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Exercising Your Civic Rights

Remember when you were a kid and your parent told you to eat your food because there were people starving in (insert your own favorite depressed third world country here)? That is essentially what my post is about. Everyone who lives in a democracy has the responsibility to vote because it is a treasured right that millions around the world do not have. Even worse, these disenfranchised millions are often oppressed, living terrible lives. I just want to share one story of my travels.

In early 2000, Ned and I went to South Korea. During our time there, we visited the DMZ. The Demilitarized Zone is a tract of land that is 155 miles long and approximately 2.5 miles wide. In a sad irony, because this space of land has been unoccupied for over fifty years, it has become a haven for rare wildlife.

To get to the DMZ, you must take a special charter bus. You are not allowed on the bus unless you are dressed appropriately. We were also instructed to bring our passports because no Koreans are allowed to the DMZ zone unless they have special dispensation from the government. (Most of my group were American Koreans so this was particularly important for my group). On the way up, we were given further instructions. No gesturing when out in the open. Listen to the guide at all times. The DMZ is the most heavily armed border in the world. Do not, under any circumstances, do anything to cause an incident.

We were carried via this special charter to the UN Command center. There we were briefed on the history of the DMZ. The DMZ is in a constant state of readiness. There are over two million troops between the forces on the North and South Korean sides. It is believed that there could be aggression from North Korea at anytime. According to Wikipedia “Sporadic outbreaks of violence due to North Korean hostilities killed over 500 South Korean soldiers and 50 U.S. soldiers along the DMZ between 1953 and 1999.”

At one point in the tour, we were ushered to Conference Row. Conference Row is a row of buildings set on the border between North and South Korea. The blue buildings are used by the UN Joint Security Council which is mostly manned by US and South Korean Troops. The grey buildings belong to North Korea. The first grey building in the picture is purported to be a rec room for North Korean soldiers but the US troops swear that there are no recreational activities taking place in the conference row buildings. The second blue building hosts the peace conferences. The microphone cord separates the Northern and Southern sides. Inside this building is the only palce where you can stand on North Korean soil without getting shot. A ROC solider stands at attention and is prepared to physically restrain you should you touch him in anyway or attempt to venture through the back door of the building into North Korea. We noticed that when the ROC soldiers walked, they made a kind of swishing noise. We were told that the soldiers have small metal balls sewn into their pants legs so that when they march, it sounds like there are more of them.

During the entire time a tour is here at the UN Command center, North Korea soldiers come outside to patrol. One soldier will stand motionless in front of this building. The North Koreans watch visitors closely and purportedly have enhanced auditory equipment. They are looking or listening for anything that could be deemed as aggressive to excuse further hostilities.

The Korean War ended in 1953 and the border has been closed ever since. There is a famous bridge here called The Bridge of No Return. It’s a beautiful site, but one that has a tragic story. The Bridge of No Return was used for prisoner exchanges. In 1953, prisoners of the Korean War were brought here and given the opportunity to return to the other side, but once they had crossed that bridge, there was no going back. For many Koreans, this was a terrible choice because there are 7.7 million South Koreans with relatives in North Korea. No mail or telephone contact is maintained across the party

North and South Korea had state sponsored reunions beginning in 2000 when a few select families were reunited. I was told that these reunions were televised in South Korea and that there wasn’t a body on the street during these periods of time. If you have visited the population of congested Seoul, you would find that hard to believe. One story that was told was of a family who had been running for the border. The mother had three children and she was carrying one. Her oldest, a boy, tripped and fell. The soldiers were chasing them and he was caught. His mother took the other two and ran for the border with just one shoe of her oldest. At the reunion, she returned with the shoe that she had kept for almost fifty years. I wasn’t able to find an article to confirm this story but I remember it vividly as it was told to me. (South Koreans are not without their propoganda too).

North Koreans live in poverty. The average monthly salary is $45. The country is cut off from the rest of the world. The people’s situation is dire. The economy is one thirthieth the size of South Korea despite North Korea being rich in natural resources. In the dictatorship, the people have no voice in government. Their freedoms are constrained, both physically and ideologically.

The point of my story is not to have you read a date travelogue accompanied by boring vacation photos but to say that the right to have voice in the way in which one is governed is a precious gift. The U.S. election for the 44th President is less than thirty days away. If you don’t vote, you’ve wasted one of the most precious gifts that you have been afforded as a free person. So vote, because people in North Korea cannot.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

57 Comments

  1. (Jān)
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 06:16:03

    Amen. It doesn’t matter how you vote, but please make your opinion heard about what direction you want this country to go in at this time of crisis. Thank God we’re having an election right now and can actively participate in fixing our nation’s problems by choosing the leaders we think will best fix them.

    Great post Jane. Your experience came through loud and clear.

