I voted today, in the gym of a local elementary school. Overall it went very smoothly. There was a sense of standing in line for a long time, but it fact we were home just about an hour after we left the house.
Why is it important to vote? Isn’t it just an empty ritual, rigged from the start, with candidates that are all just corporate puppets? If I were true to my youthful anarchist and later Marxist influences, I’d probably be memorizing Noam Chomsky and agreeing with that statement. But I was also raised by politically-active, liberal Jews, who believe that society is made of people, and that improvement of the world by people is not only possible but imperative.
I’m in no position to moralize; my civic involvement is generally limited to voting on election day, and recycling. I even missed my party’s primary. I’m not proud of that. I’ve made an effort to be informed, by studying the candidates on Project Vote Smart (where you can find detailed information about the candidates’ positions on a whole list of issues) and my state’s League of Women Voters site. Yes, I took the time to research whom I was going to vote for, albeit the night before the election.
If you enjoy any modicum of benefit from living in American society, why not participate in the process? It’s not about whether the person you voted for wins, it’s about paying attention — even just a little — and showing up. You don’t have to subscribe to some naive myth that you’re single-handedly changing the world. Just show up. Cynicism in defense of your own non-participation does not make you appear more intelligent. It just seems like an excuse for laziness.
What people forget is that most elections are not just about the hot-button, big-name races. The local campaigns might be less interesting, but the closer you get to home, the more connection there is between your life and the operation of government. It’s one thing to be cynical about someone running for Congress — but what about State senators, county executives, city council members, sheriff, judges? I don’t know these people any better, except what I’ve learned through reading. But I feel like these people are going to have a more immediate impact on my life. You could also argue that your vote counts more in a local election, since the overall number of votes is smaller.
What’s my point? I guess that I’m still an optimist (albeit an apocalyptic optimist). Chaos theory reminds us that even the smallest change can alter the course of a storm. And even if History is spiraling down a giant vortex into confusion, I’d rather be paddling with or against the current than just getting dragged along. Any takers?