The Unbearable Lightness of Voting

The institution of the vote is a time of potential renewal. Our nation will shed some of its old skin in favor of new patches; in other parts, dependable scales will remain in place. In this way, our old democracy breathes new life into itself, resurrecting a covenant between our nationís citizens for another two years.

But as we reach out our hands to pull the voting lever (or punch the card, or tap the keypad) some of us will be overcome with the disheartening melancholy of indeterminism, the inescapable feeling that this vote, like all the ones before, will have only a slight impact upon our nation, a tiny shuffle instead of a rousing leap. We have become accustomed to this bitter war of inches, a slight but bloody struggle over which we lose our hearts and sometimes our minds. Our collective shoulders are levied against a huge, unyielding rock that we call America, and at most we can hope for a budge.

I suspect that this feeling is mutual across the ideological divide. In our minds we are screaming, shouting at walls of opposition. Weíve heard the same words so many times. Weíve felt the same indignation so many years before. Our hopes, reflected back with smiles and handshakes by the politicians we line up to support, are fragile wish-things. We expect to have them dashed. Rarely do we find disappointment in this apprehension.

Still, we vote. Half of our dream is better than none. We play our hand for the long game, the idea that through slow, torturously unrewarding steps we might achieve a greater good in the long run. We throw ourselves against the unyielding rock again and again, we lean in with full force and grit our teeth with determination. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe it will be.

I often hear the reliable chestnut that goes, ďIf you donít vote you donít have a right to complain.Ē Itís an easy platitude to swallow, and it should be true, but at some level it isnít. There are plenty of things we donít do that we complain about. We donít have to participate in a process to understand its flaws. In a democracy, we should all vote, but I can not completely blame those who do not, at least not those who reject the responsibility out of an honest feeling of disenfranchisement, or simply because they are tired. Iíd like these stray citizens to try something new, to vote for someone unusual, or to consider running themselves. But the action is theirs to take, and people rarely change their minds by being told to do so.

The clinically depressed have been known to find the mere act of getting out of bead each day to be tremendously taxing. Facing another day of emptiness is sometimes too much to bear. Crushing daily mediocrity can grind down a life, and rob hearts of belief in a better day. I imagine that some citizens have made the acquaintance of a political sibling to depression, a state of mind in which the mere thought of political activism in the face of a monolithic and unmovable status-quo is simply too much to overcome.

I have no doubt that many of us have touched this plane, but like me, most have found the will to push away from it. Some have fallen in, and maybe a few of them are here with us, reading these words. But though we may not be able to expect all of the changes we desire, our vote remains our best and brightest hope of change in this republic of ours. Although the battle never seems to end, and the rock continues to appear immovable, we have to continue to push, because sometimes the rock that is America does budge, and in that budging we may inch a bit closer to the dreams that we hold dear. After all, what other choice do we have? Half of our dream is better than none.

Posted by Damon Dimmick at July 31, 2004 11:54 PM