  2. Joan/SarahF
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 06:19:21

    Thank you, Jane. I was on the privileged side of the equation in South Africa, but I certainly remember the big blank spaces in the newspaper when they were censored and the newspapers refused to change the stories. I remember the abject poverty in the oppressed Black population. I left the country in 1988, before any of the apartheid laws had been lifted, and went back for the first time last year, 19 years later, and it was so amazing to see how much the country had changed and grown and gotten better because suddenly everyone had the right to free expression and a say in their own destiny. Wonderful.

    Please, everyone, register to vote, if you still can. Go to Vote For Change to see if you’re registered, if there’s a question. Yes, paid for by the Obama campaign, but no less a useful tool for all that.

  3. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 06:34:05

    Well said, Jane. Thank you.

  4. Jess
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 07:38:58

    Thank you for sharing, Jane.

    I have a couple friends who take every opportunity offered to complain about what is wrong with America, but then say they refuse to vote. Don’t waste your right then complain about who was elected! And if you don’t like the policies of whoever is elected, join/start activist and community groups that work toward change. It’s amazing how many doors that crazy freedom of speech amendment opens up if you use it.

  5. Susanna Kearsley
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 08:02:11

    Great post, Jane. I actually lived in South Korea for two years as a teenager, back in the early ’80s, and I can assure you the South was at that time a very repressive regime as well. There were strictly enforced curfews along the coast, where we lived (and by ‘strictly enforced’ I mean you were shot dead if you went out after curfew), and the South Korean military and police could at any time stop a car, get in, and order the driver to take them wherever they wanted to go, even if that was halfway across the country. We walked through army checkpoints every day between our apartment and the local village, where people lived in crushing poverty, and several times while I was there student protests in neighbouring cities were brutally put down by government forces.

    In the DMZ, you saw the results of one kind of dictatorship. I saw the right-wing kind. Neither is pretty. The heartening thing, though, is that the Koreans themselves, North and South, are such wonderful people, with warm, generous hearts that have managed somehow to survive the division that’s been forced upon them for fifty-odd years now. I hope to live long enough to see them achieve their dream of reunification.

    I was lucky to learn, as a teenager, how fragile freedom is, and how important it is not to take our own system for granted. For me, voting isn’t a right. Never will be. It’s my obligation.

  6. Nicole
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 08:10:42

    Very well said, Jane.

  7. JulieLeto
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 08:49:35

    We’re cheering for votes over at Plotmonkeys today, too. I really can’t understand people who don’t want to be part of the process–especially where I am in Florida, the ultimate swing state. I remember the day I registered to vote very clearly. My best friend resisted because she knew that registering would make her get called for jury duty, but I called her a communist in front of our entire sorority, so she signed up with me. (Yes, that’s what friends are for. )

    We the People. It means something. No matter what corruption or conspiracies are out there…nothing can happen in this country if WE THE PEOPLE stand up against it. I will never cease to believe this. I refuse to be so jaded or pessimistic. I think back to what the revolutionary heroes were up against and I realize that if we live in this country, we have an obligation to our children and their children to keep that legacy of free thought and speech and expression alive.

  8. Gina Black
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:02:58

    *clap* *clap* *clap*

    I agree. Voting is the foundation of democracy.

  9. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:17:52

    My grandmother called it “earning your bitching rights”. No vote = no bitching. Simple as that.

  10. Ann Bruce
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:18:59

    I always thought the Aussies have it right: fine those who DON’T vote.

    Slightly OT: Due to famine, North Koreans are stunted. The first time I heard this I thought it was a joke. It’s like reverse evolution…or not since smaller people who don’t need as much food will have a better chance of surviving in North Korea.

  11. Ann Somerville
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:26:06

    I always thought the Aussies have it right: fine those who DON'T vote.

    Yeah, sounds good in principle – except the Howard government hasn’t kept the fines in line with indexation, so the penalty is now all of $50.

    The reason they let it drop so low? Poor turnout always benefits the more right wing side – true in Australia, America and the UK.

    So be smarter than the politicians, people, and vote. Don’t let them count on your laziness so they can get away with blue murder – in your name.

  12. Maya M.
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:36:46

    Your post gave me flashbacks to a similar trip I made with my highschool class to East Berlin, through the the heavily guarded and volatile border checkpoint separating democratic West from communist East. Incredibly tense and frightening. East Germans have had the freedom to vote for some years now, after their wall came down joyously and without blood. May the Koreans have full and peaceful reunification soon.

  13. Monica Burns
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:40:35

    A great post, Jane. As a former Vet who served in Germany for a year at a nuclear weapons site, that guard tower in your picture brought back vivid recollections of guard towers at my installation. They were unsettling, yet necessary.

    I’ve voted in every election since being old enough to do so (including via absentee), and I despise apathy, particularly when the people who seem to be the biggest complainers are the ones who most generally don’t vote. To not vote is a vote for letting the government take us over.

    As Thomas Jefferson said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

  14. Val Kovalin
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:48:36

    Fascinating story, and you make a good point.

