A Civic Responsibility

November 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm (General) (, , )

Chances are, if you live in America, you are heartily sick of hearing about the election. For well over a year now we’ve been inundated with speculation, ads, debates, mud-slinging campaigns, and a news-media focused on it nearly to the exclusion of all else. Every single thing that happens is somehow tied to how it will (or could, or should, or won’t) affect the election.

Drowning in election BS, it’s easy to say you don’t want any part of it.

It’s easy to think your vote doesn’t count for anything, it’s easy to think that voting shouldn’t be selecting the lesser of two (or however many) evils, it’s easy to think you’re feeding into a negative process and making it worse.

But our rights aren’t just privileges, they’re also responsibilities- which means they’re not always easy.

If you’re over eighteen, your vote is one of the important things you will ever have.

I’m not going to tell you to vote for Thing 1 or Thing 2. I’m not interested in telling you who or what to vote for, because I think your vote is also one of the most personal things you will ever have.

Your vote is your hopes and dreams, for yourself, for your family and friends, for your future, for the future of the children you have or may someday have. Your vote is your expectation for what this country will or should be both domestically and internationally. When you vote, you are genuinely staking your life on the outcome, because one election genuinely can change everything.

I’m not going to share ads for one candidate or another, not going to wave proposed amendments in your face and tell you what you should take from them. I respec the right of people to wave their opinions around, even- and I know this has been an issue for some- if they’re authors and have a fanbase. If they have a platform, more power to them if they choose to use it to talk about things they believe in. I simply choose not to do so.

What I am going to do, passionately, respectfully, is beg you to educate yourselves on the issues, on the candidates, and vote.

A lot of counties have mailed out sample ballots. If you haven’t received one, check online and see if there’s one for your precinct posted. Read the ballot- if you don’t understand one of the propositions, you have a few days to research it so you do. Understand what the articles up for approval are asking, and understand what it is they’re asking you to decide. Educate yourselves on the candidates- not just on what they’re saying but what they’ve done. Look at the people close to them- the president (or the governor, or senators, county commissioners, sherrifs, any elected official) isn’t the only person of power. The people around them also step into important positions that change the way policies are made and enforced. Recognize the bias in any given article or news report or campaign ad, and don’t be afraid to spread a wide net. Read things for a candidate, but also read things against a candidate. It’s difficult, perhaps even impossible, to get an accurate portrayal of a candidate, but don’t let that stop you from trying.

As you’re researching what’s up for election, think very VERY hard about what things are most important to you. Education? Foreign affairs? Taxes? Corporate regulation? Medical rights? Find and name the things that you are most passionate about, take the time to define for yourself what you want for those things, and then find out what the candidates are saying about them, what they’ve said and done in the past on these issues.

Chances are, you are never going to find a candidate with whom you agree exactly on every issue. So find the one that agrees with most of your perspective on the most important issues. That isn’t voting for the lesser evil- it’s voting for the person you think is better for the job, considering what you expect out of that position.

YOUR VOTE COUNTS, and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. Iif you think it doesn’t, you’re not the only one. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of people convince themselves that their voice doesn’t matter, so they don’t vote. Some presidential elections through history have been so close that every single vote was essential to victory or defeat. Sure, it can be funny to write in Doctor Who (although, let’s be honest, he would make a TERRIBLE president) but that’s making light of something that’s incredibly serious.

When black men finally had the right to vote, there were many who did everything they could to prevent them from exercising that right. Jim Crow laws, lynch mobs outside of voting precincts, severe beatings, and it wasn’t just about racism- it was brutality in the face of the realization that THOSE VOTES MATTERED. Those votes had the potential and the power to change the course of America, and there were many who didn’t want it changed. Every single vote mattered. Women have had the vote for LESS THAN ONE HUNDRED YEARS. It took women (and men) putting their voices out there for DECADES before our right to vote was guaranteed by law, and OUR VOTES MATTERED. They still matter, perhaps more now than ever.

The right to vote is not an easy duty. It requires active attention. We actually have to put in the time and effort to educate ourselves, to sort the truth from the blustering. It requires us to make sure we’re registered to vote, to find out where our polling station is.

Back when I was in high school (so, you know, before I could vote) I was keenly aware of what was going on. I watched and I read and I debated and discussed, and I was incredibly frustrated by the fact that my voice wasn’t official. I could talk about it all I wanted but I couldn’t vote, and in the end, that vote was what would matter. In some ways, I’m less vocal about it now. I don’t much like to debate politics with other people because it quickly gets nasty and not all friendships or relationships are up to that kind of strain. What was once a very public forum for me because something personal for me, and it’s my choice not to put my opinion on a lot of things out there. What I am public about, what I am vocal about, is the need to make your voice heard. Because back in high school, there was a lot going on (or not going on) that I hated, and I hadn’t had a voice in it. When I got to college it was summed up more neatly: if you don’t use your voice to vote, you can’t use it to bitch when you don’t like how things are being run.

Sometimes we vote and the candidate we vote for wins but disappoints us. Sometimes we vote and the candidate we vote for loses, and we spend years disappointed by how the other person is running things. BUT YOU PUT YOUR VOICE WHERE IT NEEDED TO BE.

I’ve heard some people say that so-and-so is clearly ahead in the polls so their vote isn’t needed.

But let’s be honest: polls are bullshit. The ‘random samplings’ polled are rarely random, and questions are asked in such a way as to provide specific answers. It’s not an accurate representation of how the public is actually going to vote when it comes right down to it.

We live under the Big Top of a ridiculous media circus that frequently loses sight of the important issues, with news outlets that are completely out of touch with both reality and the larger audience beyond the people still tuning in. As social media had evolved in leaps and bounds, the bones of the electoral process get lost in all the glitz and fluff and mud. We let names like Republican and Democrat mean more than they should, we let labels try to drive us into blind, rapid obedience. Billions of dollars are spent on campaigns and think-tanks so candidates can tell us what they’ll do for things we are about, but once they’re in office, the money just isn’t there. We exist in an inately flawed system.

But that doesn’t make our responsibility any less.

Educates yourselves on the issues.

Educate yourselves on the candidates.

VOTE.

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