Did you vote yet?

It’s voting day, and I just spent a few hours encouraging people to vote.

I already voted during early voting because nothing scares me more than missing the chance to vote. One time I drove past my voting precinct and saw what at first glance looked like campaign signs and volunteers, and I literally clutched at my chest, wondering if I had forgotten to vote. (Long story short it was not a vote but some kind of fundraiser. Phew).

I don’t care if it is a vote for second assistant insurance fire commissioner, someone I don’t know wanting to do a job I don’t understand—I plan to cast a ballot no matter what.

Another vote here signThere are no perfect candidates, but there are usually those who are willing to work hard to make sense of sometimes mindlessly boring policy issues, and sometimes a few no-win situations. I will have to accept that none of them see the world exactly as I do, and we won’t agree on everything— but it usually is easy enough to identify which candidate will do the most good for the community. Yet even the best of them will make mistakes, or run up against systemic challenges that will take generations and a few miracles to overcome. I know that the least I can do is show up to vote. And, of course, vote out anyone who violates the public trust.

No one can promise me any candidate will be perfect, nor any problem easy to solve. To me, though, there is one thing that is perfect, and that is my vote. The vote matters so much that American history is riddled with bloody battles to gain the vote in the first place, and then to expand it (too slowly) to include more and more people.CDE810FC-6952-4331-B6C2-EBA8BCA122DD.c9088e8f602e4755bd25acb43a9d6047

Even though the constitution says most of us can vote, there will always be people both foreign and domestic who attempt to interfere with our access to vote, not to mention any chance to be well-informed as voters. And fighting for the vote means engaging in an imperfect and endless battle, but it is one I believe in because I believe in the vote, both as a symbol of faith in what humans can do together and as a practical matter that says in this one small way, I can make the world a tiny bit better.

Which is just to say, did you vote yet? You should.

 

 

1619 Project: Hannah-Jones

It is my firm belief that any time Ms. Nikole Hannah-Jones has something to say, I need to listen.

Indeed, she says everything that needs to be said, with both precision and artistry, in the first article in the 1619 series in the New York Times Magazine.

So instead of describing her article at all, especially because I want everyone to read it, I will simply point to the title, which aptly signals the central premise: Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.

Every line in this article matters, which is a challenge to me since I thought it might make sense to highlight a quote or two per article as a way to pay homage to this series.

Still, this one is worth a look:

And so the inhumanity visited on black people by every generation of white America justified the inhumanity of the past. (Hannah-Jones)

(Chilling. Disturbing. Accurate. Perhaps one reason I relish this series is this hope—that if mainstream culture can acknowledge the inhumanity of the past perhaps we can reduce the inhumanity of the present.)

And…

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. (Hannah-Jones)

(Amen.)

Today I also discovered that the New York Times created a podcast based on this series—the first one relates to her article:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/23/podcasts/1619-slavery-anniversary.html? 

Time traveler blues

These days I teeter, as I think many of us do, between joy in my daily life and despair over what is not being done to save our environment, —or, for that matter, our democracy.

More often than I like, I think about how a response to the history of the rise of Nazism and the atrocities that followed is to wonder, if it were possible to travel through time to warn everyone, could we stop what happened?

Brighter people than I already know the answer to this question.

Decades ago, I learned that a beloved Jewish couple in our community had lived in Britain in their twenties during World War II before immigrating to the United States. I gathered my courage to ask if they knew anything about the concentration camps before the war ended, and they said everyone heard rumors that they assumed were propaganda, too awful to be credible.

I imagine a time traveler from twenty or thirty years in the future risking everything to warn us about the need to protect our environment and to elect more democratic leadership. He or she could arrive in 2016, or perhaps even next year in 2020, and tell us of the great human suffering that even now is unfolding.

Here’s a snapshot of this week in America–basic human rights are trampled in pursuit of short-term financial gains for the few, including brutal treatment of refugees, particularly children. Devastating floods and mass shootings are on the rise. Our election systems are under constant attack by international adversaries, yet the Senate’s response is to dismantle election protections. As for the environment, just when we desperately need to make courageous and sweeping changes in hopes of sustaining life on this planet, our administration is pushing full-steam ahead with policies to make things worse, not better. Stop me if I tell you something you didn’t already know.

That’s what our time traveler will learn: We already know, though some may dismiss it as propaganda, and others as God’s will.

As I ponder the history of the past few centuries, we have often faced threats and heard warnings, and I can find a few examples in which we managed to make some advances in terms of saving the environment and expanding democratic rights.