  15. Marsha
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 09:49:24

    Maya M. already posted nearly the exact comment that sprang to my mind. I, too, made a trip to East Berlin in my teenage years. I ate a meal, did a bit of “shopping” and looked around a museum in the company of a machine-gun armed soldier (who looked all of – maybe – two years older than me…my 17 year old mind concocted one heck of a romance story out of that experience) after a bit of discussion and tense warnings issued at Checkpoint Charlie.

    The memory seems quaint now, a relic of time and place not quite accessible to us now. Even so, I will never forget the feeling of euphoria at re-entering West Berlin, knowing that I was free – not perfectly so, since no one actually is – but more than any of the young people with whom I’d spent my day.

  16. Ann-Kat
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 10:50:05

    Amazingly well put. When I hear the off comment from a friend that she (or he) will not participate in this election, I become more vocal (to put it mildly) because, oddly, it’s the same people who complain about the way the government is run who don’t lift a finger to change it.

    I hope more people heed your message this election year and every election year to come.

  17. HelenKay Dimon
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 11:15:07

    Absolutely. People are willing to die to gain the right we take for granted. Just vote.

  18. LauraB
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 11:17:50

    Here’s why I vote: I’m a democrat living in Texas, so in the grand scheme of things my vote will have little effect on national politics (locally yes, but that’s another story). So you’d think I’d be disinclined to vote. Not true: I vote because my great-grandmothers fought for this right. I vote because it hasn’t even been a century since women were enfranchised in this country. I vote because I have daughters, and I want them to remember to exercise this important right. The most damaging thing to democracy is apathy. I don’t care how anyone votes — just vote darn it!

    Just as an aside, this point became really clear to me during the 2000 election when Matt Lauer said that Barbara Bush was only the second woman in American history to be able to vote for both a husband and a son in a presidential election. Of course, he forgot that Abigail Adams DID NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE!!!!

    If we forget our history, we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Look at what’s going on with Wall Street and the banking system. I seem to recall something similar happening less than a century ago. Yet everyone seems so surprised.

    Please pardon the rant, and thank you for this post.

  19. Sparky
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 11:26:26

    In the end, we did not get this right cheaply. People fought for this right. People died for this right. People battled (and still battle) to keep this right for us.

    Our forefathers fought and died for us to have the right to vote.

    For us to then ignore it, or decide that it’s too much effort is an insult. It is spitting in their face.

  20. Susan/DC
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 12:40:25

    I vote because I have three sons, and I don’t want them to have even the smallest excuse to think that voting is not a requirement of citizenship. I vote because my oldest son is in the Army Reserves, and when I compare the burden of a few hours on a November morning to the burden of six years of his life (including a year in Iraq), I realize I have less than no excuse to not vote. I vote because far better people than me have worked and fought and died so that I may have the right. I vote because there are too many people who still don’t have that right. I vote because it’s the right thing to do. I vote.

  21. Marie
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 13:01:01

    Well put!

    “The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.” –Charles Bukowski

    May we never consider voting a ‘waste’ of time.

  22. Michele Lee
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 15:08:56

    Okay, I get that we’re lucky to have the right to vote, but honestly I find this “Don’t Vote then don’t complain” policy irritating. For years I registered and never actually voted. Why? Because I don’t believe I should be forced to vote for the lesser of two evils. I don’t think that I should vote if I think neither candidate is a good one. “He’s better than that guy” isn’t enough for me. By registering and not voting I counted in the astounding number of Americans who were interested enough to register, but not enough to actually lay down their voice. Lack of voter interest should also speak as much as the votes, especially with as high as it’s been the last few election cycles.

    Complaining about there being a lack of politicians that I’m willing to get behind IS a political issue, a political statement. Quietly protesting the choice of one rich white lawyer or another rich white lawyer is not wasting my vote, or against the spirit of the men and women who fought for my right to vote. This is exactly what they fought for, my right to choose who I want in charge of my country.

    And in the end I did step up and vote, because John Yarmuth came along (Kentucky Democrat). The man is a hard working business man who worked up to his position and always worked on a local level for those less fortunate. And in his years in Congress he has donated his Congressional salary to charity. His whole salary. That is a politician I can get behind.

    I will be voting again this year, to keep him office. And I think I’ve convinced my husband to vote as well, for the same reason.

    But why should we vote for someone we think is merely a lesser evil? Why should out patriotic duty be to vote for people we don’t like, don’t trust and don’t want to see in power? Sure some people don’t vote because they’re lazy. But some of us don’t vote for other reasons and instead of scoffing us off as unpatriotic or unappreciative of what history has given us maybe you should ask why we don’t vote and join with us to address the system that is disconnected from the people and broken in it’s methods.

    I say that following the status quo and voting for the lesser evil that you do not believe in IS being complacent to those in power.

    Oh yeah, and here’s your soapbox. :)

  23. Monica Burns
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 15:33:47

    I can understand your position if you have no more than two choices in a local, state election, but in the national elections, there are more than two candidates. Currently on this year’s presidential ballot there are at least five, maybe six choices. Libetarian, Green Party and a couple of others.Unfortunately, the media doesn’t get these smaller parties much of a voice. I’m not even sure all the parties are on all 50 ballots, though.

