As I type this the U.S. is one week away from the 2008 Presidential election. Seven days left until voters theoretically (remember the electoral college really chooses that office, unfortunately) decide who will lead the country for the next four or so years. Unlike the last two elections there appear to be some more than surface level differences between the two major party candidates. However, the three third party candidates (Bob Barr (L), Ralph Nader (I), and Cynthia McKinney (Green)) are still considered obscure, not allowed into the debates or to get their platforms heard by the voters. Between that, voter suppression efforts by the GOP, and the increasing polarization of this country, its getting more difficult to get your voice heard much less come to a consensus on its future.
I admit I have a problem with the concept of how voting is done in this country. I also admit that I vote whenever I possibly can (though the more anarchist leanings in me feels bad about doing it). Before I get any angry responses, let me say first that I have absolutely no issue with as many people voting in an election as possible. In fact I think more people should vote (though I respect people's right not to). However, too often in America democracy has been reduced to casting a vote once every two to four years and then doing nothing while other people make decisions regarding the forces that control our lives. That is a problem.
Because of this fact, too often it seems that politicians take advantage of inactivity and push through things that counter how a democracy should go. The last eight years are an obvious day-glo example of this (especially Dubya's overuse of signing statements when signing bills into law). Whether it's getting our country into unpopular (and unnecessary) wars, slowly cutting off a woman's right to reproductive freedom and reproductive justice, or the seemingly slow creep towards martial law via mandatory minimum sentences and the like, it seems America tends to lose its way regardless of who gets into office.
Now I understand that most Americans are extremely busy. Between having to work (often multiple) jobs, trying to keep their families alive, and just make ends meet it can be hard to keep up on what's going on around you. In that context it's easy to see how people can fall into this cycle. But under this cycle nothing seems to change. If we are to survive than things must change in how things work out.
Voting alone is not enough. We all have to do what we can to hold the politicians' asses to the fire and make sure things change course. This means everything from writing (or e-mailing) Congresspeople to making what vigils and demonstrations you can make and everything else along the way. It's not always pretty and it's definitely not glamorous but those things have to be done. I'm aware that it can seem like an uphill struggle at times and keeping up with current events can seem daunting. It still has to be done if we are to become as a culture what we were taught America should be - or to become something better than that.
About a year ago I saw Noam Chomsky on CSPAN and he was asked about whether protests and raising awareness of issues to force change worked or not. His response was surprising when he said, "It's the only thing that ever has." He went on to explain that change can happen though it sometimes doesn't happen as fast as we'd like. While ti may seem like running into a brick wall at times, Chomsky makes a valid point: it's up to us to bring change about.
It's easy to think that if we just elect the right person then things will automatically change and the problems of previous administrations will go away. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Thus, it's up to me and you to make the world a better place. We can't do it all alone but for better or worse we're the only people who can do it.
I know some people reading this may disagree with what I say and where I'm coming from on politics and issues. That's okay - they have to right to do that. Just like we have the right to disagree with the shambles they've made of our world slowly over the previous decades and at warp speed over the past eight years.
We alone can work to make things right. We're the only ones who can do it.