If You Don’t Vote You Can Still Complain

The next person who says, “If you don’t vote, you’ve got no right to complain,” gets an F-

The semi-mythical D- is for an otherwise inoffensive, slack-jawed, glazed-eye, mouth breathing drooler whose bluebook chicken scratch scrawling is comically witless; that is, the student who did not do the reading or attend class, and has no clue about how to how to fake it.

But the semi-mythical F- is for someone who inspires my wrath.

And the next person who dares suggest that I or any other American has no right to critique the system and/or its participants because we did not participate in an election will feel my wrath.

Today is Election Day, and of course there are many wonderful reasons to vote.

If you have made up your mind about what you want, then you should absolutely vote.

If you’re given to drawing the curtain and waiting for inspiration to strike, then you should get down there and vote.

Even if you don’t give a damn about any of it but simply want to participate, as is your right, then go ahead and vote.

If you’re just looking for a way to kill an hour, think it might make for good people watching, and give you a chance to play with the new touch screens, then fine!  Get your vote on!

Jeez, if you’re only voting to impress the person you just started dating, who for some reason seems to care about this stuff, and you’re merely gonna pull random levers while you play games on your phone, then go for it.  I ain’t standing in your way.  Vote!

But just as there are many reasons, some more admirable than other, as to why someone would and should vote, there are also many reasons of varying merit as to why someone would not vote and maybe shouldn’t.

But not a single one of them nullifies their constitutional right to speak their mind.

Maybe they crash their car on the way to the polling place, or their mother goes into diabetic shock, and they spend the day in the hospital

Obviously I didn’t mean it that way!  Of course those people’s opinions are be welcome.

See? Being presumptuous make you look like a jerk.  Be careful.

Maybe they’ve moved to a new state, screw up, and failed to register in time.  Or maybe they’re going to be out of town and missed the deadline for absentee voting.

That’s kinda their fault.

Well guess what?  It’s still kinda their Bill of Rights, and if they wanna gripe, too bad for you.

Maybe they’re honest about not being up on the issues and feel the responsible thing to do is not vote.

Yeah, that’s totally their “fault.”  And maybe instead of trying to guilt them before the fact, or silence them after the fact, you should have a fair amount of reverence for them because most people don’t have enough humility to come clean about something like that.  What’s more, they’re showing more thoughtfulness and honesty than many voters.

Or maybe an abstainer just don’t give a shit.  Maybe they’re one of the millions who don’t pay attention, don’t care, and don’t vote.

Telling them to shut up just makes you look like a self-appointed, extraneous gatekeeper.  They’re minding their own business on Election Day, watching crappy television or getting drunk or doing whatever they’re doing.  So instead of bullying them when they complain about the political society they live in, maybe you should just be thankful that they didn’t cast votes from a position of ignorance because people like you pressured them into pretending they care.  And when they do grumble about one political issue or another,  maybe just  engage them like a human being instead of dealing in moral superiority.

And finally, we must consider the serious, thoughtful non-voter: the interested, responsible citizen who is disaffected and alienated.  The person who doesn’t feel like any of the same-old, same-old candidates from the same-old, same-old parties are going to represent their values or ideals.  The person who can’t stand the Democratic OR Republican party, and is frustrated knowing that the deck is stacked against smaller parties and independents.  The potential voter who sees the system as broken, the candidates as flawed, and doesn’t believe that voting for anyone on the ballot is going to fix it.

The person you see as cynical and maybe irresponsible, and who sees you as naive and maybe sanctimonious.  These people are serious citizens  and deserve better than bromides.  They deserve sincere engagement and honest discourse.

I still clearly remember watching a Monday Night Football game in late October many years ago.  The color commentator back then was the smug and pedantic Dan Dierdorf, a former St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman.  For those keeping track at home, that’s before the Rams moved from L.A. to St. Louis and back to L.A. again, and before the Cardinals moved to St. Louis to Arizona, but but after they moved from Chicago to St. Louis.  God, what a joke the NFL is.

Anyway, when Dierdorf opened his yap and told millions of people that no vote = no complaint, it helped crystallize for me exactly what’s wrong with that sentiment.  I mean honestly, who the hell is Dan Dordorf to guilt people into voting with a threat of delegitimizing their beliefs and values?

Unfortunately, Dierforf is not alone.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this ugly aphorism spouted by some well meaning person.  The irony of course is that while voting is considered to be the citizenry’s ideals and thoughts put into action, this misguided maxim is incredibly thoughtless.

There are a lot of Americans on the Left, Right, and in between, who do not vote and do so thoughtfully.  I’m not saying their approach is the right way to go.  But I’m also certainly not saying that everyone should vote regardless of their understanding of the issues or desire to do so.  People should be encouraged to vote, not threatened, cajoled, or coerced.