    And this is in NO WAY meant to sound patronizing, only as encouragement. Is it possible for you to run yourself if you don’t like your state and/or local offerings on the ballot. That’s what’s propelled a lot of citizens to run for office. They didn’t like what was offered on the ballot. You might be surprised to find that there are others just as fed up as you are. I know I am, and the sad thing is, it’s always been this way. Andrew Johnson had to deal with some pretty slick characters in his day.

  24. Michele Lee
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 15:52:55

    Hi Monica :)

    Only Democrat, Republican and Green were on our ballot last election cycle (2004), and I didn’t like any of them. I did vote, giving in to try to get Bush out, but in the end not only did he win, but he actually won my state, which made me feel absolutely useless and ignored, not “hey, but at least I voted”.

    As for running myself, actually I have thought of it. I mean, there’s no way at all I could raise the funds to go for something big like Congress (not to mention my son is autistic, I’m his primary care taker and he is not read, mentally, for Mom to have a big job like that.) I suppose I could try for a smaller position such as on the Metro Counsel and work my way up.

    BUT I’m also an openly pagan bisexual, legally unmarried mother of two in the Bible Belt. I’m not sure I’d get very far. :)

  25. Monica Burns
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 16:13:20

    Michele – Well that bites. I really hate that we only have two parties guaranteed on the ballots. IMHO, we really need a three party system, spending limits on advertising, more public debates, limited stumping time coverage (we’ve been seeing this election play out for almost 2 yrs.) and a media that is less geared toward sensationalism.

    As for your openness…good for you…and I understand that. As for starting small…GO FOR IT! If you prove yourself, people like what you do, they’ll vote for you no matter what. There are a lot of politicians who’ve remained popular despite being despised by others, Jesse Helms, Bill Clinton, Abraham Lincoln, and more.

  26. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 16:24:47

    I was a permanent resident of the US for some years. At that time, I wasn’t sure whether I planned to be an American citizen. A green-card holder could work and live in this country for her entire life, pay taxes, raise children, whatnot. The only difference is that as an American citizen, I can vote.

    So ever since I’ve become a citizen, I’ve voted. In every dogcatcher election, some of them with the most obscure bond issues you can imagine.

    Because that is what citizenship means to me, participation in the governance of this county, this city, this state, this country with my voice. My choice.

    I will most definitely be voting (early voting). And if I’m not buried under deadline, I will volunteer to drive people to the polls come election day.

  27. Keishon
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 16:30:09

    Agreed. I personally think people should be allowed a day off to just go and vote. However, I am prepared for the long lines.

  28. LizA
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 17:25:09

    I am not in the US, but I totally agree on the importance of voting. Not exercising a right means giving up that right. I might not like the choices ofered to me (we just came through our elections, and boy what a horror that was/is) but at least I used my right and did my bid to ballance out things a bit.
    Every time voting comes up, i think of my gran. She’s 93 and lived through world war I, the 1st Austrian republic, the Austrian dictatorship, the Third Reich and the 2nd world war. Every time there is an election, she puts on her best clothes, walks to cast her vote, and goes to the pastry shop to buy some pastry to celebrate. (Usually, she think that’s a waste of money). She told me she’d never let go of this right again, remembering how it was when she had none.
    Isn’t she an amazing lady? :)

  29. Robin/Janet
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 17:32:25

    One of the fastest and most popular (among some groups like Latinos) routes for gaining US citizenship is through the military — joining and being deployed for a certain amount of time puts you on the fast track to citizenship.

    I’ve always found that humbling, along with the fact that among those who vote most conscientiously are recent immigrants. Those of us who have been born here or who have generations in the US can tend to take our democracy a bit more for granted. Although I think the state of the economy and the war are waking us up a bit.

    I totally understand why people don’t vote. Beyond laziness there are many impediments to voting for those in rural areas, those without cars, those who don’t know where their polling place is, those who have been incorrectly purged from the rolls, those who are disabled, etc. Also I think people feel overwhelmed with the problems we have and under-impressed by the candidates in many elections.

    I think many people believe that their vote doesn’t matter. It does, of course, but if you are perfectly comfortable with the way things are or so overwhelmed that you feel absolutely powerless, you can easily, IMO, underestimate the power of your voice. Heck, we see that underestimation all the time online, lol, why not with the vote?

  30. Robin/Janet
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 17:35:39

    Agreed. I personally think people should be allowed a day off to just go and vote. However, I am prepared for the long lines.

    Many states are making it much easier to vote absentee ballot. In CA, you have until October 28th to have your application received by the registrar of voters. You can also check a box to become a permanent absentee voter. People who have trouble getting off from work or getting to a polling place can check out their options at their state’s registrar of voters. Google maps even has a voter information map: http://maps.google.com/maps/mpl?moduleurl=http://maps.google.com/mapfiles/mapplets/elections/2008/us-voter-info/us-voter-info.xml&utm_campaign=en&utm_medium=ha&utm_source=en-ha-na-us-sk-mp&utm_term=voter%20registration

  31. Michele Lee
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 18:38:30

    Monica~ I agree. Except, I dislike the party system all together. With only two so many of us fall through the cracks!

