Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why Vote?

I have some friends who are really excited to vote.

I have some friends who love Barack Obama.

I have no friends who love John McCain.

I have one friend who loves Bob Barr.

I have some friends who have decided not to vote.

And that, dear reader, is what I take issue with tonight.

Voting, to me, is one of the greatest honors that comes with being born in America. We are a unique and fascinating experiment in government. We are not a true democracy, but we are a country striving to move, as much as possible with the will of the people.

Perhaps we have forgotten that we are an experiment. In the modern world of instant gratification and self centered thought, we tend to think we are the peak of civilization. So did the Vikings. And they had a god that threw hammers. But I digress.

Our experiment is not that old. It is, however, reaching stagnation. And I believe that it is because people have forgotten that this system was set up by a group of people who believed that in order to have a succesful and free nation, citizens MUST be involved.

Our forefathers saw what being complacent and going with the flow accomplished. They saw that when people allow the government to solve all of their problems, they become pawns in that government's scheme to grow stronger.

So the founders fought to create a more perfect union. NOT a perfect union. They realized that a perfect, Thomas More Utopia was impossible. To do this, they worked hard to create a system that worked for them in their time. BUT, they also had the foresight to see that the system would not work forever. So they built, as best they could, tools to change the government to better serve the people as time went on.

Thus, when the country needed to end slavery, there was a way to change the face of the country to do so.

When the country wanted to insure voting rights for all, including African Americans and women, the system was there to allow it.

When it was time to limit the presidency to two terms to keep a single person from gaining control of the office for life, it could be done.

As men returned from the Vietnam War and realzied they could die for their country at age 18, but not vote for or against the people who might send them to die, the Constitution was ammended to give them a voice.

When the country wanted to stop the production of alcohol, it had the means to do so, and when the country realized this was a terrible policy that should never have been implemented, it had the means to reverse it.

As the country has grown, matured, lost and gained ground throughout the world, the ability has always been there for The People to be heard, and the country they live in to be changed.

As we come to the eve of the 2008 elections, I believe that Americans, especially Americans of my generation have forgotten how the system works. Which I thoroughly don't understand because we all had School House Rock to show us how it was done.

We look at the candidates for the two major parties, and perhaps we don't like either of them. We hear about ACORN and voter fraud. We hear about campaign finance scandals. We see our "future leaders" acting like a pack of middle schoolers throwing insults across the the lunch tables. We know that the electoral college is a messed up system that is outdated and needs changing.

And we become discouraged. We begin to believe that it does not matter what we do, because the big money lobbyists, the national parties, the entire political machine is too powerful to stop. We know that true "statesmen" get eaten up in Congress by those with agendas. It all seems too big for us to attack.

So we begin to whisper that we should give up. That we should ignore D.C. and focus on doing what is right in our hometowns. We decide that if we want to change the world, we must hide from the political part and pursue the "grassroots" change.

And to a degree that is correct, but be careful about following the rabbit hole too far. Of course we need to personally fight for the change that we want. Of course we need to change the world around us, even if the political world doesn't listen. The end of slavery, civil rights movement, women's suffrage, union formation, even what little political reform we have had has started with individuals who would not give up on the need to change. But they saw, just like we must see, that for real change to have teeth, it must first be fought for in the streets, then in mass public opinion, then in politics, then CONTINUED on the streets.

It is a long and grueling process. It is painful. It takes too long. And my generation does not like things to take too long. We want our instant gratification. Don't believe me? Watch our face when the computer takes 3 minutes to send a simple e-mail. Damn machines.

Now, how does this all tie in to voting you ask? Thank you, excellent question. We can't change the world this election. No one running will do it. But we can continue to be involved and understand the meaning of the vote.

For those who think that the vote is not that important, I ask you to talk to the Vietnam Vets who came home from war and fought to have a voice. Talk to the African Americans who were blocked from the polls because of Jim Crow laws. Talk to women in Saudia Arabia who have no say in the lives they must lead. Talk to those who live in countries where the choice is vote for the guy in charge or don't vote at all.

Any of them would give their lives to have a say, to feel like, in some small way, they were heard.

I think, in the end, it boils down to laziness and helplessness. If we choose not to participate, we are choosing not to change. It is difficult, it is a fight. If we want to change the party system, the electoral system, the judicial system, it is going to take years. We may not even get to see the change. But to simply leave it, to decide that we will pursue better lives on our own and let Washington go to hell, is the lazy, and the dangerous answer.

