Voting Is Not the Most Important Thing

unclesamsmokesandvotesWhen political volunteers call my home hoping to “get out the vote”- and they do, they call, and they call, and they call—the junior high kid in me sometimes likes to say, “Nah. Voting’s not that important to me. Besides, I’ve been really busy sorting my rock collection.”

The volunteers, of course, go ballistic. To say I’m not going to vote—especially here in this “nasty man, nasty woman” presidential election—is social blasphemy. Worse. It’s as if I’d said I enjoy to kick kittens. To not vote is unthinkable, despicable, even unnatural. I must be anti-God, and a terrorist sympathizer.

(For the record, I have never in my long life kicked a kitten, though I confess I have, while wielding a broom, shooed grown cats away from our bird feeder, without, alas, lasting success.)

I will also confess, here privately, secretly, that I do actually vote. But I don’t wear that public cheerleader, “I voted” sticker. Here’s why: I’m (again, privately, secretly) in agreement with that otherwise blowhard candidate who claimed, “The election is rigged.”

Here’s how it’s rigged: First, they divide this beautifully diverse rainbow of 300 million multi-dimensional people into two basic colors: red and blue. (“They” being our political bosses, those who have reserved for themselves the mantel of authority to speak for, and accept the fruits of our long political traditions.) They then set up the voting machines—the voting systems—such that either a red or a blue will win the game.

“Hey wait,” about a third of we people holler. “I’m an independent thinker. I’m not just red or blue.”

“That’s perfectly okay,” the bosses say. “You just wait over there on the sidelines until the reds and blues decide who will be on the team, who will be on the ballot, and then after they decide, you can choose whichever red or blue you like best.”

The way the election is currently rigged a red or blue will win 99 times out of a 100. So if I vote red and my brother votes blue (or visa versa as the case happens to be) such voting has a very good chance of creating at least a little feeling of bad blood between my brother and me. By voting red or blue, I am forced to put distance between myself and my brother (or sister)—a distance which the current political system itself exacerbates, and in fact, feeds upon. It feels yucky.

And yet, obviously, at least on one level, voting red or blue is important. Everybody reminds us it’s one of our freedoms. And it’s how we do things. To not vote is to divorce ourselves from the current social commons. But voting, be it red or blue (or, just to make a statement, green or violet,) is in fact not the most important thing we can do with our lives, nor is it our most important freedom.

A more important freedom, at least in my view, even more important than voting, is the freedom to question our own mental and emotional “sacred cows,” and thus question long established (red and blue) authority. We are free to question whether the way we do things, the way we have things set up, truly does bring about the most good—the most justice, the most opportunity, the most voice– for the most number of people. When I question, I spontaneously balk at being herded into red and blue corrals. I question this way of doing things that has led to such divisiveness, that has led to feelings of bad blood between me and my brothers, my sisters. To question what has brought about this divisiveness seems to me a most necessary, and compassionate gesture.

So when I get the call asking if I voted, it seems to me (at least on occasion) an act of compassion to question this sacred cow. Of course, at one level it’s important to vote. But I occasionally need to remind myself, even remind my friends and strangers on the phone, that voting is not the most important thing—not the most practical thing—if I want to bring about more peace on earth, more justice, more equity, more compassion. The most practical thing seems to be the courage to question, myself and my society. Not just the easy questions. But the hard ones. Like how did my brothers and I, my sisters and I, become so nasty to each other? What changes do we need to make so that it won’t happen again, the way it happened this time?

I wish I had the answers. I don’t. But I do have some of the questions.

Time, I guess, here a day before election day, to go turn in my ballot. And then what should I do?

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