  32. Monica Burns
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 18:44:34

    Michele, Which is why I think three parties would be better, more manageable and I think it would keep the big guys in line. We could always try a true democracy (we’re a Republican democracy) where everyone has a say in things, but I think that would result in utter chaos. But I do think we need to demand term limits (although it does have its downsides when you get a strong candidate in office who’s doing a good job) and remove the perks Congress has. Make it less like a job and more like public service duty. Of course, then it might be like jury duty that EVERYONE wants to get out of. LOL

  33. Michele Lee
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 18:56:15

    Monica, That does interest me. I’m writing a futuristic UF right now and political positions are exactly like that. Sort of like jury duty is today.

  34. Meljean
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 19:57:40

    We have the mail-in vote here in Oregon, which I find very convenient. And there’s less an excuse for not voting (except for the stamp for the envelope — but even without one, I’m pretty sure it’d go through.)

  35. SonomaLass
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 20:28:26

    LauraB said: “I vote because my great-grandmothers fought for this right. I vote because it hasn't even been a century since women were enfranchised in this country. I vote because I have daughters, and I want them to remember to exercise this important right.”

    That’s pretty much where I’m coming from. My grandmother made my grandfather wait three years before they got married, and her main reason was that she wanted to vote in a presidential election in her maiden name, just once, because it was a shiny new right and she knew how hard-earned it was. He told me that story many times; he was a very simple, working-class man, with very little understanding of complex political issues. But he always “studied up” for each election, and he always voted his conscience. At my college graduation, he was so proud of his “smart” granddaughter — I would never shame him by failing to use that intelligence and education to understand the issues in every election.

    Because yes, HOW you vote DOES matter.

  36. Kristen
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 20:50:21

    Michele,
    I can see you have thoughtfully,and with reason, decided to not to cast your vote, although I disagree with your decision.

    Most people, however, who choose not to vote are also those who choose not to get involved, not to support a candidate, not to be informed, not to work for candidates or policies they believe, and not to work for changes or improvement in the system. Then, at the end of the process they criticize the nominees and justify their apathy by saying there is no one worth voting for.

    I understand some people’s situation in life doesn’t allow them any time or emotional energy to get involved. In that situation, I think the better choice is to honor the result of those who do invest time and energy in the political process and vote for the lessor evil, if that is what it comes down to.

  37. Tae
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 21:02:36

    I’m currently living in South Korea right now. I’m conflicted about doing the DMZ tour. I’m Korean American, my husband is a good ol’ white boy from the USA and I think he’s not very interested at all. You can take tours out of China to North Korea, into the heart of North Korea. It’s pretty expensive from what I can tell, and I feel like I’d be visiting the zoo or something close to Planet of the Apes. I don’t want to go gape at the poor North Koreans.

    That being said, we’ve both submitted our absentee ballots already and I voted last week. Just because we’re not living in America doesn’t mean we can’t exercise our rights from around the world.

  38. LauraB
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 21:29:36

    I don’t y’all, but does anyone else think that the rampant negativity of politics actually decreases voter turn out?

    Some have said on this thread that they don’t like having to vote for the lesser of two evils (I know I felt this way back in 1988) or that the electoral college–winner takes all system cancels out their vote (I TOTALLY get this one). Well, how much of this attitude is influenced by how the media casts the election? For example: I don’t care about Sarah Palin’s daughter; I care about her ability to come up with a nuanced policy stance. I don’t care about Obama’s pastor; I care about his plans to improve health care access for all.

    All we hear are the chattering punditry, negative adds and sound bites from partisan radio/ news networks. This being the case, I can fully understand the apathy so many express. Voters have to stand up, vote in their primaries, and refuse to buy into general silliness. I don’t want to vote for someone like me; rather, I want to vote for someone who has a plan I believe in.

    Some days, I ask myself who benefits most if I don’t vote. Certainly not me.

  39. Michele Lee
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 21:44:32

    LauraB, I agree! My point about not voting (and I’d like to point out that I’m going to vote this year despite all my feelings that it’s not going to matter, because there is at least one politician that I want to keep in office. I am trying it both ways :) was just not to completely dismiss those who are very turned off to the whole process. These “vote or you suck” types of campaigns just get people to turn the issues out more. I think the reason why my husband is seriously considering voting is because we talk about it, but I don’t pressure him to vote.

    Having people tell me how I should vote turns me off so much. and they you get into what LauraB brought up where can you go for real information and not info that’s either sensationalized by the media or slanted toward one side or the other.

    I swear if I hear someone, in all seriousness tell me Obama is a terrorist Muslim trying to take over the US as part of the Muslim quest to destroy America I’m going to scream. Ditto for the next person who tells me McCain is a racist, sexist warmonger who will declare martial law as soon as he is sworn in and turn us into a military state.

