Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why We should Vote

12 years ago, my parents took the four of us "kids" to Europe. We spent most of our time in Germany and England. While walking around London, we would stop frequently to look at the various statues and monuments that pepper the streets. Stopping at one of them really gave me quite a surprise. It was a statue of George Washington.

Really? I thought. A statue of a general who beat their country in a war? It seemed unprecedented. We would never erect a statue to Benedict Arnold or George III. What were they doing with that thing?

People always seem to forget that George Washington wasn't just the first president of the United States, but the first president in the world. Period. It had never been done before that. And in the long days before the ratification of the Constitution--or even the articles of confederation--the people were restless to know who--or what--was going to govern the country.

The troops camped out on the shores, having just rid our country of the Red Coats, came up with a plan to hurry things along. They would march on Philadelphia, take over this meeting of intellectuals, and put George Washington up as King of America.

Well, when George found out about this, he was pissed. He told his troops that we didn't get rid of George the Third to have George the First.

It was unheard of. He actually turned down the chance to be King. And when George III back in England heard of this, the rumor is that he literally fell on his ass in disbelief. How could someone turn down that much power? Turns out, he really admired Washington after that.

And after two terms, when Washington stepped down(!), the 1796 election was the first peaceful transfer of power in history. And in 1800, when Vice President Jefferson beat sitting President Adams, it was a true test of our democracy--that the president peacefully stepped down after losing an election (to his own VP, nonetheless).

I guess what I'm saying is this: we forget what a brave and new idea the presidency was back then. And really, we're not that far removed. The country is constantly reinventing itself and reinventing what freedom means.

I'm a cynical person, so I hear you when you complain that freedoms have been limited recently. But look: slavery ended, women got the right to vote, the Civil Rights movement, the voting age lowering to 18 so that draftees could vote; these are all major strides that the country has taken in the past, and there is no reason that this country can't make other great strides in the future.

That's where your vote comes in.

Don't listen to the polls. Don't say, "Well, my states going Red or Blue with or without me, so why should I vote either way?" That doesn't give the democratic process any respect. The vote should reflect the will of the people, and even if that means that you don't get to give electoral votes to your candidate of choice, you should let your opinion be heard.

I've voted in four elections now (Jeez, I'm getting old). And--at least in the first three--I've never voted for the winner. Actually, I never even voted for second place, either. Last time, my candidate didn't even pull up a distant third.

How my vote goes this year, we'll have to wait and see.

But please, take the time to go out and vote. If you haven't registered, vote anyway. Fill out a provisional ballot and register at the polling place. Take part in the brave experiment that voting is.

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