Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is voting a right, privilege or responsibility?

Is voting a right, privilege or responsibility? In the United States, if you are anything other than a middle-aged wealthy white landowner, it has been a hard fought right all too often taken for granted.

A license to drive a car is a privilege, not a right. We are remained that poor choices or circumstances can lead to your license being revoked. Sadly, there are those who ignore voting as a right and attempt to revoke it, to disenfranchise and suppress your voice and your power through misinformation, manipulation and even intimidation. Yes, voting is a fundamental right in this country; it is also a privilege.

When you vote, perhaps as a college student, a woman, a minority, or an immigrant here by choice, you are standing on the shoulders of those before you. Those who fought in our own streets and busses and courtrooms, and those who fought and continue to fight overseas to defend and protect the nation and its citizens, prop you up. The debt to be paid is the right and privilege of voting for issues that concern your community, state and nation. Voting for representatives, elected men and women who may or may not share your views but are open to debate and discourse.

During this time of year, I hear people talk while waiting in lines for their coffee or sandwiches, about the candidates or issues on the ballot. There are those who are meticulous in their research before forming an opinion of the issues versus those who will vote the party line, even if they need to block their nose while doing it. Those who ultimately vote based on who they would prefer to have a beer with could negate either of these choices. It is infuriating and beautifully American. We all have various amounts of influence in our lives – but in the voting booth, we are all equal and those who show up make the decisions.

When I see the recent “Liberty Mutual” advertisement on television I ponder each of the obstacles faced and wonder at which point do people get deterred? What’s your threshold? If it’s raining, do you still go to the polls? If you are in a wheelchair, do you still go to the polls? If you must wait for a bus, do you still go to the polls? If the easily accessible entrance is blocked, do you find a way in? And there may be some additional obstacles this year. With misinformation on polling places and practices, have you educated yourself? With apathy, either, “We can’t win,” or “It’s a shoe in,” will you still vote? What about long lines? Two, four, five hours or more, will that discourage you? I believe this year, unlike years past, Americans are going to go and once again be heard. People know their vote is important. The 2000 Presidential election was separated by just 537 votes in Florida.

When new democracies emerge across the globe it is not uncommon to see long lines stretch into the streets as citizens get their first taste of freedom. Never before were they asked their opinion. Never before were they given the power to choose their future. In America, we have been blessedly spoiled. Granted, much of the population would prefer to vote from the comfort of their couch as if watching “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” but something is different this year. Some of it is to participate in history, but more than that, it is to participate in a rebirth.

By now, few can argue that some things in the last four to eight years went terribly wrong. America, the shinning city on a hill, has been badly tarnished and it’s beacon obscured by fog. There was a time, as we searched for meaning and healing that American flags blanketed the nation and slogans of unity were draped over bridges. The sense of grit and determination was balanced with pride and love of country and of countrymen. It could have been our finest hour, but the goodwill was squandered.

Soon we witnessed the erosion of common sense and common decency. Victims became the accused. To question power became unpatriotic. Natural disasters begged for attention. We could almost hear the sobs of mourning come from our Constitution as we traded rights for false senses of security but lost some freedom, some privacy and as we debated the merits of torture, some honor. We now are engaged in two brutal wars, which are aging too fast, and an economic turmoil that is likely in its infancy.

It is in this climate that America chooses a new leader (neither of whom was born in the continental United States). Americans want their country back. Be it for change, or for reform, the reason the electorate feels different this year is because in many ways the nation is going through a restoration. Challenges in the Middle East, the economy, energy, the environment, healthcare, education, social security and housing are ever present and not particularly new, but the approach we take to address each of them has to be.

We are at a defining moment, still deep in a dark forest we must choose one of two paths. The certainty of either is unknown. One may lead in a circle; one may lead to a clearing. They may even run parallel. By now, we all have our preferences. The beauty of our system, our constitution and the very soul of the nation is that we are able to right our wrongs beginning on Election Day. Today the course will be set by the collective judgment of the American people. Your right, your privilege, your responsibility is to make absolutely sure your voice is heard.