Please Don’t Not Vote: A Missive to Non-Participants

Few who read this blog know that I was a political science major in university. Sometimes it comes up with friends but not often. I work in the music industry, where the ratio of inside jokes to college degrees is about 1,000 : 1. Not to paint a bleak picture; we have them but we just don’t go flashing our diplomas. Election season tends to be the only time I get to flex this muscle, however weak and out of shape it may be. Every now and then I get fired up by my convictions and can’t help myself. Explaining where I come from academically can be summed up easily: my political science degree solidified that I never want to work in politics. The system is flawed and the weight of injustice is too widespread and heavy.

I choose not to put much weight on the political system to create or preserve my personal happiness. While I enjoy studying theory and history, my identity isn’t defined by the oft-necessary political systems we have in place to make this country go. It is something I live in but keep a healthy distance from. A sort of  “in this world, not of it” mentality. The most I expect from my president/government (or maybe the least) is what I expect of a good date: please don’t embarrass me. I travel a lot and I would rather do so without the burden of apologizing for my country. That said, I love my country. I know this because I’ve seen a lot of other countries and have no plans to renounce my citizenship. Avoiding the pitfalls of comfort and placation can be tough when the system largely works for you. There are aspects of how this country runs that, admittedly, I wouldn’t want to change. I feel privileged that I’m an educated, healthy (for now), caucasian woman. I work for myself and make a decent living doing what I love. I didn’t come from means but I have a rich support network. And I don’t mean monetarily. I just mean that if shit hits the fan, I can say with some assuredness that I won’t be homeless and I’ll be surrounded by people who love and care about me. I’m aware that this isn’t the norm and I am grateful.

I wholeheartedly believe that real change and progress come from how one relates to oneself, one’s neighbors, coworkers, friends and lovers, not bureaucracy. I believe in regional activism. I believe human beings are better equipped to deal with issues in front of them with personal consequences over global, more nebulous ramifications. Those on the outside of a regionally-specific issue have a much harder time internalizing these problems and, therefore, actively caring about and influencing the outcome. A simple example: can someone living in the desert deeply involve themselves in PNW issues surrounding forestry and over-fishing? Can I truly wrap my head around issues plaguing a desert region when it’s raining non-stop here? An evolved person can empathize but it would take a level of selflessness that many have neither time nor energy to actually do anything about it. I care about climate change and global issues on a cerebral level and I might even donate some money. But truly devote time and energy to navigate the issue on any real level? Nope. Not when I’m watching the destruction of my home’s ecosystem, the medical problems of many of my uninsured neighbors and friends and, more importantly for me, the ongoing war of a woman’s right to choose how she handles the biological, pre-existing condition of simply being a woman. It all starts at home. We are creatures of finite bandwidth and resources and I  believe this is a good thing. It is what focuses, strengthens and emboldens us to first choose and then fight for what really matters in our lives. Those battles where we experience a direct return. The ability to focus and choose is what makes human beings exceptional. If we all involved ourselves in our own region’s ailments, we would make more progress than expecting the top to trickle down.

BUT. Yet. However. Despite all this fanfare about not being a politically-identifed, trickle-down kind of citizen, I vote. Every year. Every election. Every local/regional bullshit referendum and appointment. I read the pamphlet and I vote even if it’s laborious. Even if maybe I won’t see the outcome of said election. Even if it doesn’t affect my every day life.

For instance, as a lower-middle class woman who doesn’t want to have kids or get married, I still vote to pay more taxes to support schools. Though they’re not my children, I believe the good of humanity hinges upon education (or at least it can’t hurt). I care enough about my country to enable more people to be educated. I’ll pay a premium to not live next door to idiots, even if they don’t share my views on reality, politics, sex, religion and all other things we could potentially disagree about. My sense is that if each human comes to conclusions about the world through mindful, authentic resonance at the core of one’s belief, we are all going to get along just fine. And I believe widely available, quality education is the foundation. I’m okay contributing financially to the fruition of an educated utopia.

So, when I hear that one of my fellow educated, left-leaning friends has decided to not vote because 1) “what difference does it make? these candidates are all the same.” or 2) “it doesn’t affect me.” or 3) “<insert bullshit statement here>”, I confess – I get fighty. Not voting is hands-down the most ineffective form of protest I can think of. There are many systems where non-participation does endanger and act as a catalyst to change, but this is not one of them. Non-participation in the voting process means that the fraction of a citizenry that does participate will dictate the outcome of the election for everyone. While I am sympathetic to the reasons why people don’t vote, those who claim to be craving a more active form of civic engagement don’t end up replacing “not voting” with anything productive. Or anything at all.

So, non-participants, here are some other things you could be doing instead of voting:

• petitioning and lobbying to change the voting rules of this country. Do you hate the electoral college because you feel like it never reflects how the people in your state actually vote? Do you hate how third party representatives don’t have a chance at winning because of the whole first-past-the-post thing? Do you hate how issues that matter to you get watered down to appeal the middle for more votes? Yep. Many do. Get to it.

• becoming more involved in campaign finance reform. Wouldn’t it be cool if campaigning to be an elected official wasn’t only attainable for rich, white guys who went to Harvard? How great would it be if we could monitor and check lobbies, industries and corporations from becoming too influential in the political process? I think both ideas are “cool” and “great”.

While not exhaustive, these are two excellent alternatives to voting in the presidential election. Seem like a lot of work? Yeah, I can understand that. We’re all busy with our families, houses, jobs and iPhone 5s. Or working 60 hours a week attempting to have fruitful, satisfying, maybe even happy lives. So, you know what’s less work and still has leverage? Voting. Chances are, even if you don’t believe this election will affect you, you know someone that will be forced to live every day with the outcome. Ask yourself: do I know and care about any women? people who identify as LGBT? ill people who are trying to navigate the warm, welcoming world of insurance? people who need jobs? people of color who are actively discriminated against every day? If you answered ‘no’, well, none of you are reading this. But if you answered ‘yes’, there are people close to you counting on your compassionate, educated voice.

If you thought it was impossible for me to have anything else to opine here, I leave you with one more thing: what some intend as a way to speed the collapse of outdated methods only ends up manifesting as a small death wheeze from the constituency who may not have as much to gain, but certainly has nothing to lose by voting. Believe me, I’m all for a revolution but throwing your hands up and walking away has never incited anything more than business as usual. It starts with participation, idealism and dedication. So, please get involved. November 6, 2012. Mark it.