    How is this high pressure, nasty mud slinging encouraging people to get involved?

  40. SonomaLass
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 00:01:28

    Media and politics is a vicious circle, always has been. The media types need to sell papers (or the TV or internet equivalent), so they print what people will buy. So who do we have to blame for the sensational coverage of the rumors, accusations, and irrelevant personal details (true and false)? If the American people didn’t read that crap, didn’t pay attention to it, didn’t click the link, didn’t forward the e-mail, changed the channel, then the media wouldn’t waste their time with it. They’re just giving us what a lot of us seem to want.

    When the campaigns themselves sling mud, I get more upset. When one slings a lot more than the other, it usually affects my vote. Indeed, sometimes the level of nastiness in the campaign helps me decide which is the lesser of the two weevils!

    If you look at politicalcompass.org, you see that almost all the candidates for president and vice president this year, even going back to the primaries, have political views clustered in the upper right quadrant of the political spectrum. For a lower-left gal like me, that’s pretty discouraging. But in any election I usually find that if I look at enough issues and positions, there are at least a few where I find a clear and compelling difference between the candidates. I think that’s worth the effort; I can accept that some people don’t. My personal preference would be that those who don’t make the effort to make an informed choice would just not vote at all.

  41. SusanL
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 00:44:38

    I try to always vote. My grandfather made sure I registered as soon as I was old enough, and drove me to my first election. I think I have missed only a few local elections, and I felt guilty when it happened.

    For me, the most entertaining part of this election season is Craig Ferguson’s monologues when he has one of his rants (in a good way) on voting; I had just watched tonight’s rant when I read this blog, so it was perfect timing. For those who don’t know, this will be his first election as an American citizen and he is definitely opinionated on the subject :) You may be able to catch some of them on YouTube.

  42. Jessica
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 06:33:22

    Great post, Jane. I like the way you (and LauraB) put this: it’s not so much about your vote having an effect, but about the right and privilege.

    We all know one vote won’t change the election, (and the Paradox of Voting suggests that the outcome of individual voting preferences is not individually rational), but this is why we have to think of it not in terms of self-interest (getting my person elected, getting my preferences met), but rather, in terms of our membership in the political community, and the rights and privileges that entails.

    I’m not convinced by the argument that if you don’t like any of the candidates, you don’t need to vote. For one thing, that position doesn’t have any political effect, since nobody can tell the difference between the lazy and the principled nonvoter. For another, you can write in candidates. And finally, you can’t generalize this position: in what other case would you refuse to choose between two outcomes you don’t like? If there’s a worry that voting for candidate you don’t like is an endorsement that violates your integrity (and I can see this), you can do other things outside the voting process to help bring about the real choice we currently lack (and I agree with you completely about that).

  43. Hilcia
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:13:33

    My family and I left our country of birth (a Communist country) and came to this one, made it ours, to have this right. The Right to VOTE! The right to be heard. Never take it for granted… I don’t.

  44. Wensi Chen
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:25:53

    Wow, I just took the DMZ tour and they no longer let you go into those buildings. My friend was kinda irritated since we paid for the tour and we didn’t get to see the stretch or the buildings(we weren’t allowed off the bus) but were allowed to go into the tunnel the North Koreans dug 75m down.

    On a side note, I registered to vote, and considered putting in an absentee ballot since I’m overseas when the election rolls around, but there’s no point in going through all the effort. Call me lazy or whatever, but I see no point in voting because I come from IL, which is firmly firmly in the Obama camp. Not that I want to vote for McCain, but since my vote really doesn’t matter, I don’t feel like bothering. Maybe if I was in Ohio or something. Looking at the CNN map, we’re one of the few MidWest states that are firmly democratic. Everyone here does make me ashamed though, because I haven’t voted and I turned 18 three years ago. Maybe I’ll vote when the next election rolls around.

    Or, based on other comments, there other stuff I can vote in? I’m assuming that maybe Chicago just isn’t good at it or whatever, but I don’t even know how the local/state people are elected, I never see anything besides the odd sign here or there to vote for the council…

  45. Jane
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:28:38

    You didn’t get to go onto conference row or the buildings? That’s so sad. We got to go into a promontory point (after being reminded for the upteenth time not to gesture) of one of the buildings. We were allowed into the second building on conference row. It was pretty cool, I thought, to stand in North Korea. I would love to visit North Korea sometime. I know that they allow tours to limited numbers of people. We also ate at the mess hall where the UN soldiers eat.

  46. Mac
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:46:19

    I’ve no problem voting for the lesser of two evils if that lesser provides me and like-minded others with even a fraction more wiggle room for long-term change later on. We have to stop thinking in four year cycles and start thinking in terms of centuries. We’re a young country, but it’s time we grew up.
    (That’s a general “we,” not pointed at anybody — I’ve never missed an election since I was eligible, but despair has in the past driven me close to abandoning the enterprise and just staying home, so I get it.)

