Four reasons you should be a voter this year
In 1964, 96 percent of registered voters came out to the polls on Election Day to participate in what would be one of the greatest shellackings in U.S. presidential history, as Lyndon B. Johnson collected over 61 percent of the popular vote and carried 45 of the 50 states.
Perhaps this near-obliteration convinced most of the voting populace that they could take the next five decades off, as turnout has declined steadily since then, with the exception of a slight uptick that propelled Barack Obama into his first term in office in 2008.
Internationally, our turnout rates for national elections are abysmal, trailing the likes of Estonia, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Czech Republic.
With the May 17 primary just around the corner and a massive general election looming on the horizon, every single of-age American citizen should be deeply engaged in the democratic process this year. Here are four reasons why.
1 Voting is an amazing thing.
Voting kind of gets a bad rep nowadays, and it is an easy target. In a contest in which, literally, hundreds of millions of ballots are cast, can one vote really make a difference?
No, it cant. Especially with our antiquated system, in which the ultimate decision is actually made by the members of the Electoral College. Not to mention that, thanks to different time zones, the winner is often evident before the polls have even closed here on the West Coast.
But, thats not the point. Human endeavors have never been about the actions of a single person, but of many. The sound of two hands clapping is a minor irritation, but the sound of thousands doing it is deafening.
Thats what voting is about: not one, singular vote making a difference, but millions of people joining their voices together, in the hopes of making an impact on their future.
And, despite its flaws, and yes, there are many, that such a thing as a democratic election even exists is a pretty amazing thing. Because, through most of human history, going back to the days of early Elder Statesman Og the Neanderthal and his son John Quincy Ogsson, peaceful, democratic elections has not been the typical way that regimes exchange power.
In case youre not a history buff, spoiler alert: Its traditionally been less Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and more Game of Thrones, minus the dragons and ice zombies.
Most of the time, the ruler has been whoever had the biggest rock, followed by whoever had the biggest sword, then gun, then army and so forth, until someone with a bigger rock/sword/gun/army came along. And when a usurper did show up, a frank debate over the relative merits of policy and principles was usually not an accurate description of what ensued.
So, yes, however bitter and nasty the words might be that are exchanged between candidates and their supporters in the coming weeks, the fact that on Jan. 20, 2017, the most powerful office in the world will transfer from one democratically elected person to another democratically elected person, and that the transfer will be a peaceful one, is a truly incredible thing worth celebrating.
2 Things are not actually that bad.
Speaking of human nature, we have this tendency to remember the past as better than it really was. There are entire industries that have been grown up to exploit this phenomenon.
It is often called nostalgia in the context of family game nights or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it also applies to how people remember the United States and its politics 40, 50 and 60 years ago.
In short, we tend to think America was better in the past and has since gone downhill. A certain GOP frontrunner has basically built his campaign on nothing but affirming that this thought is true.
Except it isnt. And if you disagree, tell me, where do we take our Magic School Bus to find this utopian period of peace and prosperity in American history?
To the 1980s, when a severe recession nearly derailed the U.S. economy, causing unemployment rates in some areas to spike as high as 25 percent, and when President Reagan narrowly dodged an indictment for overseeing the secret sale of arms to Iran?
Or maybe to the 1960s, when millions were protesting for civil rights legislation and against the Vietnam War, and when two of the most prominent voices of their generation for cooperation and unity Martin Luther King Jr. and then-President John F. Kennedy were gunned down by political extremists?
So maybe we should go back 20 more years, to the post-war, Greatest Generation. No doubt, we who call the U.S. home today owe much to the men and women who called it home then. But, before we camp here, lets ask that black working-class family living in Hattiesburg, Miss., if they have a similarly rosy view of this particular period of American history.
Point is, Doomsday is not nigh. Yes, there are many problems and dangers facing our country, currently and in the immediate future. But thats how its always been.
America has survived the ages, not because weve been spared from calamity and catastrophes, but because we have endured and triumphed over calamity and catastrophes.
3 You do have power.
To those who still believe the people dont have any power in the face of entrenched government and huge corporations, Id like to ask them what they think happened to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video when the people decided they preferred Redbox and Netflix? Those were two huge, powerful corporations, too, and they crumpled within a couple years.
We have the power to change our world. If we really want to. If we really think its important enough to merit the sacrifice of our time and talents it would take.
I know the excuses, because Ive believed them, too. The thing is, just like political strife and division, excuses have always been there. Those whom we look back on as changing their worlds for the better did so because they refused to settle for the excuses or take them at face value.
Its not just wrong; its a hilarious joke to suggest that people dont have power.
The combined force of a group of informed, dedicated, hard-working and determined people is the greatest power the world has ever seen.
Or in the much more eloquent words of Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
4 You already are one.
Throughout this column, I have tried to persuade you to engage in the political process, and I have to admit now that those efforts have been more than a little disingenuous. Because, really, you dont have a choice in the matter.
If you are eligible to vote this year and dont, or more importantly, if you have a vision for making your town, your county, your state, your country a better place, and dont share it, you have effectively cast your ballot for the status quo.
If you have chosen not to participate because you think all the candidates are bad, or the system in general is corrupt and unfair, you have only hurt your own cause.
It would be like finding out a basketball team is cheating in your local rec league, and as a punishment, you give them the championship and go take a nap.
The answer to making our world a better place to live is not giving up our only true power and checking out.
The answer is to use our power, and make our voices heard, not just on Election Day, but every day, however we can.
See you at the ballot box.