Still, knowing we are in danger has not been enough. I wonder what our time traveler would do next, in the face of so much inertia? Perhaps the same as we must. Knock on any door that will open, push for better political solutions, bring up the topics no one wants to discuss, refuse to accept inaction, even in the face of those who embrace it as ideology.

And take time now and then to hold our loved ones close and savor perfect fall mornings, because time is slipping away.

Mississippi

So I woke to the news this morning that a miracle did not occur in Mississippi last night. I am sending out (silent) condolences to those on the losing side, as I did for Florida, Georgia, and Texas.

As a Southerner, I feel the need to say to those who lost: I see you. I know you are there. I have been there too often in my own state, disappointed by the result of a vote, and, frankly, by some of the individuals that stand before the nation to represent us.

Our voices may not be breaking through, yet. But we are still here. The story of the South is still being told.

So today, tomorrow, and each day after that, let’s write a new one.

How to articulate democracy

I am trying to gather my courage to call my Senators tomorrow to urge them to demonstrate their commitment to voting rights, which, alas, they won’t (which is why it takes courage because it feels futile, but necessary). I thought it might help for me to write about why democracy matters, and, this will surprise you, it turns out to be a difficult topic to address without disintegrating into pablum. At least, it’s not a quick write. One would think that decrying tyranny and embracing democracy would be easy enough, but no, it will take more work on my part. Especially because I stumble into the challenge that it’s hard to focus on the desire for democracy in our political spheres without recognizing the lack of democracy in our social spheres. And if tackling the topic of why everyone deserves a fair say in our politics is tough, imagine how tough it is to address the layers of injustice in how we treat one another in our daily lives. Or even to let myself recognize them.

I will keep trying. For now, here is what I believe, or what I want to believe: everyone matters, and everyone deserves the right to vote.

Unpacking it, fully articulating it, that’s another thing altogether.

Be skeptical but not cynical.

I fear my country is being harmed by a penchant for dualism—yes, I know you hear that all the time, but I won’t rant about it today. Instead, this is an invitation to tackle the challenges we face as a skeptic but not a cynic.

Take voting, for example. Is it reasonable to be skeptical that some of the candidates who are stepping into the ring who seem so inspiring, and there are many this year, may not be as wonderful as we hope or need or want? Or that somehow they will let us down or themselves down? Or even that they might be perfect, and some of them come pretty close, yet they will be up against almost impossible odds in trying to help the people they represent? Sure, be skeptical. Hope for the best, make the best choice possible based on the information available, but leave room for skepticism that positive change is rarely quick or easy. And that humans are, well, human.

But don’t give into cynicism. Cynicism says not only might things go wrong, but they will go wrong. Cynicism argues that we should never bother, we should never try, that nothing we think matters actually matters. That everything we build will be washed away in the tide.

Cynicism leaves us vulnerable in dangerous ways. Cynicism is a fancy way to say, “I give up, and you should, too.” Here’s the sneaky part: Cynicism sounds smart. Cynics get to claim they were right when things go wrong, while ignoring the responsibility we all have to one another to at least try. The truth is, to be cynical is to be lazy. It is much easier to give up than to do something, so I guess it’s lucky for the cynics that they sound smart, because… how do I say this? it’s not smart. Cynicism means giving up any bit of power or choice or opportunity you may have (and I always concede that these things are not fairly distributed), but if I’m dealt some bad cards, I’d rather play them than throw down the hand and storm out of the room. Play the game. Build something that matters to you. Yes, we can be skeptical about how long it will last. In the case of writers, we probably should keep our day jobs. But build it anyway. And if it falls down, start again. Live this life now.

Be skeptical, but not cynical.

And if you haven’t voted yet, what the heck? Go vote.

Voting matters.

It’s a lovely fall day with more colors on the trees than the forecasters had promised. And I have been trying to articulate something to myself, something about embracing hope rather than fear, a belief in abundance in opportunity, abundance in possibilities. I want to envision a cultural space in which there is room for all of us. A space where we understand that we need everyone and that everyone matters.

Next week is the U.S. midterm election. In online spaces, I frequently encourage people to vote because I consider it one of the most important responsibilities we have. I am sappy about the idea of democracy. And, for that matter, justice, peace, and ethical behavior. So I hope anyone reading this blog who can vote next week has done so or will do so on Tuesday.

The results of this election may give me reason to hope or reason to fear. I cannot change that. But I know this: I will still be here, and so will you. I will still exist. I will still stand for what I believe in. When necessary, I will call out cruelty, hatred, and indifference to suffering. Whenever possible, I want to embrace kindness and compassion, even the radical notion of treating everyone with respect.

I hope you will, too.