Message to my American friends. Please vote.

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It is election time in the States and some of my political friends are posting on facebook text-in-box images that say that voting is legitimizing whatever government gets elected and that the better thing to do is not vote.

I grew up hearing that if you don’t vote you don’t have a right to complain about the winner. You could have done your part to change it, but you didn’t. But now the opposite argument is in play, at least within certain circles. Now I’m hearing people say that if you do vote then you don’t have a right, because you have agreed to “play the game” and thus are obliged to recognize whomever is the winner of the game. I want to look at that second argument. I think it is nuts.

Not voting does not delegitimize the winner of the election. Sure, the morning after Harper (the Canadian Prime Minister) got elected there were people throwing around numbers about what minuscule percentage of the population actually voted for him, and how he really doesn’t have the support of Canada, but guess what? That hasn’t mattered in the slightest. It hasn’t prevented him carrying out his agenda and nor will a low voter turnout impede the ability of the winner of the election from taking action. There is no mechanism by which they can say, hey, voter turnout was too low, the election doesn’t count. Maybe there should be one. But there isn’t.

Not voting doesn’t provide any sort of alternative option for who should control the government or how the country should be organized outside of the government. Not voting does nothing.

Some argue that voting for the lesser of two evils is still choosing to support an evil. I say get real. The lesser of two evils is still less evil.  In the style of first year university philosophy classes everywhere I will ask: if there’s twenty people drowning and you have two options. One option will save five people and the other will save ten, would you really throw up your hands and say it doesn’t matter which choice because either way we won’t be able to save everyone? Of course not.  Don’t throw away the extra you can get by voting for the lesser evil.

Go for the less evil choice right now and then get involved in politics and yank that choice further towards justice. Write regular letters to your politicians. Volunteer for them. There was an article a while back about homeschooler’s becoming Republican foot soldiers, and Republican nominees wooing the homeschool movement because they knew that if they could get the homeschoolers on board the families would go door to door for them, make phone calls and basically put their time, money and energy into supporting that candidate. So homeschoolers counted to the nominees. If we want to count to our candidates, we have to show them we have something to give! If we throw up our hands and say we won’t even bother voting for them, then wow… we completely cease to exist to them. They will go woo some other demographic.

Get involved in politics! According to a recent article on Daily Kos the Democrats have been chasing the Republican policies, copying them, in an effort to improve electability.

Year by year, as the Republican Party has occupied fewer and fewer moderate positions, compromise with the Republican Party has mean incorporating into the Democratic Party positions that are right of center. Sometimes far to the right. In a sort of Zeno’s Paradox of Politics, halfway to the Republicans is a point that’s constantly shifting away, and reaching it requires ever more compromise of the original Democratic position.

So the Democrats aren’t who they should be. They’ve moved right. They moved away from the ideals. But they can move back. They need to move back. Vote for them. Elect them. Then get involved at the local levels and make sure your local Democratic candidates know that you want them to be more courageous. Show them that electability comes by moving left, not further right.

The purity that people might think they have by keeping their hands clean of the issue and not voting is imaginary. There’s no brownie points for it. It doesn’t transform the system. It doesn’t improve anything.

There’s an article on the Daily Kos about why arguments against voting fail, and it ends with a list of why you should vote. So I’ll suggest you go there.

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  • Renee C.

    It’s kind of sad when a party has to “appear” to shift right or left just to get votes. You know that the underlying ideology is the same and that they’ll push their agenda through regardless if they come to power. If everyone just voted with the party that best represents their own ideology, then the majority truly would rule and the policies put in place would reflect the ideology of the majority. There’s a bit of a problem on both sides: 1. the political parties try to figure out how to get votes and manipulate the masses into thinking they are closer to the centre than they really are; and 2. voters try to manipulate the outcome through (what they think is) “strategic voting” or non-voting in this case.

    And then there’s the people that don’t vote at all… Don’t even get me started!

    People around the world are dying trying to establish a democratic process and we thumb our noses at ours. It’s really sad actually…

    • christyk

      I don’t think the parties just appear to have shifted left or right to get votes, I think both parties in the states actually did shift further right. I think as the Republican party shifted right there were probably moderates who moved into the Democratic party, and the Democratic party shifted some of its policies. More, I think there’s just been a big shift in public conversation… which ideas get promoted, which things are taken as “common sense” and the public in general has shifted further right. There’s a bunch of right wing think tanks that publish lots. The right wing are organized to a much greater extent than the left, so their ideas get circulated. People talk about taxes and politics as bad things. They embrace the idea that government = evil and even democrats start talking about reducing the size of goverment.

  • Renee C.

    It does seem like the right is far more organized and funded than the left in the States. Perhaps the same could be said for Canada? When I was making my statements about “appearing” to shift, I was thinking about Canada. I’ve been in a constant state of dismay since S.H. has been PM. I literally cannot look at his face when I’m watching the news. I want to wipe that little smirk off of his face. I feel incredulous about the last election results (the majority win) in the same way I felt incredulous about George W. getting 2 terms, kwim? I’ve done a lot of work as an academic in the field of social justice, so I’m totally interested in all of your posts around social justice issues. I really should start weighing in more.

  • christyk

    In Canada it might be more of an appearance than an actual shift to the right. I don’t know on that. I certainly don’t believe that Harper’s majority is actually representative of what the majority of Canadians want.

    I would love to hear about your work as an academic! If you ever want to a guest post here on that, you’re welcome to it.

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