'Go and vote': Two senior voters give 2020 election take

PHOTOS PROVIDED

Meadowbrook Healthcare facility residents Merle Gilbert (left), 96, and Winnie Pearsall, 87, shared their thoughts with the Press-Republican on the 2020 presidential election, elections they had voted for in the past and the privilege and responsibility of women and all Americans to be able to vote.

PLATTSBURGH — Merle Gilbert was 24 years old when she took to the polls for the first time, casting her ballot for Harry S. Truman in the 1948 Presidential Election.

The Democrat’s win over Republican Gov. Thomas E. Dewey was known as one of the greatest upsets in U.S. history.

While cars were filling up tanks at $0.16 per gallon and newspapers were being read for less than a dime, the two presidential candidates were duking it out on issues of foreign policy, civil rights and the New Deal. 

Gilbert, 96, remembered arguing at a restaurant once over politics that year, but said, for herself, it was just as easy to vote the Democratic party line in that election 72 years ago as it was for her today.

"I voted the day after I got my mail-in ballot," she said, "which was weeks ago."

Fellow Meadowbrook Healthcare facility resident Winnie Pearsall, 87, also voted for the Democratic ticket via a mail-in absentee ballot.

The Plattsburgh native, who has lived and worked in the city all of her life, wrote-in Bernie Sanders as her choice in the last presidential election. 

"I thought he was good," Pearsall said. "I had a lot of respect for him."

PANDEMIC POSTURE

With the continued COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent regulations, Gilbert and Pearsall have been at Meadowbrook Healthcare without visitation since March. 

"I have not been able to see any of my family," Gilbert said, noting that she has five kids. Her eldest son, John Beauvais, was local, while the rest were, "scattered across the country." 

President Donald Trump's handling of the global health crisis was one reason why former Vice President Joe Biden had Gilbert's vote in the 2020 election. 

"(President Trump) hasn’t dealt with COVID-19 at all," Gilbert told the Press-Republican. "He should have led the attack upon it and he hasn’t; he has left it to the governors of the states."

The sentiment was echoed by Pearsall, who said that the leadership from state governors like Andrew Cuomo was more effective at modelling the correct COVID-19 precautionary behavior, an element she said was missing from the federal response. 

"(Cuomo) took a lot of time to find the details, and went out of his way to try to influence people to take care of themselves and do the right things," Pearsall said. "When we've talked about it around here, we've said our present president is too busy clapping his hands for himself."

'INTERESTED IN HIMSELF'

Gilbert followed the national election by watching the news morning, afternoon and night, "with meals," she said, with Pearsall also saying she's taken advantage of TV news, as well as reading newspapers. 

A big concern of Gilbert's was President Trump's talk of eliminating insurance coverage for individuals' pre-existing conditions.

"It’s not so much a concern for me, because I do have insurance through my employment, but I’m thinking of all of the other people who do not have that kind of insurance," Gilbert said.

"The president has done so many bad things for this country," she continued. "The fact that he’s more interested in himself and his profits and the profits of large corporations rather than everybody else in this country."

FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Gilbert was born in the City of Plattsburgh in 1924, four years after the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote and remembered going to the polls with her mother, which, she said, was a big deal at the time. 

"We got into this little wooden voting booth," she said. 

As an adult in the 1960s, Gilbert became a women's rights activist. 

After attending a lecture, she and a few other women founded the Plattsburgh-based consciousness-raising group, which, like others around the nation, had a feminist focus. 

"We had a series, several pages worth, of questions that we asked ourselves," she explained. "All of these questions were to help us understand what it meant to be a person on an equal level with men.

"We did indeed raise our consciousnesses," she said with a laugh.

Asked what it was like to be a woman in upstate New York during the 1960s, Gilbert said she couldn’t answer that question for anyone but herself. 

"I remember it making me pretty angry that, compared to my husband, I didn’t have half the rights that he did. As far as making decisions — all of the important things."

GO OUT AND VOTE 

While the memories of many of them have grown hazy, Pearsall said that she's voted in more or less every major election since she was eligible.

"I can remember feeling so privileged that I could vote for the president, or even the regular people running for different offices (locally)," Pearsall said. "I felt very privileged to be able to do that." 

And she hopes that those who are registered make use of that privilege. 

"Because we’re all in this moment together," Pearsall said. "They should go and vote and make themselves known, so we get the right people in office that we need."

Email McKenzie Delisle: 

mdelisle@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle

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