Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Note about the Vote

Well, this will be a little more intense (and probably over the top) than I would've liked for my first post in awhile, but the time calls for it. And as a prologue: it is as much for me as it is for anyone else.

I've always avoided--despite having the urge from time to time--to post anything political in this blog. And I'm going to keep that streak going, because what I am about to write is not political.

Next Tuesday is Election Day. It can be hard to forget that with the enormous amount of attention being heaped on the presidential candidates. And for good reason. This is the most important election in recent history--definitely the most important in my lifetime.

I remember when I was first eligible to vote, I didn't think much of it. It didn't appear to make a discernable difference, and I wasn't all that interested in it. So, I didn't vote. And apparently, about 40 percent of the voting population didn't either.

According to a study done by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the United States ranks 139th in the percentage of eligible voters who have actually voted in elections (since 1945). The highest--Italy--was at 92%. Third place went to Cambodia, a country that has been ravaged by war and genocide. It is one of the 50 poorest countries in the world and over 90% of the population votes.

As a country, we have never (at least in modern times) risen above 65% voter turnout. There are things that make us different from other countries--we have to actively register ourselves, and we are not required by law to vote--but the bottom line is that we get a 'D' in democratic participation (and that is being generous).

That is both remarkable and sad. I hope the enormous amount of media attention this election is getting changes something.

I was lucky enough to be born in a country that is the most successful, most prosperous and most inspiring in the history of the world. There has never been another country like it--ever. In the centuries it has been in existence, people have risked their lives just to reach its shores. They still do. Though the mantle of "Greatest Country in the World" is freighted with subjectivity, no one can deny that the United States should be involved in such a discussion.

People talk quite a bit about love of country, and what it means to love this country. But the truth is that my country doesn't require me to love it at all--that is one of its virtues. It doesn't (currently) require me to serve in the army. It does not require me to take a vocal stand on issues, or openly support any party, or even put my hand on my heart when the national anthem plays.

It only asks that I participate.

An uncommon collection of brave geniuses committed to an idea a couple hundred years ago, and generations since have been vigilant in protecting it. The idea is letting the people participate-- allowing the governed to dictate to their government, rather than the other way around.

This country can claim to be many things: capitalist, imperialist, humanist. Innovator. Bully. Angel. And people argue back and forth about the issues behind these designations. But it is foremost a democracy. Our nation is predicated on choosing our leaders. And--if they fail to do their job--voting them out.

But if we don't vote, it doesn't really work. One quote I read by a man named Walter Judd said it most clearly: "People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing.”

To me, there is simply no good reason for a healthy, able-bodied person not to vote. Save your excuses for something else. Cold outside? Too bad. Line too long, gotta get to work? You can wait, and so can your job. Don't like any of the candidates, or don't think your vote counts? Tough *&%#.

In addition to being practical, voting is symbolic. Yes, it's the act of choosing your leaders, but it's also a clear way to show appreciation for the privilege of choosing your leaders. It's a rare opportunity to show that you don't take that gift for granted.

And don't ever take that gift for granted. It's not. Choose, lest the choice someday be taken away.

Yes, this post definitely is not political. It is polemical. To the apathetic or otherwise-indisposed 40% I say this:

Beat Italy and Cambodia at their own game--the one that should be ours. Seize this opportunity. Revere the rights you have, and practice the privilege you've been given. Speak now, or for four years hold your peace. Don't you dare allow Tuesday to pass without pulling a lever, punching a chad, hitting a switch, making a statement of conviction and gratitude.

Vote. Vote. Vote.

P.S. For a great insight into what it's like when you don't have a functioning democracy, check out this post from my buddy Grady's blog. It describes the post-cyclone situation in Burma--which despite its government's claims, is not a democracy. Though I can only imagine how much the people of that country would give so that it could be.



At 8:59 AM, Blogger SwimBikeRun said...

well said.

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Angelo said...

I hate when you make me look up the meaning of words from your blog. It's so demeaning.


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