state Legislature the weekend before Election Day. We were on Zoom with other volunteers and with the candidate. She asked my spouse and I why we were willing to make those calls for her from Kansas.

“I support Democrats everywhere,” I said. There was also, of course, the fact that our son was working as a field organizer for this candidate. And I explained that I lived in a liberal bubble in northeast Kansas and indeed on a street that can claim two female governors: the former governor, Kathleen Sebelius, and the present governor, Laura Kelly, at one point lived next door to each other a half-block away from us. Before each moved on to the governor’s mansion at Cedar Crest, of course.

It turns out I should quit saying I live in a blue bubble — which suggests insularity — but instead a blue dot. According to savvy graphic designers, the red state-blue state dichotomy we’ve all been using as shorthand for political differences is crude and imprecise. A widely shared election map originated by a Belgian designer replaces red states and blue states with red and blue dots and broad swaths of white. As someone labeled the GIF: “Land doesn’t vote. People do.” This map shows a new way of seeing, and maybe thinking.

The blue dot I live in includes Shawnee County, where Biden, Bollier and De La Isla did prevail. The legislative seats were a different matter. Of the political signs in my front yard, only one, for Rep. Annie Kuether, represented a victor.

The day after Election Day, Biden appeared with Kamala Harris. He said he was not there to prematurely declare victory, but that if he were to win, “There will be no red states and blue states … just the United States of America.”

A few days later at the joyous celebration in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden echoed those words, but later added that we stand “at an inflection point.”

In my most optimistic moments, I believe this is true, that we do stand at an inflection point. An inflection point where we can stop painting with the tired trope of primary red and primary blue, where we can see each other and speak about each other with more precision. If mapmakers can use more precision, perhaps citizens will exhibit more clarity in thinking and speaking. An inflection point can become an inflection dot. And dots can multiply.

We in Kansas are not a monolithic red block. Each of us is a dot that contains the world, our world, with our experiences, victories, defeats, regrets, hopes and aspirations.

As I walked around my neighborhood Nov. 3, counting the symbolic signs and flags of inclusion, I felt proud. I live in a unique neighborhood, in a county that voted for Joe Biden in a Republican-majority state. Once I’m able to look through a new frame that shows blue dots in the midst of red dots, once I can see myself, I can also see Kansas as a state filled with possibilities.

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