Every time Election Day rolls around, I find myself dithering over whether or not to go and vote. I recognize that it is not only my right as a citizen of the United States to go out and vote, but it is also my privilege and my responsibility. People have fought and died to give me the vote, and I don’t take that lightly.
But I really get bothered when it comes to Election Day.
This country was founded in idealism. The people who came together to form our democratic republic had these wild and crazy notions that every person had the right to certain freedoms, and in order to protect the citizens from tyranny and despotism, this country was set up to be governed by elected officials who would either be voted in, voted out, or not be elected at all. The voice of the people was expected to rule this land—a government “of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.” (Quote by Unitarian abolitionist minister Theodore Parker in 1850, used by President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address in 1863.)
And yet I don’t think those honored founders could possibly have foreseen how large their little country would become over the next 250 years. Comparing our system of governance today to its humble origins, it seems to me to be positively unwieldy, grown so large that it has lost sight of those small people it is supposed to be serving.
This is reflected in the way political campaigns are run. We vote not for an individual with unique beliefs and original solutions, but for a political party, a machine that cranks out the same answers year after year with no room for innovation or new ways of thinking. As a result, we become divided in our beliefs, in our hopes, and in our dreams for what this country can become.
Our right/privilege/responsibility to vote was based on the idea that every citizen has a personal stake in the outcome of the election—that every person cares who ends up in each office of power. And I know that some people do. But I think that we run into a problem of scale; those glossy, polished smiles that try to lure our votes from the television screens or the full-page ads or the mailer inserts seem so incredibly distant from our cluttered homes and busy schedules. Our national, and even our state, governments feel strange and disconnected from our daily lives (at least until they pass some law or policy that offends us).
And when we look at soaring unemployment rates, gross inflation, and a very inconvenient recession, we turn to those we have elected to guide us through these difficult times…and we see them with their fancy clothes and shiny cars, and we hear them say that they think a “middle class” American is anyone who makes under $200,000 a year, and we feel their complete and total estrangement from our lives, and we wonder how, exactly, they represent us.
So when it comes to Election Day, I find myself wondering whether I should go to vote at all. What am I voting for? Someone who will represent me, my ideals, my interests? Someone who will understand what I need and work towards making this country a better place?
I dislike the divisiveness that surfaces from its shallow resting place every time the political winds start blowing. I deeply saddens me that we become so intent on having “our” candidate win that it doesn’t occur to us to work together towards fixing problems and finding common ground upon which to build our future. After all, we are all human—we all need the same things. But when Election Day rolls around, all we seem to be able to remember is that which divides us.
I think it is important that we all have a voice in the governing of our country. I think it is important to talk about those issues which have meaning for us. I think it is important to participate in dreaming together, so that we create a world of love and justice in which our children can raise their children.
But on Election Day, I always question: is voting really the way to do that?