I voted today. Sigh. I voted because although I believe it is a privilege and a right that we are lucky to have, I also believe it is our civic duty to vote. So I did my civic duty and cast my ballot.
I remember clearly the first time I ever voted. I was living in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a senior in high school, and I was only 17. Virginia allowed those who would be of legal age during the general election to vote in the primary election, even if they weren’t yet 18.
Back then, I was very politically active. So politically active that I would drag my teenage butt out of bed way too early on Saturday mornings to attend the Democratic breakfasts every week. I would have breakfast, socialize and talk with other democrats, and have way too much coffee. Then I would often go home and want to take a nap. But I went every week, and I loved it.
Back then, I volunteered on political campaigns, too. And I LOVED it.
But I digress. My point was, back then I believed in our political system, believed that the people we were electing (or working to elect) made a difference, stood up for our best interests, etc. I believed that we could make a difference, that our votes counted, that our voices counted.
I believed in the America so many people around the world admired and respected. (And yes, I believed that they felt that way.)
That fall, of 1988, having mailed in my absentee ballot the month before, I sat eagerly glued to my tv, watching the returns of the elections. Those of you who are still political junkies (as I was back then) know it’s like watching the super bowl on television, it is that riveting.
One year, after voting in the primaries at the end of the day, and finding out I had been 1 of less than 100 people voting in my precinct, I went back to the newspaper office (in college – The Houston Cougar) and writing an editorial thanking those who had not voted for making my vote count, and telling them they had no right to complain now.
This year, after casting my ballot, I experienced none of that excitement or pride that I had always loved. I felt disgusted. And frustrated. And depressed. Yes, depressed, because that ballot symbolizes freedom to so much of the world, it symbolizes a political system that works. And I no longer believe that system does work.
I have little faith in either the incumbents or the candidates. Whereas once I believed those who served, served us, I now believe they serve their own interests and those of the lobbyists and big industries who supported their campaigns. Even when I was deeply involved in politics, after college when I was worked for a political consulting company and then working on campaigns as staff, I still believed that at least when people started out in politics or those in lower offices still had our best interests at heart. And I guess part of me still believes that to an extent, or at least desperately wants to believe, that is true. But for the most part, watching what is going on in our great nation makes me sad because I no longer see this country as the country I once kept my faith in and trusted.
The America I see on the news, the political system in Washington that has become more of a joke than a system that works, is barely visible to me anymore. And yet I see more small people making big differences, I see chains of small actions making big impacts on people, and that gives me faith. Maybe one day the people will get involved and the powers that be will be composed of the people who care and want to make a difference, and then this country and this world will be a better place.
I still have a lot of years ahead of me – I can’t give up faith yet.