  47. Suze
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 11:48:14

    Politicians and politics being what they are, in almost every election, it’s about choosing the lesser of a variety of evils. In Canada, we have several parties. This does not in any way make it easier to vote out the ruling party, it mostly just splits the votes for the opposition.

    I spent my vote several times on no-hope parties, like the Natural Law party, because I couldn’t bring myself to vote for any of the main parties. My vote may have registered in somebody’s head as a protest vote, but more likely I was lumped into the drunken fools who used to vote for the Rhinocerous party.

    This year, I know that my vote will simply cancel out my roommate’s. I can live with that. I know my guy is not going to get elected in my constituency, because the incumbent is going to be. That’s just how it’s going to work out.

    However, by cancelling out my roomie’s vote, I’ve at least made room for another vote to count. Or maybe somebody else’s vote is cancelling out my roomie’s, and my vote will count.

    The point is, by choosing not to vote, even as a protest, you are allowing those who do vote to have a say, and voluntarily silencing yourself.

    I get your point, Michelle, and I do empathise. I wish you would find a different way to register your protest.

  48. SandyW
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 12:24:06

    Wensi, we vote for all kinds of stuff in Illinois, on a regular basis. Right off the top of my head, we are voting in November for State Senators, affirming some judges (or not), and deciding a question about whether we want to re-write the state constitution. Depending on where you're registered, there will probably be other offices on the ballot and maybe some interesting tax questions. I'm in the Other End of the State, close to Carbondale. If you're registered in or around Chicago, your ballot will probably be longer than mine.

    I vote every time I get the chance and have since the late 1970's. I consider it my license to bitch. It also makes me feel like part of the process, instead of a helpless observer, if that makes any sense.

  49. LauraB
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 12:25:21

    Here’s some silliness that I posted over at SmartBitches. Now you all know I’m a lefty, so pardon the slant in advance.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFOTC30RhHY

    This is a teaser of the 11/2 Simpsons Episode (D’Oh).

    Vote if you can, vote if you want to. It is a right you don’t have to exercise. BTW, Wensi, I didn’t vote at your age either. I had my epiphany when I was living abroad and my state (Texas) didn’t send me my ballot. I felt so disenfranchised that I’ve voted ever since. :P

  50. Suisan
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 13:16:38

    I’m one of those people who got so fed up that I ran for public office. It’s doable, even if you are lesbian, have funky hair, or whatever. I had lived in my town for fourteen months on the day of the election, and I got the most votes of any candidate, even the one who was a native son supported by three church communities.

    Now that I’ve experienced both running for office and sitting as an elected official, I will say that some of the most thoughtful people I know, the ones who are the most well-versed on an issue and who go out of their way to research topics or candidates have a surprisingly LOW voting average.

    When I get a voter list from the elections office, I can request various variables: voted in three out of the last four elections, voted in two municipal and one national election, declared party members only, under 65, etc. I often got two lists. One for me and a more restrictive one for my volunteers. This way the volunteers would be less likely to bump into an undecided, unmotivated or aggressively partisan voter.

    But when I compare the two, I end up finding MANY of my friends and supporters do not vote, even when they tell me they do. (Voter lists do not say HOW a person votes, just whether that person has a recorded vote in a particular election.) It’s very hard to look at a person who INSISTS that they voted for or against this bond proposal or mayoral candidate when you know that the elections office recorded no such vote for them. Sort of makes you wonder how strongly held any other view they have is.

    This leaves the decision-making up to the hulking masses who don’t read newspapers or attend public meetings, and who may be voting along party lines because it’s just easier to vote that way.

    Believe me, in a local election it is very hard to get the media to portray the candidate’s views correctly. They write only a tiny part of you platform, and they often don’t attend candidate forums or debates. Thus, what you read about in the papers may not be the full story of that candidate. (My local paper changed the number of children I had in every article they wrote about me. My age also kept changing. Sometimes I was married and other times I wasn’t. Weird.)

    We’ve had two funding mechanisms for public schools die at the polls because California has a %66.67 threshold for passage of a parcel tax. One had %65 yay votes, and the next had %58 — these are OVERWHELMING rates of passage in any other election. Windfall. But both lost because the minority has control in that situation. The fewer votes you have recorded, the more likely it is that any measure will not pass. Because the ones who are dedicated to voting it down will be sure to record their votes. The ones who assume it will pass without their support are the ones who often forget to vote for it because someone else will.

    In terms of voting for the lesser of two evils: contact the candidates. Tell them you hate XYZ on their platform. If they are local, ask to speak directly to them. Offer to host a tea or a fundraiser or work in a phone bank *if* they will shift in this one area.

    But if you don’t vote, you WILL get the guys you do not want in office.

    I ended up running because I contacted a school board member to say, “I’m sick of running auctions and fundraisers for the schools. Really. Seriously, how can I help you get the word out about what needs to be fixed in this system?” He was silent for a good bit and then leaned across the table and said, “The best thing you could do for our schools is to run for office.” I was shocked. Floored. Had absolutely no aspirations there at all.

