American Voters: Duty Call



Election Day goes by pretty quickly when you are an election judge. At least, it does for me. I bring my knitting and a book. I make dish cloths or wash cloths or iPad covers. I meet my neighbors. I see whether or not people I know are voting, and I judge them. It’s fun!

On a primary day in a special election, we are lucky if we get a 10% turn out. This is frustrating to no end, even though I come out of it with some lovely hand-knits. I always think about people in many other countries who can’t vote or have to risk their lives to do so or whose vote does not count because entire elections are fixed.

This election season, I saw a photo of someone at the Nevada caucuses holding a sign that read “Finally! A Reason to Vote!” and it set of rage waves in my brain. I’m so sick of the whole “Why should I vote? Politicians don’t care about me” whining.

Of course politicians don’t care about you. YOU DON’T VOTE. You didn’t vote in 2010, and Hello, Tea Party! You didn’t vote in 2014, and Hello, republican Senate! And now Donald Trump is the republican candidate for President of the United States. That’s on all of us.

Yes, we need change. And yes, you have to start somewhere. That’s why I vote for school board members. And judges. And local referenda. And soil and water conservation officers. And city councils. And mayors. And state representatives. And U.S. Congress. And U.S. Senate. It’s not “starting somewhere” to elect a person with the power to appoint Supreme Court judges who will further erode freedom to vote, choose, and live. It’s ending it.

Nothing should have to inspire you to vote. I know it’s not exciting or fun to say, but you vote because it is your duty, your obligation, your responsibility to educate yourself and vote in all elections and woe betide those who curtail your fellow citizens’ right to vote.

Good people who own businesses in North Carolina, Mississippi, and other states will suffer because of those states elected governments’ decisions to enact discriminatory “religious freedom” and  “bathroom” laws. Other state governments, corporations, and sports teams are either boycotting or considering boycotting these states. I feel for those good people, but this should be the wake up call all “good people” need. “Good people” did not vote, and there are consequences. People with hateful and unsavory ideals of what’s best for the country did vote.

Maybe I have sipped on too much Wellstone Flavor-ade, but I still think that people who run for office generally want to create change and make things their version of better.

That’s the issue: Ted Cruz’s version of “better” is a theocratic hellscape where there are not enough rights to go around, criticism equals oppression, and job creation will be an attendant at the women’s bathroom who gets to check your genitals.

I also think all the candidates for President of the United States this season believed “shit is broken,” and I don’t think they would be running for office if they didn’t believe that. It’s what they think is broken and how it became broken that differs. (My only caveat is Donald Trump, who is trolling the American political system, the American public, and the world media.)

One idea is that “it” is broken, and rich people broke it. But rich people didn’t break it; rich people made it. “It” was flawed from the beginning. Our system was created by white, wealthy, land-owning men in their own image. Since then, we have been refining and honing, allowing more and more people to vote, and expanding basic rights to more individuals. Until voter-approved ALEC-influenced republicans began putting restrictions on the right to vote and the Supreme Court approved Citizens United and started gutting the Voting Rights Act, we were generally trending toward more inclusion at the polling place.

Continually whining that it’s rich people’s fault or corporations or republicans reminds me of that one friend who is constantly embroiled in some shitty situation and always having woe-is-me breakdowns in their mug of chardonnay at your weary kitchen table, never ever making the connection that the one constant in all their troubles is themselves. Nope. It’s always external forces that have brought them down.

In the United States of America, you get the government you vote for. Majority wins (well, hopefully), and if the voting majority that election year is a bunch of white people who are freaked out because a Black man was elected president, then we get the Tea Party, and the House of Representatives becomes a monkey playground (sorry, monkeys).

So who broke it, or allowed it to become more broken? You did, if you didn’t vote in all elections for which you were eligible and your rights were not impeded by voter restriction laws, including the not-so-sexy judge and school board elections where you have to do your research or wind up voting in a jackweasel who has a prayer clock on his website. Believe me, the alt-right has these elections in its sights, and Donald Trump has energized it.

If you didn’t vote in 2010, you turned Congress over to the Tea Party, who, aside from ruining the name of a historical event, went on to try to ruin everything for everyone everywhere, with bonus gerrymandering! You broke it when you didn’t vote, and you turned our state legislatures red. You broke it when you turned the Senate over to the republicans in 2014 because you couldn’t be bothered. You broke it when your blue state elected a republican governor because you didn’t realize we hold elections every November.

We have abysmal voter turnout, which has led to a local and state-level sweep of red that does not truly represent America’s present political beliefs, so hello misogynistic and transphobic bathroom laws. Had people voted in those 2010 and 2014 elections, perhaps we really could have made some progress in the last 8 years, or more. We may not be losing so much ground on voting rights, anti-science policies in public schools and elsewhere, women’s rights, LGBT rights, racial justice, and more.

You are the government, and the government is you. Stop separating yourself from it. If you don’t vote because you don’t believe the government is representative of you, you’re right. Government represents the voters who create it. Of course there are systemic changes that can and should be made, but most of them are made by elected officials or people appointed by elected officials.

In all but presidential election years, I get way too much knitting done while I am an election judge. By all means, vote in the presidential election of 2016, on November 8. But before you do that, look up your ballot. US Senators and Congresspeople are up for re-election in many states; your state legislatures have elections. There may be referenda or ballot issues that need your attention. Minnesota has a constitutional amendment, a whole side of the ballot devoted to judges, and an open school board seat, among other races.

Then remember: Election Day in the United States of America is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Every Year. November 7, 2017 will be the next non-presidential Election Day. It may not be sexy; you many not have anything on the ballot in your locality. But you should check, and you should be there. I can find other time to knit.

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