Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Open Letter To You If Your Candidate Won (And If S/he Didn't)

Good Morning America,

I am feeling quite well this morning. I went to bed before the election results were in, which might be why I woke up at 1:42 AM from a terrible dream in which my candidate had won the popular vote but lost the election anyway -- in my dream, Rachel Maddow kept patting me on the arm and telling me that it would be okay, but still. So upsetting. This is why at 1:45 in the morning I was online, reading about the presidential election.

I am a nerd.

But at least I was a happy nerd, if only for a few minutes.

Some of you, nerds or otherwise, are happy this morning. Some of you are not. To which I say -- that happens. Those of you who are not happy might be thinking, well, four years from now we'll remobilize and fight again. Those of you who are happy might be thinking, PHEW! I don't really have to do anything else for four years!


I want you to think of a democratic society as, say, a board game. Like Parcheesi. If you place it on a shelf in your closet? It does you no good. There's no point to having it. If you're not careful, it will get buried under other things -- coats and mittens and possibly even other board games.

If you play it only once every four years? It might get damaged, up there on that back shelf. Maybe a wet mitten will get tossed up there and land on the box, warping it and making the board mouldy. Maybe a mouse will nibble away the corners. Maybe the whole thing will be upended without you realizing it and you'll lose some key pieces.

Or maybe you do want to play it a little more often. That's great. But maybe you have a tendency not to pay attention to the act of play. Maybe you wander away in the middle of the turn, so your opponent can cheat. Or maybe you just fail to engage and then -- you lose.

If you voted yesterday, that's awesome. But let me tell you this: voting is not the sum total of your responsibility in a representative government. Too many of us -- myself included -- have treated our political process like a sad old Parcheesi game -- we've ignored it, let it get mildewy and damp, and then, when we take it out and dust it off and really look at it, are astonished that it's not in the same shape it was when we put it away.

If you are unhappy with your government it is your duty to make sure you work to change it. That's the way it works -- and let me tell you this, please, because I think so many of us fail to understand this point: standing beside someone and yelling at them "CHANGE! CHANGE RIGHT NOW" is not actually the most, erm, effective way to bring about change. It requires involvement, work, and sometimes it involves lowering your voice. But understand this: complaining without action is weak, and it's what those who believe differently than you HOPE for: That you will be angry, but you will not act. (Which, I'm afraid, is frequently the role of the American citizen in politics.)

If you are HAPPY with your government, it is your duty to work to PROTECT it. To watch out for it. To keep it on track. Not to sit complacently by because your guy won. To make sure that your goverment stays strong and continues to represent you. Does this sound a bit like policing? That's because it is. The minute you turn your back on your government, the instant you stop watching what it's doing and release your responsibilities, the whole thing can turn. This is a government for the people, by the people. You are the people. You need to work and watch and fight. Again, those who would use political power for their own gain hope you won't. Don't give that to them.

I firmly believe that one of the reasons that this country has become so politically divided is this: the majority of us have relinquished the personal responsibility that comes with this type of government. We believe that we will vote and that we will be taken care of. We're sheep who get to elect our own herders and then, once that's done, happily return to being sheep. Which means, of course, that the herders have to be extreme to get noticed -- the more extreme the herder, the more polarizing s/he is.

 The problem with sheep, though, is that they get sent to slaughter unknowing.  The founders of this country didn't fight the Revolutionary War and write the Constitution so that two hundred and thirty six years later we could all vote once in a while and then wash our hands of the whole deal. They did it so that the citizens of this nation (and I could get started on who was a valid citizen and who wasn't, but that's for another day) could be involved.

So BE INVOLVED. Every day. Hold your government accountable. Watch what it does. Speak up and work for it, whether you're happy OR angry. Because doing otherwise is no longer enough.


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