This post will go up on Election Day in the US. I'm writing it on the afternoon before, and I have not yet voted. Virginia doesn't have early voting without a valid excuse, and I have to confess that even if it did, I would probably have waited: I like participating in a civic duty along with my fellow-citizens. There's always a festive air at the polling place, a sense that something important is going on, and I like to be a part of that. I also like wearing my "I Voted!" sticker to class, reminding my students (many of whom will have voted by absentee ballot already, I hope) that there's still time.
It's easy to be cynical about voting. It's especially easy when you live, as I do, in a swing state, where the volume of political advertising and robo-calling seems to increase a little bit more every day. I have stopped answering the phone; I delete emails from my candidate (I seem not to get them from the other side, though I do get the calls). I toss the campaign literature (I use the term loosely) in the recycling bin. My mind has been made up for months--years, probably, if the truth be told--and I am not going to change it because of a phone call or a glossy mailer. At least for the national election, my choice is firm.
Still, my cynicism is tempered as election day approaches. I feel like part of something when I vote, and that's a rare enough feeling in our "bowling alone" world. It's good to be reminded that my neighbors are just as committed as I am--perhaps even more--to their opinions, their candidates, their outlooks. And they vote, too. And we all get a chance, at least once a year, to affect policy from the local level on up.
Last week a candidate for city council stopped by. I'd seen his mailers already, and I'd made an exception to my normal "toss without reading" plan, as I didn't know much about either candidate. His mailer seemed more honest than the other guy's, but it was hard to tell. Still, I appreciated his stopping by. I got a chance to ask him a few questions, and he answered me clearly and directly. We shared some concerns. We live in the same city, and we seemed, at least that one evening, to see it in much the same way. It was retail politics at its most basic, and he'll get my vote tomorrow.
Democracy is hardly perfect. Some days I despair of my neighbors, my fellow citizens, my students--I wonder if they can possibly be informed enough to make a sensible choice. I wonder if I can. So I try to put my training to work--I seek out information from unbiased sources. It's probably not peer-reviewed, but I look for author names and affiliations to try to contextualize what I'm reading. I do go with sources that I've trusted in the past, just as I read new books and articles by authors who've enlightened me before. I read history, and take comfort in the fact that elections have never been perfect, but that we keep trying anyway. (The other night I saw David McCullough on "60 Minutes" talk about the election of 1800, in which Thomas Jefferson ran against John Adams—if you think our rhetoric is bad, check theirs out!)
This post is a departure from my usual fare, I realize. I could muse about Sandy, or this time of the semester, or the difficulties of service in an ever-smaller professoriate. I could even have posted a recipe or written about knitting, or the importance of naps, or yoga—I’m thinking about all these things these days, and I'll probably get back to them next week. But it seems that life in a swing state has, indeed, made a difference, and I can't really think about anything else but voting right now. Here's hoping that by next week we have a clear course for the next four years, and that all of our voices are heard.
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