    But it was the best thing I could have done. I learned SO MUCH about public education and politics.

    If you don’t like what’s out there, find the guy who’s the MOST like you in elected office, ask for some advice, give him/her some of your opinions, and then go run for office.

  51. mackley q greene
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 14:18:56

    “We were told that the soldiers have small metal balls sewn into their pants legs so that when they march, it sounds like there are more of them.”

    Wow, great idea. Any soldier in a firefight? has INSTANT SHRAPNEL waiting in his pants.

    Sorry, but I don’t believe this.

    And ditto not voting for the lesser of two evils. Moreover, I no longer believe in “actively participating by choosing leaders who can best fix our problems” — because most politicians take your vote as a mandate for whatever agenda they hold and haven’t bothered to tell you about during the election.

    The politicians who come back and ask their voters what they want — or who listen to your e-mails and phone calls — because they know they are REPRESENTING THE PEOPLE are the ones I want to vote for. You can’t vote and go back to dreamland any more, people. Constant vigilance is required to keep a democracy healthy.

    Voter training should include elements of conducting job interviews, because that’s really what this is all about. Too much can be hidden in the usual media memes that get thrown around or “she’s just like my Aunt Tilda!”

  52. Pimp the Vote | Romancing Trashy Novels
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 17:46:42

    […] wanted to draw attention to Jane’s chilling post on the meaning of voting in the context of the status of individuals in other […]

  53. Sunita
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 18:10:20

    To Suisan:

    BRAVA. I have so much respect and admiration for you. As someone who studies politics in her day job, you have articulated beautifully what we too often overlook in politics.

    I am in the minority on this and many other blogs I frequent, as well as in my RL context, because I’m totally fed up and disgusted with BOTH the candidates. I’ve voted in every presidential and almost every off-year election since I turned 18, but I genuinely don’t know what I’ll do this year for the Presidential vote.

    That said, I will DEFINITELY go to the polls. Most people here have concentrated on the top of the ticket. Michele Lee and Suisan remind us about the rest of the reasons we vote. Even if you don’t want to cast a vote for one of the presidential candidates, don’t stay home unless you feel the same way about *every single issue and candidate.*

    In other words, go and vote at the state and local levels. Don’t forget the judges if your state elects them! And all those bonds and referenda. Those affect people’s lives so much.

  54. Emily
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 19:54:02

    If people need to be reminded or hectored into voting, they shouldn’t vote. Sorry, but we have enough stupid people voting already. That’s why we’re mired in a stupid war. Uninformed people voting on issues they don’t understand, voting for people who “look good”. I read some quotes from people who like Palin who said they’re voting for her because “She’s just like me”, “She’s a working mom” and (goddess help us) “She’s pretty and feisty”. Yeah, those are really good reasons to vote for someone.

    So please, don’t encourage people to vote. That means mine will “weigh” more.

  55. Lucinda
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 20:14:47

    I can respect that any given individual might not like Candidate D or Candidate R for a given position, or any candidate for some of them. I can understand the feeling that no matter which political rump sits in that chair (any chair), things will go on just the same as before. I try to vote anyhow, because I like to hope that it WILL matter which rump holds the chair. Vote for whoever you choose for the office.

    But even for someone who says ‘but I don’t want to vote for either of them, why go?’ – ballots are for more than just picking who sits in the spiffy elected chair. Vote to give your voice to school and emergency service funding. Vote your opinion on proposed changes in smoking or alcohol policy – do you want your city or state to become a no-smoking zone? Do you want someone else to make that choice for you? Do you want to permit legalized gambling in your state, or to change the laws governing gambling if it’s already legal? Is there a possible change in laws about when kids can drive, or a local curfew? All that stuff goes on the ballot as well, not just who goes to city council, or the senate.

    And yes, add me in for ‘if you didn’t care enough to vote on who should sit in the office, don’t complain about how they’re handling things.’

  56. Jo.
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 19:46:01

    Michele, I see your point about not voting at all if all you’re voting for is “the lesser of the two evils.” I often feel like that’s what I’m doing. But I do it anyway, because 1) a mere 100 years ago women didn’t have the right to vote and not stepping into that booth feels like disrespecting the women who were jailed, beaten, and ostracized for wanting that right 2) Sometimes the lesser of the two evils is so much better even in its lesser evil-ness than the greater evil that it seems, well… evil… not to vote . Jo., a fellow Kentuckian…

  57. Teresa
    Oct 12, 2008 @ 13:03:21

    I too understand where Michele is coming from, but I vote regardless. In Canada on Tuesday, we’ll be voting in our Federal Election. My riding choices aren’t what I’d want them to be, but I know I HAVE to vote, because, as others have said, 100 years ago women were imprisoned, force-fed and degraded while fighting to secure universal suffrage. I also have to vote strategically.

    In the 34 years I’ve been eligible to vote, I’ve never not voted, even casting my ballot during university elections.

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