The Essential, Boring Ritual of Voting
When I saw David Byrne in concert not too long ago he said the most delightfully David Byrne-thing ever about voting. Voting, he said in that glorious beatific naif cadence of his, is great because you go to an elementary school and get to meet your neighbors.
That is a lovely way of putting it and not a particularly inaccurate one either. It is generally understood that in order to be a decent human being and citizen of these here United States you have to vote whenever you’re able to but there has been a particular emphasis on voting this particular election because of the nightmare lurch into fascism and authoritarianism that followed the election of Donald Trump.
I’m going to put this in terms you can understand. Donald Trump is the Noid of our political system. He ruins American Democracy! He hates a free press and informed, active citizenry the same way the beloved Domino’s mascot hated piping hot pizzas being delivered in a timely fashion.
There’s a special urgency to this election, a very real sense that it matters far more than others because things have gotten very, very bad in many facets of American life, particularly involving the Presidency (which, in our country at least is a pretty big deal) and that voting is one of the main ways that we can enact meaningful change in a political system that looks particularly broken and corrupt right now.
A lot of us are scared right now. A lot of us are disgusted. A lot of us are exhausted and overwhelmed and fearing for the future and terrified and broken hearted at what we’ve become, at we’ve allowed ourselves to become. That can be dispiriting and oppressive. It can feel like the bad guys won and they keep on winning because the whole system has been rigged in their favor.
To vote in 2018 is to confront both your power and your powerlessness. That’s something a while lot of us have been doing since that awful day in 2016 when, in a fit of rather poor judgment, the American people elected a demented, greed-poisoned, misogynistic, racist sociopath and reality television host as their leader.
It felt like the bad guys won that night, that evil had triumphed over, if not exactly good then at least decidedly less evil. That awful, sinking, toxic feeling, that sense that we’d made a terrible mistake and would be dealing with the consequences of that tragic error in judgment for decades, if not centuries, has persisted over the past two years, never abating but rather growing stronger with each awful day and unconscionable act.
In the aftermath of each new atrocity, every school shooting or appointment of a probable sex criminal to the Supreme Court people have wondered anew, both on social media and in real, what they could do to make a difference. The answer, more often than not, involves voting. That’s not at all a sexy suggestion. Despite the best efforts of the good people at Rock the Vote, there’s nothing particularly sexy about waiting in lines in churches or schools so that you can exercise your civic duty.
It can be easy to feel like your vote and your voice don’t matter, that the oligarchs hold all the power and lobbyists continually undermine the political process for the sake of private interests. There may be an element of truth in that but you lose the wonderful, even life-affirming right to complain bitterly about politics if you do not vote, if you do not realize the electoral power that you do possess.
There’s something pleasingly banal about the ritual of voting. Today I stood in line for about an hour in a church in Decatur in front of a man whose three year old son was mesmerized by his iPad. Not everyone is lucky enough to vote for politicians that inspire and excite them. I was lucky enough to get to vote my dreams and hopes and ideals by casting a ballot for Shirley Abrams to become, astonishingly, our first ever black female Governor over racist piece of shit Brian Kemp. But if you’re not fortunate enough to cast your ballot for someone you dig there’s nothing wrong with occasionally voting your fears as well. Ninety-nine percent of the time there is nothing wrong with voting to keep a Republican out of office.
Let’s be honest: part of the reason we vote is so that we can tell people we vote .We want the world to know that we’re responsible American citizens who do our homework and fulfill the minimal requirements of living in a Democracy. That’s why those “I voted” sticker are brilliant. In an online realm obsessed with “receipts” and proof of behavior either good or bad, they provide concrete proof that at least when it comes to voting we walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
In the grand scheme of things, our one vote might not make much difference but there’s an emotional and symbolic value to voting that makes it not just worthwhile but essential. Because the only “message” that people who think they’re sending a corrupt system by not voting is that you prize political and ideological purity over helping vulnerable populations as well as yourself.
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