Saturday, October 28, 2006

How Can Anyone Not Vote?

This is my least favorite time of year, for several reasons. I'm no fan of Halloween, but not for reasons that stem from religious beliefs or anything like that. Halloween conjurs up childhood memories of the holiday, and they almost always ended in tears as my brother and his evil henchmen friends took joy in smashing my jack-o-lanterns. Sounds silly now, I know. But I never understood why he found delight in destruction, especially of something I made. I feign enthusiasm each year, though, because my kids love this holiday and the creepiness of it. We decorate, dress up, gorge. In the end, it's all good.

This is also the beginning of the season of loss for me, and I'd know it was upon me even without the convenience of a calendar. I lost my son and my mother in the month of November and well, there's really nothing more to say about it. Words are powerful, sometimes as much for what they cannot say as for what they express.

And ads. Politically oriented ads, automated phone calls, and commercials have me insane with disgust. These mudslinging campaigns are tiresome; they bring out the worst in all candidates, regardless of platform. By the time Election Day rolls around, I don't like any of my options. That ugly nature of politics today makes it nearly impossible for anyone to run a clean campaign that focuses on a candidate's positive aspects. To do so is certain death. Instead, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars exaggerating and flat-out lying about their opponents' past while simultaneously trying to defend their own. It's up to us voters to do our own research and sort the truth from the garbage. It requires time most of us don't have and effort we don't feel like putting forth.

And yet the option is unthinkable: Believe what each candidate has to say about the other and take their remarks at face value. Yeah, I don't think so. And as fed up as I get every year (and admittedly, have remained throughout the entire Bush administration), I wouldn't even so much as entertain the idea of not voting. To vote is to express hope for something better, brighter, more representative of our interests and needs. It is a simple gesture that holds great meaning, a ritual that, in and of itself, is motivated by a desire for something much greater than ourselves. To vote is to believe.

And yet, not everyone who can, votes. Voting has never been easier or more convenient. Do it early. Do it while you're away. Do it on Election Day. Doesn't matter how or when you do it, just that you do it. When someone tells me s/he doesn't vote, it's all I can do not to slap the mouth that uttered those dirty words. I can't understand why anyone would give away one of the few powers we as individual Americans have left to wield. Especially women. In 1776, Abigail Adams reminded her esteemed husband to "Remember the Ladies" as he and his cronies worked on developing the Declaration of Independence. He blew her off by telling her the Declaration specifically stated that all "men" are created equal.

Throughout most of the following century, woman was forced to conform to a society that inducted her into the Cult of Domesticity. Her role was that of nurturer, housewife, upholder of family morality. Forget her own ambitions and desires, and God forbid she use that brain of hers. I surely would have been in prison on First Degree Murder had I lived in the 1800s. Lizzie Borden and her ax would have had nothin' on me.

The struggle for women's suffrage continued into the twentieth century, and it wasn't until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution. It took more than one hundred years of struggle, sacrifice, sweat, marginalization, ostracism, and sheer determination for women to enjoy the right to be heard. And yet there are those today who do not vote for one reason or another. To me, that is the epitome of hopelessness and defeat.

As long as there is breath running through me, I won't give up hope. As much as I abhor the negativity and ugliness of American political campaigns, I won't let that deter me from exercising my right (while I still have it) to have a say in who represents me. To neglect my duty as a voter would be to dishonor the struggle of the hundreds of thousands of women--and enlightened men--who allowed me this voice. If I don't vote, I have no right to complain or dissent or engage in civil disobedience. Where would that leave me?

I tried the Cult of Domesticity; doesn't work for me. And with all its flaws and foibles, the voting system we have in place beats the bunzolas off not having one at all. Miscounts, hanging chads, mysteriously misplaced ballots...there's definitely evil at work here, no doubt. Still. Hope is where it's at for me.

How about you?