Friday, November 9, 2012

Voter Regret in 2012

Just momentarily, I'm renaming this blog "When Every Voter Counts." We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming shortly :)

Up until this week, I hated politics. The political atmosphere of my childhood was so monolithic that everyone assumed they were all on the same page. In other words, it really wasn't discussed. At least not in front of the youngins.

College was fraught with the politics of student organizations, university decisions, interpersonal communication, and teacher-student discourse. Alcohol, pop culture, sex, music, movies, and art were also discussed at length.

I'm sure I had and have friends who are very politically active, but I never sought out those conversations. As a chronic nice person, I didn't want to be amid heated discussions where passion is hard to distinguish from disrespect and my lack of political knowledge could be ridiculed.

Don't get me wrong - I voted the minute I could. I have voted in three presidential elections and two for state officials. I know my voice counts and it's my right and duty to make sure it's heard, even if filling in bubble sheets is my only active and public contribution.

But the last decade of my life has been spent becoming progressively more glum about this country. A striking contrast to every other part of my life, I am jaded.

I have a rather pessimistic view of the current state of affairs and where we are headed. I'm a registered independent and no matter whether I like one party's talking points over another, I feel our political system is broke. I want to believe it serves the people and I want to have hope that things will get better. But the evidence accumulated in my relatively short life isn't very encouraging.

That changed this week. Because of my bleak viewpoint, I had a major crisis of conscious when it came to voting. I was terribly worried about the repercussions of my vote, about what kind of national atmosphere it would be contributing to. I was torn between voting for the guy I wanted in (and knew was likely to win) and a third-party candidate who best represented how I would like to see this country shift.

I stared at the ballot for 5 minutes. I filled in my scantron sheet and dropped it into the machine. It didn't feel good.

Instead of the relief from voting being over, I felt ashamed. Mad at myself that I hadn't been better informed about my full range of choices. Embarrassed I'd only looked up who the independent options were hours before hitting the polls. Exhausted by being one of those "treacherous" undecided voters even when I had a ballot in front of me. Angry that my indecision was largely from feeling the weight of a depressed economy and clipped future resting on my shoulders.

That's not who I am.

Watching Obama's victory speech was uplifting. Seeing the number of women, minorities, and gays elected to office was inspiring. Hearing about the percentage of those same groups, including my age bracket, who showed up to the polls did my heart good. The old establishment, which rarely gives two pence about my future, is visibly scared. I now see more of the America I live and know on a daily basis represented by those in office.

It's just the tide of change I needed to spurn my own change. Never again will I let myself be immobilized because I can't imagine a bright America for all again. I'll be damned if I fail myself again by not researching my candidate options until I feel my decision is sound and justified.

Politics is still scary. I probably won't talk to you about them in person unless I trust that you won't jump down my throat. I'll never be that person who relishes a flame war on Facebook.

But I will research, read, reflect, and engage in civil conversation. I will ask others to respectfully share their opinions, even if I know ahead of time that I will likely disagree. I will explore unfamilar or intimidating issues (foreign policy, anyone?) to better inform myself. I will make sure that my friends know that I won't dismiss them because our politics don't line up.

There's a lot of things our country needs right now. For my part, I'm going to do my best to inject some kindness in our political discussions.  Because people like you and me - who may be reserved, nice, and considerate - America needs us to stop the political bullying.   

What are you going to do?