For a variety of reasons, not everyone wants vote.  But whether or not a citizen takes to the polling place, every American is welcome to participate in the grand conversation about what constitutes the successes and failures of this nation.  Absolutely no one is excluded from speaking what they understand to be the truth.

I’m a half-Jew who thinks Nazis should be allowed to say their peace.  You’d better believe someone who didn’t vote gets the same treatment.

That’s why the next person who says, “If you don’t vote then you’ve got no right to complain,” has to deal with me.  I’ve got my grade book open and I’m warning you now: F-

4 thoughts on “If You Don’t Vote You Can Still Complain

  1. Well Akim, I definitely fall into your last category. Alienated and doubtful that my vote will help broken system. I hate having to go to the ballot box every couple years and pick between the lesser of 2 evils – trying to sift through who alienates and upsets me the least. But, I keep on doing it anyway. In about 5 minutes, as a matter of fact…

  2. Ah, you’ve hit a real chord here.

    Jaded, self-serving, Professional Politicians, hypocrisy at every level of government, the globalization frat party and its attendant hangovers, commerce gone wild with loss of neighborhood shops and business and the proliferation of fascistic, cavernous super stores where the shopper actually becomes the (unpaid and paying) factory worker (as in try shopping at Ikea or Home Depot), lack of real jobs and opportunity, unregulated robber barons of new, unholy alliances in government, voter fraud, extremes on the left and right. . . . it’s enough to send you into existential hell, much less alienation from anything resembling meaningful community.

    It all makes Tammany Hall looks like Pop’s Soda Shop.

  3. I can certainly agree with this post. On tuesday i decided to actively abstain from voting. i had always voted before, but in the past i felt cause to vote either for a candidate (for Barack Obama, for instance) or against a candidate (against George W Bush both times, although i felt reservations about affirming Al Gore or John Kerry)

    After “dabbling” in conservativism, as a carroll-county born middle school student, the bright new world of catholic high school education opened my eyes to the falsehoods of the conservative movement. Also, gays like myself are generally not considered welcome among republicans or conservatives. i thought for a long time that the Democrats backed my interests, but after observing how they handled governance and power following the 2000 election, i grew disenchanted with both parties and began to question the usefulness of belonging to any or either organization. I have not yet encountered a political party which adequately speaks on my behalf, so i am registered independent or unaffiliated.

    This election cycle i felt no particular attraction to voting for either gubernatorial candidate, nor was i interested in what was available for me in the house or senate. i considered going just to vote on ballot initiatives, but they seemed opaque to me, and i didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about them (although i think i would have voted against slots, which i don’t believe was one of the questions here in carroll county. arundel mills mall is disgusting enough without slot machines. they seem appropriate at a race track, but not at a shopping area. even if the only interesting attractions are the LEGO store and the over-large movie theatre. (the bengies and the senator are still the best movie-going experiences in the baltimore area)

    So i abstained, and i consider it my right as an American, disenchanted with the system at a structural level, to do so. I do display activity in politics: im rather fond of dialing the white house comment line and i have submitted a letter regarding health care reform to the president (i dont care which party does it, or how its done, i just want there to be healthcare available for everyone and as a person with a pre-existing condition(disability,) i am sick of the current insurance i have and its ridiculously high perscription prices. why oh why does the good medication cost 278 dollars for one month’s supply?

    i strongly uphold the choice to vote and the right to vote. but those choices and rights are only valid if one is able to choose, of his or her own free will, not to vote.

  4. Alright … so here’s my confession. I haven’t voted for years. I think the last time I did was for Rudolf Gulianni for Mayor.and this was because my wife who doesn’t vote wanted me to. Over all he was a better Mayor than most and he certainly knew how to lead during those terrible days after 9/11. But I must admit that there is always a tinge of guilt around Nov 2 . Not that I avoid social contact or hide under the bed; my friends and acquaintances being mostly liberals with a smattering of conservative leaning and even a tea party supporter or two would never believe that I didn’t vote.

    However, this election brought me the closest to snapping me out of my self imposed lethargy. The bottom line is that those people who feel that voting doesn’t matter for any of the reasons already mentioned have to be motivated, through fear, anger or what have you to get out and vote. Both Dems and Repubs have things I can support and things I can’t. But when things start to affect a person personally, if they feel threatened, and made to feel that they are being ignored, and put down; then those people do come out and the system readjusts. It’s the system adjusting but the action of an individual doesn’t account for too much. If Newton’s Law of Thermodynamics holds (every action has a reaction equal in force but opposite in direction), then we are in for a strong swing to the right.

    In terms of your idea of community ,voting or not, may fit, perhaps rather loosely. Politics is like a sports event. Those who want to feel a part of the community participate by watching their respective superstar sportscasters like Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olberlin (in another life were sports announcers) and the like and then casting their bets to feel a part of the game and the” community.” Perhaps those who decline voting are more circumspect about the game knowing the chips are stacked against you and the outcome is predictable .

Let it Rip