The passage of another election day, with a half empty ballot to contemplate, gives me cause to wonder....and worry.
Sarah, a forty something housecleaner, teenage waitress Wendy, Billy the auto mechanic, Elliot, a retired civil servant and his wife Susan, a used to be hairdresser: these ordinary folks, and many others like them who’ve crossed my path recently, have shaken my confidence in the viability of the grand American experiment.
I hold these folks to be typical American citizens, salt of the earth, honest hard working people who, if it weren’t for one characteristic they have in common, would bring a smile to my face and a warm sense of community to my heart. That one terribly disheartening commonality: They don’t vote!
The catalog of excuses, explanations and justifications for this sad fact includes; a weak smile with a shrug, “I don’t vote,” “I’m not a voter,” “I’m not registered” and “I don’t know anything about politics.” To this I usually respond with a non-judgmental suggestion that there are important issues at stake, issues that their self-interest argues for participation. I have no data indicating such encouragement has actually caused someone to register or vote. Maybe I’m going about this all wrong.
In his inaugural address John F. Kennedy said “…ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Perhaps it would be more effective if I appealed to a citizen’s responsibility to the nation as the rationale for participating in elections.
It should be increasingly obvious to anyone paying attention to national political developments that our democracy is hurting. The important underpinnings of democracy, well articulated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, have been systematically attacked by the Executive, Congress and sometimes even by the courts over the past several years. Recognizing that damage, let’s agree America needs an infusion of democracy!
Using JFK’s formulation we can state that as citizens of America we are responsible for defending and repairing the Constitution. We, each one of us, are responsible for keeping our democracy healthy. So, what will you do for democracy?
I’ve devoted time and energy to protecting the integrity of our elections. My niche in this larger effort is stopping electronic voting machines and the privatization of election administration. There are many other opportunities for contribution. See: www.nyvv.org , www.wheresthepaper.org , www.citizenactionny.org/ , or www.blackboxvoting.org .
For the sake of our nation, and for our children, vote, and then find your place in the struggle to defend democracy. Democracy is something you do!