Yesterday I betook myself to one of the local early voting locations and cast my ballot. Afterwards, as usual, they gave me a little sticker declaring to the world that “I Voted!” I detached the sticker from its backing and placed it on my shirt and blithely tossed the rest into the passenger seat, rolled down my windows (as it was one of the few Texas days nice enough to do so), and headed for the grocery store. What happened next was a tad predictable. As I pulled out of the parking lot–hard left on Bosque to avoid being creamed from the right–the breeze streamed through the interior of the car and took hold of the waste paper lying in my front seat, picked it up, and tossed it out the window. Yes, my friends, I messed with Texas.
But that’s not where I’m going with this. Instead, think metaphorically with me. Most of us–myself included–could describe our political activity within the very narrow parameters detailed above. We show up to the polls, cast a vote, plaster on the sticker, and head for the hills…until such time as the next election calls us out to do the same again. We vote, then we litter. And as we leave the polling center, some guy in a lawn chair outside hollers at us: “Thanks for voting!” As if we have played the only part we can play in the political process. Which is exactly what the media and the mainstream politicians want us to think. We vote, and then we litter. We slap a tag on ourselves–Checked by Polling Center #4–and we forget about it. We go on about our business. From the polling booth to the supermarket, and beyond! Granted, we may spend several months beforehand beating our loved ones about the head and face with opposing (and oppositional) viewpoints, but for the most part, we vote, and then we litter.
Meanwhile, for two to four years, nothing changes. Politicians squabble, legislation comes and legislation stagnates, the media tells us what we actually want (being as we are too stupid to figure it out for ourselves), and we watch and pray, for the end is near.
So, to my New Cycle’s resolution: I will make sure from this day forward that the polls become the least of my political activity. There is more to be done, of greater import, in the space between even-numbered Novembers than during them. There are things that talking heads may talk about, but about which they will never do a thing…because if they do, they won’t have anything left to talk about. They won’t have any convenient anchors to hang around their opponents’ necks during the next political popularity contest. Anchors, by the way, that between elections are kept in storage around our necks.
There are things only we can (and will) do. If we want reform, we the people, we have to go and get it, because people who pose for a living are never going to give it to us. There’s a reason pundits go on about grassroots movements: they are truly the only kind of movement that has ever effected any significant change, and this is true because those movements are composed of people who have more to lose than TV time and a government salary, and who aren’t guaranteed a lecture circuit or a news network commentator’s position in the event of losing their jobs.
So this time, don’t vote and then litter. Don’t pull away from the polling place with a self-satisfied feeling of having “played your part.” Instead, take hold of the dissatisfaction you’ve been feeling for the last two to four years, and find a way to do something about it. Because nothing will ever change unless we change it.