I still have my “I Voted” sticker.
I’ve been meaning to throw it away. The profound weight of my disappointment keeps it sitting on my desk next to the trash. But something holds me back. Some small flicker of…something.
Hope is too grand a word. Hope is winding down his tenure in the oval office. Hope has gone silent politically since giving her concession speech, opting instead for hiking and bookshops. And in its place has arisen a looming negativity about the world. A general hatred and fear of change. A denial and disregard of science. An increasing unwillingness to empathize. A strong desire to go back in time to an unspecified Great America.
I’ve been blindsided, and I’m not sure what to do.
Or to be more realistic, I’m hesitating.
The sticker itself is a simple thing – a cheap, mass-produced token. But it’s simplicity belies it’s power as a symbol of American democracy – the most powerful and stable democracy in the world; one that other countries aspire to. Million of stickers are handed out across the nation each election cycle. They represent the millions of people who calmly and peacefully chose their government. People have fought and died for the opportunity to get that free sticker. And despite not sticking for very long, while it does, we wear it with pride.
I’m hesitant to toss that power in the trash, just because I disagree with the choice.
In the weeks since Election Day, it’s become crystal clear that I have been completely blind to the experience of a huge portion of our country. In the same way that I chafe at the assumptions made about me, and the lack of attention paid to what I consider important issues – I find that I am just as ignorant and close-minded as I have accused others of being.
I’d like to think that I am no stranger to struggle. I grew up poor and come from a poor family, and have chosen a career in which job instability is the norm. Yet, as I’ve made my way in the world – each advancement in technology; each historic agreement made between countries on trade or environmental protections; each push for greater social inclusivity – all pointed toward a future that is ultimately optimistic.
But there is an entire America that I have never seen or even noticed – an America that is being left behind by social and economic forces. An America that is threatened, on the brink of collapse, and despairing.
For me, it’s heartbreaking, and deeply unsettling.
The system isn’t rigged. That much is clear. It’s not a voter turnout failure. This is a failure of government.
Distracted by the ease of money and comfort comes to them, our government has failed to address the needs of a silent majority; to take action after spouting “reform” time and again; to even attempt to bridge the divide that has been growing in our nation – instead turning more left or more right – because of polls and/or media coverage and/or (again) money.
I’ve done my civic duty, and will continue to engage in civil debate. But I am unmoved by the hype, fear-mongering, and outright lies supporters of both parties have spewed this past year. I will not join in the online chorus of anger and misery. I will not be swayed by racist, sexist, homophobic, and ethnocentric trolls. I refuse to lose myself in cynicism.
I look forward and believe that we can be better.
I look at this cheap, free sticker, and know that one day soon I will get another, and another, and another. Everyone would do well to remember that.
With all sincerety,