Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote or STFU

Okay, folks, this is it. We’ve heard all the predictions and the prognostications; we’ve seen all the ads and the junk mail; we’ve gotten all the robo-calls and the countless e-mails and press releases; now it’s your turn.

It’s an old cliche that the only poll that matters is the one you visit when you vote. Well, yeah, it is. But it’s also true. All of the pundits and the Very Serious People inside the Beltway can natter on about trends and waves and all that stuff, but it all starts in the solitude and relative silence of people standing in a little booth set up in parish halls and school gyms where volunteers, usually your retired neighbor (who else can get the day off?) has you sign the book and hands you a ballot and sends you off on your own to make your choices. Outside in the parking lot there are competing campaign staffers waving signs and handing out “guides” imploring you to make up your mind at the last minute, but you’ve left them all behind, thankfully out of earshot. If you’re a studious citizen, you’ve studied all the questions, you’ve read up on all the candidates, and your mind is made up long before you run the gauntlet. Or maybe you haven’t; you know who you’ll vote for in the big races — governor, senator, representative — but the list of names in the local races mean nothing to you except for remembering whose name was on the yard sign of a friend whose insight into local issues you respect, or just sounds familiar. The dizzying language of the charter amendments and ballot initiatives makes you wonder how anyone figured out that we the people could make sense of this question that needs to be answered in the voting booth. And then there are the down-ticket races for judges and local mayors.

The choices are many, and you start to feel like you’ve just pulled up to the world’s largest menu at a drive-through and you have to make your decision while the scratchy voice from the clown’s mouth asks for your order and the family with three screaming kids in the minivan crowds your rear bumper. So you almost choose at random while the memory of what Joe Pesci said in Lethal Weapon 2 about what happens at the drive-thru rings in your ear.

Relax. Take a deep breath. No one is timing you. There is no one looking over your shoulder, there is no one telling you to hurry up. There are other voting booths, and the other people are probably grateful to have a moment to collect their thoughts. You can change your mind, too, before you hit the big red VOTE button. You can decide whether or not to vote for someone, or calculate that voting for someone else will actually help your side win because the one you really like doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance and you really don’t want That Guy to win. Or you can cast a vote regardless of whether or not you think they’ll win because you believe in what they say and a vote for them is a statement. The choice is up to you. But it doesn’t mean anything unless you actually show up.

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. I never have. For one thing, I don’t want the responsibility, and for another, I don’t have any more insight about a particular candidate or ballot measure than you do, and the only piece of election material that matters is the ballot and the little sticker that says “I Voted Today!” But I will demand that you do vote, because if you don’t, you forfeit the right to complain about how terrible our city, county, state, and federal governments are run. As far as I’m concerned, your opinions about anything to do with how angry or worried or concerned you are about the way the world is going will ring hollow and I don’t want to hear it. If you’re fed up with it, today is the day to do something about it. Put your pencil or your touch-screen where your mouth is. Otherwise, shut the fuck up.

PS: This is it for blogging for me until later today or tonight. I can’t blog from work, and besides, this pretty much covers it for now.