Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why vote?

"In the face of all the challenges we face today, is my optimism about the future of humanity idealistic? Perhaps it is. Is it unrealistic? Certainly not. To remain indifferent to the challenges we face is indefensible. If the goal is noble, whether or not it is realized within our lifetime is largely irrelevant. What we must do therefore is to strive and persevere and never give up." His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Some years ago I was flabbergasted when a friend I had previously respected said he had never voted. He insisted it wasn't because he was lazy or disinterested, but that it was his way of objecting to the whole political system and what he perceived as corruption and politicians being bought out by big business. At that stage my primary objection was that thousands of men and women had fought to preserve our democracies. They'd lost their limbs, minds and lives to ensure we wouldn't live under tyrants in various guises. The choice not to vote seemed a cop out to me.

I've thought about that conversation a lot since, and here's my current thinking about why I believe it's important for everyone to vote - particularly in countries where voting isn't compulsory.

I've counted electoral votes here in Australia, where voting is compulsory, and have seen first hand how important every vote is. Individually it doesn't seem to matter much, and it's easy to imagine your single vote is insignificant. But when your voice joins in with hundreds and thousands of others it has an effect. It can unsettle some candidates who thought they were sitting pretty and encourage others for next time.  (Interview with a new candidate here) It can make candidates think - they listen to the mass of voices.

Are you visible?
Some people, I know, are concerned that voting undermines your freedoms. A position I admit I have difficulty understanding. Consider the following: When you choose not to vote, you become invisible. Well orchestrated, powerful groups with vested interests and very deep pockets will mobilise their forces and take over to manipulate the result to support their ends. Do lobby groups sit back complacently and do nothing? No, because they know how important voting is - they want to have the loudest voice, they want to be visible.

Who speaks for you?
Each time you choose not to vote, each time you remain silent and don't speak out against corruption, injustice and environmental degradation, you willingly give your power to others who are prepared to make the effort. They speak on your behalf whether you agree with them or not. You give your freedom away to those who will happily grab and run with the mandate to do what they will.

By choosing to take an interest and voting "with intent", you make it more difficult for extremist and special interest groups to manipulate: You make it difficult for them to manipulate the economy, to manipulate the finance sector, to manipulate the environment - for obscene profits and payments, all of which are unsustainable and frankly, disgusting given the inequities around the globe.

You give away your freedoms when you choose not to vote. The result is the potential undermining of our collective freedoms. The outcome of elections in one country impacts on those of us in other countries, and not always for the better.

There are repercussions from elections around the globe because our systems are so interlinked.

Once freedoms have been lost, they're incredible difficult, and maybe impossible to claw back. Don't let that happen.

To use the excuse that elections are a foregone conclusion is completely unconvincing. It's as pathetic as not applying for a job because you don't have the perfect set of requirements. If you sit back and don't do anything, of course you'll get a crap result.

I've heard people say "I don't vote, it just encourages them", "My vote won't make any difference so I won't bother" Pah! There's another saying down here in Australia, we vote to "Keep the bastards honest".

Of course it doesn't always go the way I want, but I enjoy the liberty, the freedom, the joy and frustration of democracy in action. Having travelled extensively in countries where freedom is a dangerous dream, where to speak out in favour of democracy and against corruption can lead to indefinite detention, where extreme censorship is part and parcel of everyday life, the ability to vote freely for the candidate of my choice is something I don't take lightly.

Voting is your opportunity to voice anger, disapproval & frustration about things like inaction on climate issues, our addiction to fossil fuels, the need for sustainability, dreadful social inequity but also to encourage those who are working towards a better world.

Be a supporting voice
The people, companies and politicians working toward a more sustainable, equitable world - those who think globally - need all the support you can give them.  It's lonely being a dissenting voice, particularly when well funded, vested interests are nipping at your heels and perhaps offering a bit of incentive to encourage you to sell your soul.

Let the 'good guys' know they're doing well! Write to them - even a simple one line comment - it'll lift their spirits and help keep them on the right track! Write to the tardy ones and encourage them to lift their game.

You know the expression: "Silence is consent" ... if you don't vote, if you don't write to the politicians and agitate for change, if you're silent, they assume you agree with what they're doing. 

Politicians listen to the loudest voices. Make your voice count. 

Link here to NY Times article on compulsory voting, published in 2006, but still relevant today.


Deborah said...

'Of course it doesn't always go the way I want, but I enjoy the liberty, the freedom, the joy and frustration of democracy in action. Having travelled extensively in countries where freedom is a dangerous dream..'

I always get teary when I am in the polling booth Sue. My friends think it is funny...but I tell them that I am simply overwhelmed with the knowledge that so many people around the globe risk their lives to cast a vote or can not do so at all. So when I am marking the ballot paper I am marking it not just for me but for all the disenfranchised people of the world...

Anonymous said...

Every election day I get so angry at people who don't have the ambition to get up off their chairs and vote. "Oh it doesn't make any difference if I vote or not" they say. It most certainly DOES make a difference.

sue said...

Deborah, I think it's one of the wonderful benefits of travelling - it's the opportunity really gain an appreciation of what oppression means. Particularly when you spend time talking to locals after having gained their trust.

Delores, Please feel free to Tweet and link on FB to this post if you think it might help them see a different perspective.

Talli Roland said...

Very well said! I'm always stunned when people say they don't vote. We're lucky we CAN!

Helen Ginger said...

I agree that voting is important. You may be only one voice, but you lose that voice if you don't vote. It can seem pointless, yes. I don't believe I've ever seen an honest politician who represents me. They only seem to represent themselves But I still vote because I do want a voice in what's going on.

sue said...

Talli, I think that's one of the great benefits in travelling and hearing about the dangers people willingly face to cast their vote. It can be a very humbling experience.

Helen, Exactly! I know people involved in the political system and they can begin with the best will in the world and with very high ideals - unfortunately, the pressure to cave in to the will of others is immense, and takes a lot of strength to resist. But like you I believe we need to use our voice - or we lose it.