One of the first pictures I posted to Instagram (the third, I think), back when I joined the Instaverse back 2012, was of me making a goofy face with an “I VOTED” sticker stuck to my chest. Today, four years later, hairier and beardlier, I did it again (although this time the sticker reads “I VOTED By Mail”).
I won’t say who I voted for… not because I’m afraid to, but because that’s not what this post is about… but I will say that voting was a very different experience this time around. For one thing—as mentioned above—I voted by mail. I can honestly say I much prefer voting in person, in line with others, waiting somewhat silently and nervously (or perhaps excitedly and eagerly, if you’re one of those extroverts I’ve heard so much about), getting my ballot from a volunteer, and walking up to a little flimsy booth to fill out the ballot before turning it in and getting my sticker.
There’s something almost religious about that approach. There is a ritual. There is community. It feels like an EVENT, once you’re there amongst other voters, more so than it does an INCONVENIENCE. It feels more like a COMMUNAL RIGHT than it does a SOCIETAL OBLIGATION (and in this, I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Sanders. It should be a holiday. Nobody should have to work; everyone should have the day free to vote if they so choose).
For a start, you see volunteers. You can’t help but recognize that there are still people—people like you and me—who care enough about their country to sacrifice time they could be using on themselves in order to do a service to something bigger than them. Sometimes you can guess at their party inclinations by the way they dress or speak, or if they’re someone you recognize from the community, but all in all—and I hope this is true mostly throughout the states—they respect the process and support you as a part of that process, regardless of your ideology. It’s easy to overlook the volunteers, but they are easily the most patriotic people I know. Some of them are vets, some are small business owners, some are parents or teachers, and some are anxious teenagers excited to do their part. But what they all recognize, at least unconsciously, is that this government is our government. It doesn’t belong to a political class. It doesn’t belong to the tangle of corporate limbs ever worming their way into particular pockets and general infrastructures. It belongs to us, and will continue to belong to us so long as we want it and own up to the responsibility that comes with keeping a government as a pet.
Yes, I’ll make that comparison. You have to feed it your voice, exercise it so it’s in fit shape to be your companion and protector, and when it gets sick—rather than shout at who you think is responsible or deciding that you’d rather replace it with another animal anyways—you must work to see it healthy, because it’s health is your responsibility.
There are a lot of people out there who think their vote doesn’t count, and in a sense it’s true. And that concept gains mass and validity with each new person who decides their vote is useless as well. Some people start with the argument that if you don’t vote, how can your vote count? And that’s a great starting point. But it goes a bit beyond that. If you don’t vote, the power you chose not to exercise doesn’t go away. It sits and waits, and there are people out there who are hungry for power. They can smell it from three-thousand miles away, and they will find it where you left it. And they will get inventive. And they will be self-serving. History has shown us this a thousand times over.
Our voices are important tools. We can use them to delineate boundaries. We can use them to erect structures. To power movements. And when we don’t speak for ourselves, others will speak for us. And—and this is the scary part—people will accept their voice as representative of yours, no matter how ridiculous or far away from your thoughts they are. If you haven’t spoken, who’s to know any better?
I always cared a lot about various things, but for a long time I didn’t consider myself political. The grand mechanism of American politics seemed so self-contained and set apart from the people, and how could I ever come to see myself as a part of that? That changed, of course, my third year as an undergrad, and I regret—in part—that it took me so long. I took a history course helmed by a professor who stood staunchly opposite me on one end of the political spectrum. He was loud (it was a lecture hall), he was passionate, and he made a very interesting point near the beginning of the semester (which I’ll badly summarize herein):
Government is an agreement that we should stop hurting each other and work together, because that makes life easier. Politics are how we constantly negotiate and renegotiate the terms of that agreement.
And then the part that really got me:
If you have opinions, you have politics. You are political. It doesn’t matter if they’re opinions on music, food, relationships, or law… those are your politics.
So, if you happen to see this and are still unsure whether or not you should get out an vote today, remember… if you care about things, you have a politics all your own, and this country is only functioning at its best when we’re functioning together, voicing ideas both parallel and contrary, showing corporate America and the so-called political class that we’re still invested in this project, in this relationship. We still love our country, we’re still willing to feed it and take it out on walks a few times a day and play catch with it, and—even though it’s sick—we’re willing to stay by its side and tend to it, to do whatever it takes, until it’s wagging its tail again.