You Are Always Voting
In the past several months, the media outlets have gathered every last advertising dollar and spent every last bit of energy getting us all riled up for the US Presidential election. Though we elect officials from the national congress all the way to the local level, seen through the glazed eyes of the media torrent, this is the big one. This is the only one that really counts.
Never mind that in the past several administrations (going back several decades – at least to Johnson), little has changed with regard to the fiscal 800-pound deficit-spending gorilla in the room. I hear that a massive cage has been installed for him on Capitol Hill, where he is a fixture admired and ogled, but never teased or threatened. The fact that we are careening swiftly off a debt cliff into completely uncharted global currency-devaluation territory is not being addressed by anyone, and that is probably the most significant factor in the short- and long-term outcomes for US citizens in all walks of life.
But, as I said, never mind that. The dog and pony show on the screens gets us shouting, either for dogs or ponies, as we scream for the Yankees or the Red Sox. We get educated, concerned, bent out of shape, conflicted, and we imagine the earth-shattering changes that could be wrought by the replacement of one corporation-bought demagogue with another.
And then, with the suspense at its height (like Christmas Eve – an important similarity to note), we go off to perform the one civic duty we are convinced that we still have, and spend a few minutes in a booth every four years. And our jobs are done. We did what we could, at least. And if things didn’t go the way we had hoped, we can’t complain (and neither can anyone else) if we filled in the dots.
Because we’re powerless.
Civic Responsibility and Santa Claus
We have forgotten, I fear, that our duties as citizens have nothing to do with our childhood experience of Christmas.
If you grew up like I and many of my friends did, Christmas was a day that you looked forward to all year long with anticipation – much more so as the months passed – and you let ‘Santa Claus’ (or your parents, if they were wiser) know in advance what you hoped to receive on that day. As a child, there was very little that you could do to ensure the receipt of your desires other than beg and be on your best behavior (where most of us failed).
In other words, you cast your vote and waited for the day to arrive.
Whether you got what you wanted or not, a number of things happened: tons of money was spent, debt was incurred, people got festive, you and your family and friends speculated about the outcomes, US GDP got a shot in the arm through consumption, everyone got emotional, and then the day came and went.
And that was it.
And that is it, as far as most of us are concerned, with our civic duties. Government and social structures have gotten so large, so encumbered with ridiculous tiers of bureaucracy, that it’s all beyond changing for us – with the exception of our Santa Claus moment in the booth.
I want to argue that this isn’t true and that we have endangered our society by believing it.
Voting Without a Red Suit
You and I are always voting. Considered in this light, the presidential election may be the least significant (these days) in terms of across-the-board impact.
What do I mean? Mainly, I mean two things:
- You are voting with your cash. Where do you spend your money, and for what? Money represents the stored value of our sweat. Every time we spend money somewhere, we are trading a little piece of our lives – of our hearts, perhaps – for something we value more, whether we think we value that thing so highly or not. That stored value accumulates in the accounts of those from whom we buy, and the combined power of several hundred million of us doing this at once creates and shapes the economy of our day. Never mind Executive Orders! If a substantial group of Americans decided that next month they would buy food from local farmers and organic outfits, sacrificing a bit of time and money to avoid big-box chains that buy from slave labor in Asia and South/Central America, the big-box chains would take a hit. If we sustained that practice for a bit longer, they would change their model (or go out of business) due to economic pressure. Not to mention the fact that the giant agri-businesses most of us have come to despise would face the same situation.
- You are voting with your time. What do you do with your time? What do you study? Where do you go? What initiatives do you support with the effort of your hands, feet and mouth? Do you spend a lot of time in front of a screen, contributing to ratings and ad revenue? Do you grow food? Do you teach sustainable practices and life skills to others? Do you work at some sort of practice that enriches your community? Do you learn about your local leaders (or become one)?
These things – time and money – are in the ballot box with you every day, all the time, and you are filling in the dots whether you like it or not. The responsibility for creating the kind of community we want to live in is none but our own, and the society we do live in is a testimony to our long-term abdication of that important duty. We have taken on debt, supported huge slave-labor outfits and fast-food joints, curled up with our individual entertainment screens and locked our neighbors out, and we have the audacity to complain about our outrageously profligate government, our corner-cutting and corrupt corporations, our non-sustainable infrastructure, our isolation from each other and the lack of ‘service’ in our customer service.
Living in the body – this body, not another – means owning up to our responsibility for the choices we have made and will make, and thinking through the way we live for the sake of future generations. Santa Claus is a phony, whether he’s stuck in the chimney or in the pregnant chads.
So I encourage you, like the dead folks and ACORN members in the last election, to vote early and often. But if you want your vote to count, vote where it counts.
You will be more human, and you will be more happy.