Aristotle famously said that “man is by nature a political animal.”
I think most people would cringe at being labeled anything close to political these days. Just look at our voter turnout–people have clearly not made being a participant in a democracy an important part of their identity. Certainly not with the same fervor as how they identify with their favorite sports teams.
Many people see politics as this annoying, faraway thing that looks like a gnarled mess to avoid. We neglect to recognize the politics in our personal lives. Negotiating terms and conditions in our relationships, in the workplace, or perhaps with our neighbors. We don’t think of our communication skills or compromising or building consensus with others as anything particularly political. We all have opinions, and we have something to say about taxes and schools and the pot holes in the roads–yet so many of us will be quick to point out that we don’t like politics.
People don’t vote.
Americans get offended by the concept of “freeloaders.” Anti-immigrant rhetoric grows and spreads with zero-sum mentality: immigrants will come and get free handouts, and somehow we will lose something.
There is the rhetoric of demonzing “welfare moms” and pushing for drug testing because of course the children of addicts should definitely pay for their freeloading and irresponsible parents.
There are the assumptions that raising the minimum wage will give people something they do not deserve or didn’t work hard enough for. We like the idea of a business making more money, but the idea of a worker making more money makes us suspicious. They didn’t work hard enough. They might be freeloading.
Americans believe that freeloading is anti-American. Unpatriotic. The lowest form of low.
Football players get bashed for taking a knee.
Those who oppose reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are shamed for not supporting the military (not sure where the connection happens between the two).
People take their hats off during the National Anthem at a sports game and they get teary eyed over the lyrics, “ o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”
But they don’t like politics.
And they don’t vote.
They don’t consider the idea that by not voting, you aren’t pulling your weight as a participant in a democracy.
You are basically getting your liberties for free. You’re a democracy freeloader if you are eligible to vote and do not.
I think of a classroom. Or any time at work when you’ve done a group project and there were people not helping or equitably contributing. How outraged that made you feel to have to carry “dead weight.” How draining it is to work with freeloaders.
Americans hate freeloaders–at least when others are doing the freeloading.
I know people who vote against welfare and minimum wage increases and demonize homelessness and talk about all the parasitic people in society and their handouts– yet their own children had been the recipients of public assistance.
They don’t see it though. It’s always about the other freeloaders. We use our cognitive dissonance all day long to convince ourselves that it is never about us. It’s always about “them.”
I’m really interested in why Americans so apathetic about democracy.
We say that we love it, and we invade other countries to “spread” it. But when I look at the numbers, I would say we’re fairly indifferent about our freedoms. Or at the very least don’t understand it.
In 2014 (the last midterm election), voter turnout was the lowest since WW2 with just 36.4% of eligible voters coming out. In 2016 during our last presidential election, only 55% of eligible voters cast a ballot, the lowest in 20 years. Voter turnout is considerably less for state and local elections.
What would you think if on the day of the last game during the World Series, or on the day of the Super Bowl, only filled ⅓- ½ of the stadiums were filled? The most important games of the year, half-empty. How would you react to seeing that?
You might have serious concerns about the future of those sports.
But most of the masses don’t bat an eye when only a ⅓ of voting age people participate in choosing our national legislature. You know, picking the people who make the LAWS.
I wonder how many people could tell you the names of the representatives on their local school boards, or who is in the city council, or even knows who represents them in the state legislature.
All of these elected officials are making policies that affect our daily lives, yet they are nameless to a huge portion of the masses.
I’m not an expert on the French Revolution, but I know that people with money weren’t paying taxes. Heavily regressive tax schemes led to an increase in social and economic inequalities. This collided with bad harvests and the deregulation of the grain industry, and as people did not have enough food to eat, it inflamed resentment toward the aristocracy and Catholic clergy. Did you know there was even a women’s March on Versailles in October of 1789, with over 7,000 women showing up? The next few years were a series of political struggles between liberal assemblies and the right-wing. The Jacobins were considered a “radical wing” during this time, because they advocated for a very crazy idea of having a REPUBLIC. Super scandalous.
Does any of this sound familiar? Does it sound far-fetched now that we are talking about it outside of the boring history class you took once-upon-a-time?
But here is the scary thing. Most people during the French Revolution were not inspired by the Enlightenment ideas of the time. Voltaire and Rousseau argued for reason over faith. Locke and Rousseau mapped out social contracts. Montesquieu made the case for separation of powers.
There were were many other major thinkers of the time, but their ideas were not necessarily inspiring to the commoners.
It was the food. Or rather, the lack of food.
Is that what it takes to move humans?
Sports and food?
Do we have to be on the brinks of starvation before we revolt against an oppressive and greedy system that robs us of our humanity and exploits our labor?
I wonder if Americans are passive about our role in democracy because we were excluded from the creation of the much-revered Constitution. The Framers were “well-read, well-bred, and well-fed.” The masses were none of the above.
The Framers would probably laugh at us today. Maybe they were right. Why should they have included us peasants in the formation of a new country when the majority of us wouldn’t even bother to vote.
I often wonder about the future. People. Our communities, my great-great-great grandchildren. I wonder what the world will look like. I hope that we will learn the lessons from the past and fix our mistakes, but I fear we are like hamsters stuck in a neverending wheel, just spinning around and around and around making the same stupid mistakes.
Should we wait for bad harvests to send us scrambling for answers and action?
Should we wait until there isn’t enough bread?
Do we wait until we are killing each other?
Whether you want to admit it or not, we are political animals. You can’t escape a fate that was already determined when you took that first gasp of air outside of your mother’s womb. We live together in this so-called democracy; we were born into this social contract. We have competing interests and wants and needs and somehow we have to reconcile everything in a way that allows us each to live safely while protecting our personal liberties.
Thomas Jefferson said we had a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I think we have the right to life, liberty, and protecting that liberty.
Vote like your seat at the table depends on it. Vote like your bread depends on it. Vote like your children’s lives depend on it. Vote like your drinking water depends on it. Vote like love depends on it. Vote like your grandmother depends on it. Vote like your dogs and cats depend on it. Vote like your home depends on it.
Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote.
If you can’t vote, march. Protest. Write letters. Go to meetings. Meet like-minded people. Precinct walk. Volunteer for organizations that advocate for causes close to your heart. Volunteer to register voters. Get to know your elected officials. Join campaigns. Find journalism that resonates with you. Share knowledge with respectful dialogue. Mobilize people to support your cause. Actually, even if you can vote, do these things too.
Or just vote.
You’re more likely to vote if you have a plan. If you’re voting tomorrow, when will you go? How will you get there? Do you know where to go?
I think you should treat yourself to something special after you cast that ballot, because you will have contributed to our democracy and that’s worth celebrating. You weren’t a freeloader. You did your part. And when you’ve done your part, you should talk about it. We learn by talking to each other. Storytelling is important. We fight passivity and apathy by looking it right in the face and using our words to spin a new narrative.
A narrative in which the percentage of votes cast in an election is just as impressive as a sold-out Super Bowl game.
It’s that important. We’re that important.
Remind your friends. Drive your grandparents. Ask your colleagues if they voted. Post on social media. Remind your adult children, especially the young adults. Let them know how important their voices are.
Your vote matters.
Thank you in advance for participating. Your investment in our democracy matters.