(This post was originally published on November 1, 2016 on Progressive Spectrum.)
Does anyone remember Tuesday, November 4, 2008?
I remember where I was. It had been a long day at school for me. I was a high school senior who was having a tough time (but that’s another story!) and had returned with my father from voting. Had I only been five months older, I would have joined him in the booth, not as an observer but as a full-fledged voter. Being that I was only seventeen and was not interested in committing voter fraud, I instead egged my father to vote after coming home from work. Because he was a doctor who was on his feet all day, it took some doing to keep him awake and drive him to City Hall to fulfill his civic duty. But he could see the passion and pleading in my voice over the phone and thankfully assented to us going together.
Five months later, after jogging together on my eighteenth birthday, he and I walked to our little town hall together so we could cast our votes—my first ever—in our local town elections. It was an occasion he and I have both cherished ever since. But this all still lay in the future. Right now it is Tuesday, November 4, 2008.
Seeing as I could not vote in any election that year, I had mostly stayed out of the election process. It was a decision I’ve personally regretted since then. The titanic struggle between Senators Clinton and Obama showed me how glorious our country and democracy could be when people of all walks of life are stirred to action by voting and donating their time, money, and hearts to a cause higher than themselves. Elections—even this one—are not devoid of the sometimes vacuous charges, aspersions, and manipulations we’ve become cynically accustomed to, but they generally leave everyone at the end with the sense that the voice of the people—those who vote anyway—have genuinely heard. Ranks close, partisanship falls, and the work of governing can fully begin.
As that evening progressed I sleepily watched the results as they played out on the television screen and a new president was ceremoniously and solemnly declared for the whole world to hear and see. Most people felt that this story could only happen to America, but I disagree with that notion, as I’ll explain later. For me, all I knew then was that tomorrow was just another day of school for me, where I would hear the story of my older friends who were able to tell me they met their constitutional duty and voted for the first time.
Seldom do moments of great historical import pass without people gauging their place as to when they heard. September 11, 2001, the JFK assassination, and the attack on Pearl Harbor are those that quickly come to mind. But there are those such as the first moon landing, the new millennium, and, yes, the election of President Barack Obama that should be proof positive that those moments need not be sad or tragic for us to indelibly etch them in our minds. How proud I am that in that sleepy state as a seventeen-year-old, I could place that moment in my heart where it shall remain for me to forever recall as long as I live.
Looking back, I am struck by a sincere sadness that that moment did not portend better things to come. The elections of 2010, the Citizens United ruling, DACA, and the worldwide economic downturn all changed my perspective from that cold and damp November day. I have voted, but with a heavy heart every time. I have participated in my share of elections, but not with the vigor I would have thought that day would have instilled in me. Perhaps I thought there was something wrong with me. I knew that I looked to my leaders, expecting their leadership on a host of issues, but I always came away feeling rather disowned by their actions. That all changed in 2014 with the help of a woman by the name of Professor Teachout.
Participating in that campaign as I did (only for the last week), I got a ground-floor view to politics that most people seldom know and that no one watching the television on election night would see. The turnout in that election, by the way: a nominal but measly ~10%. Lesson: participation counts! From there on, I worked from the tack of engaging people directly through conversation, argument, and persuasion. I can happily report that although not all the results are in, I have changed some minds, learned some key insights, and will continue on this line so long as it does not fail me!
Arriving at this year, I am struck—as all must be—by the loss of tenor and civility on both sides of the campaign. Let me just state here that although this is not a vote of endorsement or condemnation on one candidate or another, this is a vote of no confidence in our political system as it stands now. I will of course vote, as many others will, but not with the same feeling I had that first time that it will really accomplish much other than having my vote placed on record.
This may seem blasphemous to some, unpatriotic to others. However, when you come right down to it, how many among us would say that our democratic system is truly in a good state as it stands? In our post-Citizens United world, I’m with my father in the opinion that our ever-fragile democracy “is in the ICU at the moment.” The questions we must all ask ourselves is:
After this election, what are you going to do about it?
Sure, we all have our daily lives to live; we all have our problems. Nobody is asking you to give any money or time to any cause. My only plea is that you think about the alternatives to and possibilities of our political system. If you’re just like me, you won’t remember this year’s election night as fondly as I did eight years ago. But the question remains:
What are you willing to do so elections of the future don’t end this way?