It is a right of birth or residency in New York City to refuse to visit the Statue of Liberty, unless you’re hosting a tourist or are in elementary school.
There are plenty of reasons to skip the trip: The $18 fee for the 10-minute boat ride and entry to the grounds. Summiting the crown costs extra. Like America, it’s a tiered system.
The statue itself looks strangely less impressive up close — it is most evocative from a boat, probably due to decades of Hollywood montages. There’s more to see on Ellis Island.
And, who wants to put up with the tourist crowds, doing their obligatory jump-in-the air poses in front of the old colossus, selfie sticks busying the narrow path. You’d be hard pressed to find a New Yorker unless they’re showing cousin Steve the sights.
For these reasons and more, true New Yorkers stay away. Thus, it’s an island teeming with visitors — which makes it the perfect place to find the kind of voters who actually matter this election.
Nowhere in the five boroughs will you find so many undecided voters, or Midwesterners, who are blessed with electoral college strength.
One tourist, one vote
“Both candidates are terrible,” says Cathy Barnard, 60, of Michigan. She is concerned about the cost of Obamacare. But as the ferry public announcement system drones on about the statue as symbol of hope and liberty to immigrants, Barnard says she’s leaning Donald Trump because of his stance on border security. “I like to follow the rule of law,” she says, noting that immigrants here illegally in places like Arizona feel “they belong here more than we do.”
Like Barnard, many American tourists surveyed informally at the base of Lady Liberty saw immigration as a central question in the election. Concerns about the economy and Trump’s attitudes toward women might sway them in one direction or the other. (Foreigners largely agreed that we Americans were “crazy” this election cycle).
“We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” said Ohioan Rachel Jervis, 26, about the two choices.
“That’s a great point,” said her friend Hannah Bratton, 26, also an Ohio transplant showing her friend around for the weekend. She snapped a picture of the Freedom Tower.
Both think the country needs stricter immigration laws.
Bratton says she has friends from the Dominican Republic who talk about people who come to the United States to “set up” for three or four months while pregnant — to have kids and get citizenship. “We’re at the Statue of Liberty, so it’s ironic we’re talking about this,” Bratton says. She says America should be open for those in need. But immigrants here illegally “take advantage of you,” which concerns her. Still, she’s leaning Hillary Clinton because Trump comes off as an “idiot.”
Jervis is concerned about immigration and terrorism, and so is leaning Trump.
Such divisions and indecisions were common on the island, certainly more common than in the deep-blue enclave across the harbor.
A mother and daughter who plan to split their votes between the candidates. A previously registered Republican leaning Clinton, though alert for any reason to change his vote before Tuesday.
A nation of immigrants, preparing to go to the polls
This is what the election has come down to: voters whose opinions about the candidates have solidified, even if not enough to make a firm decision. Some of those opinions are shaded with dubious facts or rumors. Mostly, they see enough negatives to almost wash their hands of the whole thing. For many, Clinton is crooked or Trump is psychotic, even if he’d shake up the status quo. Some feel both at the same time.
In the immediate shade of the statue, there was one person at least who was fully formed and decisive in her opinion — Zoe Bredesen of Virginia, age 13.
Wearing a Harry Potter themed Slytherin hoodie and hat, earbuds remaining in her ears throughout our conversation, she held forth more cogently than most on the candidates’ relative debate performances; the unredeemed promise of Sen. Bernie Sanders; the follies of Herbert Hoover’s presidency. In the end she determined that Trump was “really misogynistic, racist, a con artist.” Clinton was overly hated because of her gender: “sexism is not dead.”
To the seventh-grader, Trump seems “like a middle school bully.”
She says she watches CNN and Fox to be unbiased.
“She goes to a good school,” says her proud mother, who immigrated from Vietnam as a young girl just before the fall of Saigon.
Maybe there’s hope for future generations no matter this election’s outcome.
On the ferry back to Manhattan, the public address system’s farewell noted “much has changed” since the time when newcomers passed the Statue of Liberty by sea. But “America is still a nation of immigrants” — a neutral statement that animates this election. The voters disembarked.