We’re getting close to voter registration deadlines here in the US for our November elections, and it’s time for my periodic voting rant.
Why vote, when politics are vile, the right wing is a pack of intransigent bullies and the politicians who call themselves progressive inevitably go belly-up and give in to them? Obama, the guy who stood for hope, turned out to be just another good-looking guy who let us down, and a true progressive like Bernie Sanders – I’m at an age where I go for older men! – probably doesn’t stand a chance.
Nonetheless, it is vitally important that you vote, and here’s three good reasons why: the practical, the political, and the spiritual.
Practically speaking, there is one arena where your vote absolutely makes an enormous difference—and that’s on local issues. Granted, national politics are enough to discourage anyone from getting out of bed, let alone dragging yourself down to the polling station. But locally, even a few votes can make a huge difference. In Sonoma County, where I live much of the time, elections for the Board of Supervisors are often decided by a handful of votes. And the Board of Supervisors controls vitally important decisions that impact land use, water use, development, whether there is habitat for salmon or money for firefighters – issues that directly affect our lives. Schoolboards, water boards, transport boards, police review boards might not seem terribly sexy, but the right wing climbed to power by taking over school boards. Water boards often determine whether a new area can become a huge real estate development or remains farmland. Transport boards can decide to run busses on biodiesel made from used restaurant grease. Police review boards can determine whether that sheriff who shot the unarmed Latino kid stays on the force. In San Francisco, our local politicians stopped an attempt to shut down our city college, the only path to higher education for many low-income students.
Hate fracking? One of the most successful strategies to stop it has been getting local towns to ban it. Care about climate change? Then care about local public transport, urban food growing, community gardens and farmers’ markets which are all subject to local regulation. Want to legally re-use your graywater? Want programs to teach inner-city youth to grow and eat healthy food? Want schools that teach critical thinking, that have programs for art and music, that have curriculums that reflect diversity? All of these issues come back to the local, where your vote does make a difference!
This summer I met a town councilor from Glastonbury, in England – the town that many believe was the site of ancient Avalon and is currently a haven for Goddess worshippers, New Age spiritual movements and music festivals. Fracking has now become a threat to ancient sacred landscape. And in Glastonbury, a right-wing conservative was elected over a progressive environmentalist by one vote. One vote!
Okay, if that isn’t enough to persuade you, here’s a political argument for those of you who consider yourselves too revolutionary to engage in anything as reformist as voting:
That’s a position of pure privilege.
Why? Because the revolution may take a little while to get underway. I’ve been working on this one myself for close to half a century, and see how far we’ve gotten! In the meantime, all those reformist half-measures do have a huge impact on real peoples’ lives, often the people with the least resources and who are most impacted by policies. They might determine things like whether or not someone goes to jail for life for a petty drug offense, or spends years in solitary, or gets tried as an adult when they’re sixteen. Or whether a pregnant teen can get on food stamps, or get a safe, legal abortion, or get medical care if she keeps her child. They determine whether old people can keep the pensions they worked for or whether corporations pay taxes.
And no, they never work perfectly, or make the deep, structural changes we might like to see. But even incremental change can make the difference between life and death for someone.
And when the right wing is working so hard to keep the young, the poor, and the non-white from voting, why on earth would you want to help them?
And now, the spiritual reasons:
First, I vote to honor the ancestors. The women who campaigned for sixty years to get the right to vote. The civil rights marchers who put their lives on the line to open the vote to the people who were most disenfranchised. How could I possibly turn up my nose at the rights for which they worked so hard and sacrificed so much?
Ah, you say, but politics are so ugly, so nasty and conflictual and such a low vibration. Won’t I sully my spiritual purity and disturb my inner peace by getting involved?
If your inner peace has any depth to it, it will withstand a trip to the voting booth. True spirituality is not about some aseptic removal from the world, it’s about engagement with reality in all its forms. True compassion requires us to face what’s ugly and disturbing, not hide from it. Withdrawal is, again, a position of pure privilege. Privilege means advantages and power and choices that you haven’t earned, and exercising unearned power never earned anyone any karmic good points.
The farmer whose land is taken for a pipeline doesn’t have the luxury of denial. The community whose drinking water is toxic from a chemical spill is looking for a very practical form of purity. They need our solidarity, which is the wonderful use we can make of privilege – to put it to the service of making a more just world.
Finally, it’s a magical law that you don’t gain more power by disdaining the power you have. If we want to call in the great powers of creation, compassion and justice to transform our world, we must use whatever avenues are open to us, even if they seem weaker than we’d like. The trickle carves a path for the stream to flow, and the stream makes the way for the river.
So do a walking meditation, and walk on down to the voting booth. Make filling out your ballot an act of prayer, if you like.
Take that hour, or day out of your busy life and make your small voice heard as an act of magical, political will that can open the gates to a world where we all have bigger voices. When you go back to your meditation, or your anarchist collective, or your revolutionary praxis, or your simple struggle to pay the rent and put food on the table, the world will not have transformed overnight. The Great Turning won’t have turned. The Good Guys will not have completely triumphed over the Bad Guys.
But the world might just be a slight bit better than it would have been otherwise. And that small difference might be the divergence in the path that heads us away from destruction and onto the road to hope.