I know, P. Diddy invented that phrase—"Vote or die!"—back in '04, and I know we're mostly Tupac fans out here, but the man has a point. It's a crucial time in history right now, and yet again I'm hearing so many intelligent, educated people profess a lack of understanding of what our political system really is or how it works or, worst of all, whether it's even worth voting. This is your wake-up call!
It's so easy to fall into complacency; we live a life of unimaginable ease compared to so much of the world. But that world is there, it's real. Maybe instead of a beach somewhere in the tropics, take your next vacation to a country without a representative democracy, where people are beaten for expressing political views and tortured and murdered for speaking out against their government. There are probably a hundred of them—take your pick. Bet you won't skip an election after that.
Time after time I hear that it's no use voting, that the parties are the same. Where does that idea come from? For starters, do the powers that be want you to vote? No! That's how they keep their power, instead of having to share it with you. So they saturate you with messages from their media outlets about the minor, titillating scandals of each party and portray a hopeless mess of government where it's all the same and you can't trust anybody so you might as well stay home. Is this supported by the facts?
Do you like the solar panels and hybrid cars that you see more and more of every day? Thank a voter and a politician for passing the tax credits and funding to make them possible. Do you like the wide-open nature of our Sonoma and Marin coasts instead of shopping malls and hotels and gas stations? Thank a voter and a politician for passing laws to protect them. Would you like to see oil drilling rigs just off the shore? Don't vote, and they'll appear. Do you like the Tea Party's message? Don't vote, and they'll get more representation in local and federal government, and you'll see laws that reflect their ideology.
I could spend hours arguing about the accomplishments of the party of my choice, from increased education funding to more stringent protections of our food and air and water to decreased military spending to fairer systems of taxation to keeping jobs in our communities. The list goes on and on.
But what I really want to stress even more is that, yes, there is a difference. Check out the legislative record of your senators at OpenCongress.org. Make up your own mind about who you want writing your laws and spending your money. Remember, these people don't just appear on your TV and talk and argue and hypothesize; when the cameras turn off, they actually pass laws that shape our world and spend billions of our dollars, be it on books, hospitals, bombs or oil wells. And they only get to do that because you and I and our friends and neighbors vote for them. Or . . . we don't.
Am I satisfied with the way things are? Am I writing glowing endorsements of the performance of the people for whom I voted two years ago? No, but I'm not going to quit and take my ball and go home, pretending to not understand the incredible complexity of running a nation of 300 million people, a state of 40 million people and a county of 500,000 people—simultaneously. Did I mention that many of those people disagree vehemently with each other?
Democracy is not easy or perfect or pretty. It's hard work. If you want to keep your all-American, sunny-California, wine country life, you have to work for that, too. And that means participating in this democracy, not only by voting—a monkey can do that—but also by thinking, reading, investigating and really taking a stock of ownership in this society. Or don't—your choice. Just remember, riots and tear gas and tanks in the streets can happen here, too.
Erik Morse taught social studies in Sonoma County for seven years. He currently works for the Harmony Festival.