And I know, there are many of my fellow Christians who are asking if Jesus would vote. Should a Christian invest time in a worldy system, or just pursue the life Christ told us to. And the answer is, you talk to Jesus and figure that out. I personally think it is far too dangerous to just pursue my God and let the government run itself. I think Corrie Ten Boom would agree.

That's right, I made the leap to the Nazis. I know, I lost some people there, but hear me out. The National Socialist German Workers' Party was able to move as they did because the German people were so disillusioned with the world they lived in that they stopped paying attention. They elected the person they thought would do the greatest good and the least harm, and quickly found themselves in a deadly situation. And there are countless accounts of Christians and non-Christians who decided to just live their lives and not worry too much about the politics. If life improved, or they could find a way to improve the lives of others, then everything would be okay.

But it wasn't okay. And a monster grew. And it could certainly happen again. Primo Levi spent the last years of his life screaming for people to not forget not only that the Holocaust happened, but how it happened. Becuase he knew that with time we would forget, we could become desensitized. And that we could fall into the same trap again.

Barack Obama and John McCain will not be the next Hitler. Biden...maybe. Just kidding. But to decide to not take a stand, to let the power that we DO have slip away is a dangerous precedent to set.

Our system is not perfect., It is absolutely flawed and outdated. There is a better way. But on Tuesday, I say that we continue to participate, And if we don't like it, let's fight to change it. It will be difficult. It will cause tears and pain and frustration. But it will remind us and others that "We The People" have a voice, we just have to get off our asses and find it.

After a comment I received from a wise friend, I feel I need to further explain the lazy/hopeless conclusion. I am not saying that if you choose not to vote you are a lazy person. My friends who are not voting are industrious people, active in the world they live in. I am however, saying that not voting is lazy citizenship. We have a responsibility that goes with calling ourselves Americans. Part of it is to vote and take part in the political system. I say take part, not give all of ourselves to it. As a Christian I try to give my all to God. That does come first. But I also realize that I live within a governed nation, and that I have a unique ability to have a say in that nation. And I believe that it is my duty to do so. So I am saying that, in my view, the hopelessness that comes with being a voter, especially in Kansas, should not be enough to keep us from the polls. Indeed, it should be what drives us to them, and to take the time in the upcoming years to discover how we can have better candidates in the next election.

We can change the world, even the United States without taking part in the political machine. But we cannot ignore that machine. If it gets too powerful, then our freedom to work outside of it can and most likely will be destroyed.

And I want to close by saying that while I feel strongly about this, I do not meant to attack people. We live in a country where you can vote, but also may choose not vote. After Tuesday you will not hear my cries until the next election day. I will not tell you that you cannot have a say in the country because you didn't vote. But I will wear my "I Voted" sticker proudly for the next year.....


Tyler R said...

Being someone in the demographic you are aiming toward, I must say that there is a HUGE HUGE difference between not voting because you've "given up" or are to "lazy/helpless" and taking a "non-voting" stance. The former doesn't vote because they're too wrapped up in eating cheetos and playing Xbox, while the latter ARE well informed but have just arrived at a different conclusion.

I Dream of Scotland said...

And i am saying that you can't give up. You can change it, you can fight it, you can hate it, but you can't give up. Because then, as things get worse, you have not put yourself in a position to change.

Also, I thought about your comment as I worked out this morning, and I edited my post. I put the edit at the end. Thanks for your insight.

luke said...

are you saying that if people voted in germany it would have prevented the holocaust...? just kidding.

also, didn't some of the founding fathers think that constant revolution would be necessary against government? maybe the people in germany needed not to vote and be more involved IN the system--but to work to overthrow the system by other means.

no before i disappear in an unmarked white van, let me say i'm talking about Germany here--not the US. work for change yes, absolutely, but maybe not through the government. it is hard and exhausting and would take an incredibly long time, and even then we might only see the smallest of changes. and my point is that i think you can work just as hard outside of the system and do more even for the system.

i still wrestle with the idealism/realism of reducing our vote to one of the two candidates. if we believe in the ideal of voting as an honor and a very great thing--then can we cheapen it so much by the extreme limitations on that vote and still hold it just as high? i'm not so sure.

as always, this is a good discussion and nothing personal. it would be fun to talk about this more in person sometime too. i mean, we do live in the same town!

Kelley said...

john. i want you to know that wade and i stood in line for hours to vote. but i am not sure i agreed with either choice and debating for a while about writing you in. remember senior year? i thought you could compete for US Pres. just as graciously. All I can say is voting is much easier when you know it's in God's hand no matter what. Good thing our hope is in Him. So yes. that is my feelings on this whole election business. will you make it easier on me next time around and run yourself.
thank you!