May 8, 2010 0
Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not complaining. Voting is one area where there really is – and should be – a difference between where you come from and where you are. But this week I have felt acutely the strangeness of my situation, which is that I can influence minute local elections in California (I haven’t been in California for two years) but cannot cast a vote here, where I live now.
It’s good to feel this powerless. I forget not to take things – like democracy, for instance – for granted. I have strong opinions about the general election in the UK. But I’m a child again, watching the adults make the decisions. More than that, I have the sense that I’m witnessing an intimate moment that I shouldn’t see. I’m an American voyeur, peering into the British bedroom, watching the politicians strip their clothes off, bare their fists. Watching the people do the same.
This is not the same thing has having no say. I still have a voice. I simply don’t have the right to tick a box. That box makes a world of difference to me, but the freedoms I enjoy would make a world of difference to much of the rest of the world. I know that. I also know that I made the choice to live here.
And I believe this is just, that my own powerlessness is deserved. But I would be lying if I told you that on Thursday, I didn’t feel just the tiniest bit of resentment. In the morning, reading other people’s accounts of stepping into voting booths, my eyes welled up. I always get a bit like that about elections, but this time there was something else. This was not pure love for the democratic system, or a thrill at seeing it in action. There was a sadness, too. Voting brings people together. There’s a whole community out there this week – a whole country – that I’m not a part of and never can be.
There’s something else, too. There’s anger, I think. This is more irrational. But it has to do with the sense that it had just got started. They didn’t left enough time for us to process everything, let alone decide (I say “we” but I mean “them” – and that’s at the heart of it, I hate that there’s a “them” again, just when I was getting used to it being “us”). This election only really kicked off a few weeks ago; where I’m from elections last years. And that can be exhausting, but it’s what I’m used to.
Here, they’re analysts. I’ve watched my friends and my colleagues suddenly become mathematicians, statisticians, logic-minded advocates. They understand marginal seats and tactical voting but there’s not that same idealistic sense of individual power.
What I keep thinking, really, is this: that I may not have a vote but I still have a voice, and how could I have used it? Why didn’t I use it? My own ignorance left me feeling bound and gagged for too long and now suddenly here we are, and the time for action has passed.
I remember going to a rally for a popular gubernatorial candidate in Boston once. A friend of mine, another politics student, met me outside the Hynes Convention Center and we smiled our way past the security and up into the balcony, where we watched the candidate make a rousing speech. It was raining confetti. Oh, it was a spectacle. It was empty. The fact that this man could rally such an enthusiastic crowd says nothing about his qualifications to lead a state. But it felt good, and now I know why: it felt good because I was a part of it. Because the following week I could go out and make my decision, and have that mean something.
So my challenge now is to learn how to make my voice feel more like a vote; to learn how to translate opinion into action in new ways. And maybe, too, I should consider what I said at the start of this post – that this is one area in which it really does matter where you come from, where you’re registered. That sounds so clinical – to say that I’m registered to vote in California and therefore that’s where I should be voting – but maybe it’s only because I’ve forgotten, over the last few years, how important it is to feel involved.