Monday, February 29, 2016

Angry? Worried? Vote. Get Involved. Do the Work of Democracy!

"We have met the enemy and he is us"  --Pogo (comic strip character)

In the end, maybe we just finally get the government that we deserve. The candidates we deserve.  The media coverage we deserve.  The country we deserve.

I write this the day before Massachusetts voters go to the polls to choose their nominees for President of the United States.  For the first time in a long time, what the Bay State decides this week on Super Tuesday actually matters, makes a difference, in very tight races on both sides. You’d think with the Presidency being on the line for the first time in eight years, voters would swamp the polling places in long lines, inspire us as citizens to exercise that most basic responsibility of democracy.

To vote. 

To let one’s voice be heard.  To do our civic duty.  To thank, in a way, fellow Americans who sacrificed to defend freedom, in the 240 years since the United States was born as “we the people”.  Yes, I’m one of those insufferable red, white and blue cheerleaders with idealism about citizenship and responsibility.  I can’t help it. I’m a democracy geek, a nerd about civics and American history and politics.

Maybe it’s because I was born on Election Day 1960. Must be in my blood.  Save for one election in 1984 that I’m ashamed to admit I skipped out of apathy, I’ve not missed the chance to vote in 37 years of having the franchise.  Local, statewide or national elections: I just love to vote.  To do just about the one thing, the only thing, my country asks of me and all of its citizens. To cast a ballot. In March or September or November I’m an election worker too, one of those cheery folks who checks you in and hands you your ballot then gives you an “I VOTED” sticker, as you walk out the door.

Reality check.  The majority of Americans do not vote. Ever. They stay at home.  They stay on the sidelines. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin predicts that 2 million Bay Staters will vote this week.  That’s out of 4.26 million registered voters, which translates to a 46 percent voter turnout, which is actually much higher than most other elections.  When I work local or statewide elections, the turnout is most often dismal and depressing, often as low as 15 percent, even less sometimes.

So here’s the deal.  If you don’t vote, don’t complain. 

Don’t whine about how high your taxes are or how crazy one candidate is or how great or how awful you think the current President is. Don’t kvetch about the state of our nation, or cynically talk about how you’ll just go to Canada if a particular person is elected commander in chief next November.  If Americans are actually so “angry” this election cycle, as the media so continually tells us, then let’s take that energy and actually get our backsides off of the couch and our faces out of our smart phones and get involved in the shaping of our nation.

Vote. Donate to a candidate. Volunteer for a local municipal board or committee. Spend time researching the issues and the candidates. Attend a debate.  Encourage your family members and friends to vote. Be an active citizen and not just a passive spectator.

As a person of faith I truly believe one of the greatest gifts God bestows upon human beings is freedom: the ability to shape our lives, individually and in community. But gifts always involve responsibility.  Rights always demand participation in life.  It’s wonderful, I suppose, that so many citizens these days are so worked up about the state of our nation. Millions of us are more p***ed off than ever before.  Fine.  What are we going to actually do about it?  Beyond giving a “like” to a Facebook post or making a snarky remark at a cocktail party or uttering a “harrumph” as you read the morning newspaper?

Democracies live and die because of how well and how much, or how badly and how little, citizens are civically engaged.  The current state of affairs in the United States did not just happen because a band of politicians, lobbyists and backroom deal makers somehow hijacked the nation in the dead of the night.  America: our democracy, our government, the state of our nation is a direct reflection of we the people.  “They” did not get us to this point.  “We” did.  That conviction holds true whatever our particular political leanings.  The enemy is an apathetic citizenry.

So get out and vote. Get out and become truly involved in your neighborhood, town, city, state, nation and all Creation.  Volunteer.  Use your God-given freedom in service to others. Make a difference.  Be democracy embodied.  Because if we don’t, we will absolutely, always get the country and the world we finally deserve.

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