Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline
queen_of_kithia

Abstention

There's so much to talk about and so little time; I want to address this one before it gets too dated.

I was watching the news about a week ago, and they had a little interview with one of the anti-Trump protesters in New York (I think it was New York), and the protester actually admitted to not having voted in the election as part of a principled stance.

So I can't help but wonder, what exactly was the plan here? You don't vote but you protest the results? Were you going to protest regardless of who won? And if not, is that maybe an indication of a direction that you maybe could have/should have voted? Like, "There's one candidate whose election would cause me to take to the streets and protest, and one whose election would not." Do you suppose you could compromise your principles enough to try and make that latter scenario happen?

I could lecture the nonvoters out there; I could deride them and shame them, but that wouldn't really make any difference, and it wouldn't make me feel better, and--in fact--it would be hypocritical of me because I have empty ballots on my voting conscience as well. So what I would like to do instead is to share, as a cautionary tale, my story about when I decided not to vote.

The first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote was 2000: Bush and Gore, to list them alphabetically. It was a confusing time for me; I was going through kind of an ideological identity crisis. Two years prior, when I'd turned 18, I had registered to vote as a Republican, because I was a South Dakotan and that's what you do. But more than that, I thought I WAS a Republican. The following school year was my senior year of high school, and I took government class because it was a requirement, in which I took some sort of self-assessment quiz thingy to find out my political orientation, and was surprised to find myself leaning to the left side of the spectrum, i.e., the Democratic side, the liberal side. Let me tell you, it's kind of a shock to discover oneself to be a liberal in a state where "liberal" is considered a dirty word.

In the summer of the year 2000, I was home from college and proudly cast my vote in the South Dakota primary for John McCain,[*](this was long before he had gone crazy) but because I live in South Dakota, where--due to scheduling--the primaries are like the points on Whose Line is it Anyway?, it made no difference. That disillusioned me considerably.

I actually did a lot of soul-searching that autumn, a lot of researching, a lot of trying to find a third party with which I could perhaps feel more comfortable; all to no avail. The problem was that I was--and am--very much opposed to abortion, and yet I was--and am--also very much in favor of gun control[*](keep in mind that this was only a year and half after the Columbine shooting, which had occurred during the waning months of my senior year of high school and was still very prominent in my memory) and so, unless I found a palatable third-party candidate that appeared on the ballot in South Dakota, my vote would contribute--either directly or indirectly--to the wanton slaughter of innocent children. You might find that melodramatic, and perhaps it is, but it's the way I saw things at the time.

It was a nearly intractable moral dilemma, one that--in actuality--took me years to reconcile, but now I was trying to do it on a deadline.[*](Also keep in mind that, because I was attending school far away from the county in which I was registered to vote, I would have had to fill out an absentee ballot and decide at least six weeks prior to actual election day.) And I became resentful. This was a burden I never asked for and didn't want. Members of Congress--whose job it is to vote, whose sole purpose in gathering in the Capitol in Washington is to vote--are allowed to abstain from voting, yet I'm considered a borderline traitor if I abstain. Well, I decided to myself, I'm an adult and I'm a citizen of a free country, after all; I'm going to take back my right to abstain from voting.

Well, you know what happened--or, perhaps, what didn't happen--in that election. Stalemate. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, Inauguration Day loomed large on the horizon and still no clear winner in the election. And I took a long hard look in the mirror and said to myself, "This is your fault."

Oh, I'm not deluded enough to think that one little vote in South Dakota would have tipped the balance. In fact--due to the electoral college--if I'd voted the way I was inclined to vote, my vote probably wouldn't have counted anyhow. But because I'd chosen not to vote when I had the chance, I'd sat back and allowed this to happen. And though I'd repented it now, it was too late to go back and change it.

I've voted in every presidential election since then, and every vote I cast is trying to make up for the one I skipped, but of course I never can. I've voted in four presidential elections now and every time, my vote has been legally stolen by the electoral college and given to a man that I loathe entirely, a man who has betrayed my trust, a man whom I hate, and a man that stands in direct opposition to everything that I believe in. But I keep voting, because no matter what happens, it will never again be said of me that I just sat back and allowed it to happen.

My political orientation hasn't changed much since my senior year of high school. I still lean left. I usually vote Democratic in a Republican state. I very rarely win. Sometimes it feels like trying to drain the ocean with an eyedropper. Sometimes it feels like trying to tunnel through a mountain with a toothpick. Sometimes it feels like trying to tear down a brick wall by using my head as a battering ram. Sometimes I rage and cry and scream in anguish to the heavens at the seeming futility of it all.

But I keep voting. Because I don't want a debaucle like the 2000 election on my conscience ever again.
Tags: memory, world turned upside down
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