About a month ago, I made a promise that I’d get back to hitting on the serious issues in this column, and I figure it’s about time to deliver.
Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2000.
Right now, I can’t think of anything more important than what’s going to happen on that day. Nothing. Ever since I’ve been old enough to vote I’ve gone to the polls. Even when I felt like I was being given a nose-assaulting choice between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dumber, I still dutifully trudged through wind and rain, outrunning packs of wild dogs and fending off gangs of predatory thugs, to make my way to that lonely beacon of light at the end of the road — the polling place. Anyway, that’s the way I remember it. A few details may have been fudged, but mostly it’s all true.
The point is that I was raised to participate in the voting process, even if I didn’t participate in anything else. I did my share of rebelling as a kid — probably more than my share — but the importance of voting was one of the lessons my parents managed to slip past my well-guarded, adult-repellant defense mechanisms. It was equally important to vote Democratic, I might add. I suspect that if I had ever entertained the idea of not voting, or of voting Republican, my parents would have traded me in for another model. Or dispatched me “with extreme prejudice” and made another one that looked just like me. Some sins simply were not permitted in the Owens household.
In this election, as tempted as I am to say whom you ought to vote for — and whom you’d have to be out of your damned mind to vote for — I’ll leave that one alone. I figure that by now even the so-called “undecideds” are secretly decided. So instead of wasting time going down that road, perhaps it might be more productive to slip in a word to those who have decided which candidate they think is cool, but who have also decided that their vote won’t make much difference anyway, so why bother? Or that there isn’t any significant difference between the two front-runners, so why bother? Or that one of the third-party candidates is the only one who really represents something worthwhile, but none of them have a demon’s prayer of winning, so ... why bother?
Here’s why you need to bother.
First of all, you live here. In the United States, that is. I realize some of you may have that broader view of being citizens of Earth, or even citizens of the universe, but let’s keep this thing just a tad more focused for the next week or so, OK? So. You live here. And just as screwed up as “here” may be, “here” is still home. And, by the way, if you really want to know what it is to live in a country — or territory — with problems, feel free to ask the Palestinians, the Israelis, the residents of Northern Ireland, the Native Americans, the Australian aborigines, the residents of any number of countries in post-colonial Africa, the people of India or Yugoslavia. Or just take your pick of so many more areas throughout the world that most folks haven’t even heard of.
Listen, I’ve read all the stories and heard all the arguments about how America is really controlled by the rich and powerful special interests — and there’s a lot of truth to those arguments, by the way — but there is only one way to counterbalance that: Vote and participate.
If you doubt that, and if you still honestly believe that votes don’t matter, then consider what would happen if every voting-age American who isn’t a member of a special-interest group woke up on Nov. 7, marched to the nearest polling place, and voted for Vice President Al Gore. Or for Gov. George Bush. Or for Ralph Nader. Or Pat Buchanan. I mean, imagine what would happen if every single voting-age American whose vote hadn’t already been purchased decided to cast his or her vote for the exact same candidate. The obvious answer is that candidate would win the race, but the point I’m trying to make is that there aren’t enough special-interest groups in existence to nullify an overwhelming majority determined to vote for a candidate.
And another thing. The only reason you don’t know enough about candidates to make a well-informed decision at this point — not just the two front-runners, but all of the candidates — is because you haven’t tried hard enough. If you care, then you’ll find out enough to make an informed decision, and you won’t be counted among the brain-dead who, when asked why they prefer one candidate over another, give answers such as “He just seems like a bully” or “He seems like a nice guy.” There are reasons not to vote for any one of the candidates in this race, but those aren’t examples of well-informed, intelligent reasoning. A monkey wearing a mortarboard and holding a diploma has about as much credibility.
What if, however, you don’t care what happens in this election? Congratulations! Lots of powerful people are counting on you, and have always counted on you, to keep things going their way. Know that you are well loved!
Look, the reason why most Americans aren’t truly represented in government is because most Americans don’t participate. Whatever the reasons for that voter apathy, the result is always the same, which is why the song remains the same, which is why we keep performing this same moronic dance year after year after year. And then complain about it.
I know, I know. You’ve probably heard that criticism before too. So change the music already. After all, it’s your jukebox.Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org