With this election season nearing its inevitable end, I’d like to reflect upon what I consider to be our privileged civic duty, voting. As such, I agree with poet Robert Frost, “thinking isn’t agreeing or disagreeing. That’s voting.” And in the words of President John F. Kennedy, “the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” Lastly, famous American author Louis L’Amour may have summed it up best when he stated, “to make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”
My first Presidential Election was in 2000. To be honest, I vaguely remember the specifics of the day I voted for that or the 2004 election (Bush both times). In 2008 campaigning changed and social media dominance proved to play a big part. It was in 2008 that I truly got excited about voting. I couldn’t wait! Regardless of what you may personally think of President Obama, his 2008 campaign is more than a historical footnote. So many people, for and against, rallied at the polls and truly changed the voting landscape.
In 2008 I remember having to absentee vote for the first time. This year, Halloween was my day of choice. I was so excited to early vote. I went to the Putnam County Courthouse and joined the short line of people to vote on the one machine that was available. I sat in the hallway among the few others that gathered to do the same. It was casual and calm, the quaintness of the setting, relaxing and endearing. In the moments that I waited to vote I dreamily thought about how wonderful a feeling one can sometimes truly feel in being an American citizen.
When I was younger growing up in Jamaica I remember how unsafe it was during election time. They would literally paint seemingly any available space in the colors of the two primary political parties. Green and orange. People wore the colors (or didn’t in order to not be attacked by someone of the other party) and many seemed only to vote based on little information. Their votes were sometimes bought or coerced.
As it neared election time my grandparents would ensure that I was out of the downtown area before dark. At the time, I was fearful but thought that it was the norm of elections. It was not uncommon to hear about fights breaking out, people bloodied or even killed within two or three miles of where I was in town. Looking back on it now I suppose I was right to be afraid. The day of the election I was generally not permitted to be anywhere close to the busy downtown. Rather, I was comfortably kept in the suburbs where news of violence came through casual conversation by passersby. I can only assume that that experience has left me somewhat numb and disconnected to similar and worse incidents in other parts of the world. Voting seemed like a barbarous event and I was certainly uninterested in the process.
When I reentered the US and started school things changed. There was a sense of idealism that the voting process seemed to inspire. I felt as though I was being indoctrinated, taught about our Forefathers, the importance of voting, its history, its privilege. At that time I voted for the first time in school elections, using the old punch card system. Standing in line and taking part seemed like such fun. Even then I began to feel like what I was doing was an important thing. I blissfully knew nothing on the specifics of the Electoral College or how disenfranchised we are. In school every vote was counted, every vote mattered.
As I wrote in my last article, I can’t understand how hundreds of years later we still have this archaic system in place. My vote is no less or more important than the next person. And yet it is. Regardless, I still vote. I vote because it is my duty as an American citizen. I vote because of love of country. I vote because no matter how you slice it, both good and bad, the United States of America is my home, my love, and my heart. Yes, the economy is awful and the natural disasters devastating, but in the moments we are down and seemingly out, that is when Americans can be at their best. How can you not come to tears and be filled with pride in seeing so many people waiting in hours long lines in order to vote? How could you not be touched by the outpouring of support and aide that the entire country has given to the victims of Hurricane Sandy?
If you didn’t take part in this year’s Presidential Election don’t let it pass you again. Local, state, federal, as magazine editor George Jean Nathan once said, “bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
This article appeared on page 5A in the 11/14/12 issue of The Union-Recorder.