Why I vote

Junior had his first civics lesson this week. On Tuesday I put the baby in the sling and we walked over to our polling place, an elementary school just a few blocks away from my house, to vote in a local election. I'm always a little conflicted about these elections because while I believe in the "Think globally, act locally!" idea, I really don't keep up with local politics very well, so I usually don't have a clue about the candidates and their positions. It boils down to this question: is it better to vote in ignorance or not at all?

This election was for a couple seats on the school board, the county board (I don't even know exactly what that is), some other stuff I don't remember, and a city-wide referendum to recommend immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. I suspect that last item attracted more media attention and brought more voters to the polls than anything else, though it probably has the least actual impact on the local community. Other than spurring a community discussion about the ongoing war in Iraq and the pros and cons of keeping troops there vs. bringing them home, a city-wide statement doesn't do much in practical terms. Would anyone care to disagree with me on this point?

Meanwhile, the rest of the items on the ballot were names I'd never heard before. I went with my union's recommendations on the school board elections, took a blind stab at the county seat spot, and was somewhat relieved to see that the rest of the positions were uncontested, so unless I could think of a write-in candidate, I wasn't reduced to "eeny meeny miny mo."

It's disappointing to see how few people show up for these local elections. If I think about it too much, I get so infuriated at this inflated American notion that we're some kind of beacon of democracy for the rest of the world and given the chance, every non-democratic nation would adopt some variation of our system of government because it's the fairest kind, YET our pathetically low voter turnout, even in highly publicized neck-to-neck presidential elections, indicates that maybe people here don't care about democracy at all. It is my belief that citizens of this country have no ground to stand on when they complain about their elected leaders unless they dragged their sorry butts to the polls. Even if you're terribly cynical, which I am, and think that the system is broken, that elections in Ohio and Florida are rigged, that there are no good candidates, that they're all corrupt (except Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone, may he rest in peace, and occasionally even John McCain has his moments), you still have the right, nay - the duty! - to register your disappointment on a ballot. Write in someone's name if you have to.

For that reason, I'm glad that elementary schools are often polling places. Maybe those kids notice, maybe their teachers point it out to them, or maybe not, but when they see the yellow "Polling Place" signs on the walls, directing voters to the teacher's lounge with the elderly volunteers and ballot boxes and the slow but steady trickle of consciencious (and dare I say a tad self-righteous? because I'm willing to admit that in this case) citizens, I hope that on some level those kids realize that they're seeing our democracy, in all its imperfections, in action.


mamacita said…
The issue of democracy is a difficult one but I I like your motto, "Think globally, act locally." I tend to agree with Chomsky, who I quoted below, that we don't really have "real democracy" in the US because we lack popular movements where people can get their voice heard. Our country is being ruled by a political elite and, as you said, no one cares enough to vote.

FROM CHOMSKY: Let's become as democratic as say the second largest country in the hemisphere, Brazil. I mean their last election was not between two rich kids who went to the same elite university and joined the same secret society where they're trained to be members of the upper class and they can get into politics because they have rich families with a lot of connections. I mean people were actually able to elect a president from their own ranks. A man who was a peasant union leader, never had a higher education, and comes from the population. They could do it because it's a functioning democratic society. I mean there were tremendous obstacles, repressive state, huge concentration of wealth, much worse obstacles than we have. But they have mass popular movements. They have actually actual political parties, which we don't have. There's nothing to stop us from doing that. I mean we have a legacy of freedom which is unparalleled. It's been won by struggle over centuries, it was never given, and you can use it, or you can abandon it. It's a choice.
Suze said…
It's easy to get cynical and disillusioned with our broken system, but I figure that by choosing not to participate, we just make it worse. Also, I am hopeful that the activism springing up around the country in regards to immigration is turning into a popular movement. I'm not sure the suits in Washington were expecting rallies of this magnitude.

Si se puede!

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