We Are the 25 %: A Gen Y Cynic On Why You Should Vote

OTE: Beginning this new blog with a repost of my November 7 editorial on voting for iBerkshires.com- following the publication of this somewhat rambling essay, I received many comments from people who said that they would (for reasons I find hard to grasp) like to hear more of my personal thoughts, observations and, well, feelings on Pittsfield happenings, as I go about the business of covering city news for iBerkshires and Pittsfield.com
PITTSFIELD, Mass.

While watching the election results come in from the Oct. 18 special election for 3rd Berkshire District state representative at the Crowne Plaza, I found myself chatting with City Council-at-Large candidate Nicholas Caccamo about voter turnout.

He mentioned my visit to the hub of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and we made various jokes about being part of “the 25 percent.” That is, the 25 percent who consistently vote, in most elections, national and local, and the 25 percent or so who essentially end up electing even our most significant national figures, when half or more of the eligible citizenry never hits the polls at all.

That night, the final tally was actually just a little over 21 percent of registered voters that turned out (erroneously reported elsewhere as 24 percent). Tricia Farley-Bouvier won with 33 percent, which means Pittsfield will be represented in Boston by someone only 7 percent of voters here specifically supported.

Nick and I are in another 25 percent (or so) niche, as well: voters in the 18-35 demographic. At the risk of oversimplifying, we grew up in an era and culture of interconnected isolationism. More virtually and potentially connected to each other than any group of humans in the history of the world before us, and yet we are arguably more focused on our own individual selves, in terms of our outward expressions and day-to-day activities, than any group of people in living memory. Over the past couple of decades, an enormous shift has taken place in interests and time spent, from those based around family units, clubs and large group participation to individual pursuits, whether health and self-betterment activities or individualized recreation alone or in small cliques of friends.

As part of that shift from community and larger social concerns, we grew up in a time where it was basically uncool to vote, to be interested in politics. Most of us heard early and often how fatally screwed up The System has become, how corrupt and purchased it all is. Rather than face the ongoing rage and frustration so visibly experienced by the activists of all shades we saw around us, most just turned the sound down on the whole noise. In some quadrants the mere suggestion that any type of voting could ever make a difference brings half-sneering, half-guilty lectures.

I’ve operated more of both my youth and adult life in those quadrants than in the mainstream, so in some ways I thought it was high time to voice some of my sentiments on this issue. As someone who has been described at various times as a “radical,” “anarchist” and even “fascist”; as someone who in a long enough discussion of views is bound to offend almost anyone of any political persuasion, eventually.

So, when I talk about voting, try to keep in mind that this is coming from someone who is as disgusted as anyone by the behavior of government, someone who has over the course of my life created ugly spectacles while officials were giving speeches, and run from cops at protests gone awry; someone who felt ill after voting in my first presidential election in 2000, applied for Australian citizenship after 2004, and I’m pretty sure was on an informal “keep-away-from-the-Senator” list among Kerry staffers for a number of years. You’re talking to someone who knows all about the evils of campaign financing and the distortion machine of media coverage from pretty close to inside the belly of the beast.

If you vote, and have usually voted in most elections, and see it as an uncomplicated civic duty to perform … well, that’s great. You and I probably have less in common, though, with the people who this editorial is actually directed to. I’m speaking now primarily to the other 50-75 percent of over-18 adults in America, in particular to those who, as opposed to just being lazy or unaware, are just a bit jaded about the whole thing. It is you who are my most natural constituency, and I’m going to tell you now why I vote anyway, and why you probably should too.

A wise man once told me that “To run for office you need to believe, or pretend you believe, that the fundamental nature of your government is good, valid, and basically works. To be involved in politics, you only need to realize it’s the only game in town.”

This is the crux of it to me, this prosaic fact that whatever you or I think about it, this is what we have. This is the hand we we were dealt, the game we walked in on. This is the game which ends up deciding how much of our earnings we get to keep, how many hours our boss can make us work, the roads we drive to work on, the circumstances under which we can be suddenly arrested and detained on those roads. I vote because all this is and a lot more is at stake every time names are put on a ballot before us.

I will vote this Tuesday because in a country where, as you read this, so many feel so alienated and unheard by their elected officials that they risk injury and arrest in the streets, local elections are in some ways the most important to vote in. These are people who live in or near your town, people who will return your emails or phone calls, people who have offices you can visit if they don’t. These are the people who decide the issues which effect you the most, on a daily basis. Supporting the candidates you think most represent your views and are most accessible to your needs when they’re right there in your own town is the most obvious thing you could ever do to take some control over the events that effect your daily life.

I’ll do it because on Oct. 14 I went to Zuccotti Park in New York City on the day that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were to be evicted from the square by the city. What I saw there that day was thousands of people that included auto workers, garbage men, teachers, librarians, among people of many other professions and lifestyles, who had been arriving in droves since midnight the night before.

They came to stand with, and potentially be arrested with, demonstrators who for the past month had occupied the area and marched throughout the financial district for redress of economic grievances. What I saw was an assortment of people who sincerely had hope for real change in our time, a hope that seemed to grow contagious as the city of New York stood down and over the next 24 hours 50,000 marched there, along with millions more in another 1,000 cities worldwide.

Whatever you or I think of their politics or way the movement has been conducted, I believe that most of those people are there because they believe that drastic action, and sometimes shocking commitment, is needed to draw sufficient attention to entrenched problems in our country and government. I believe it is a mistake to conclude, as some have, that all these protestors are people who are complaining but do not vote. In one memorable instance, I spoke with a woman named Lorraine, who told me cheerfully she had voted in every single election for which she’d been eligible since 1960, and on top of that participated in “hundreds and hundreds” of demonstrations and peaceful resistance actions.

I will vote Tuesday in tribute to Lorraine.

More importantly, I’ll do it because over the past decade I watched a cross section of friends and former schoolmates return from two brutal overseas wars, their lives inevitably altered forever … or, in a couple of cases, not return at all. Whatever you or I think about the political decisions that lead those men and women into those situations, the unalterable fact is that they went to those places and they did those things because they took an oath that they would. They committed to the defense of the political decisions of the United States, all knowing that the possibility existed that it might eventually cost them everything.

I’ll vote because the fact that they went into those conflicts on the decisions of leaders that a quarter or less of the citizenry put into power is a dark stain on the history of this nation that future generations will now inherit along with all the others.

I will do it because the time and “hassle” of voting is utterly insignificant when measured alongside those kinds of sacrifices.

I will vote because history has this oft-mentioned tendency to repeat itself.

YOU should vote because having spot checked dozens of residential areas in both Pittsfield and North Adams, I’ve concluded that on average the time it takes to get from most homes to your polling place, vote, and be back home in your slippers is between 20 and 25 minutes.

You should vote because it really shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to basically familiarize yourself with the candidates you’re choosing between and have some sentiment one way or the other. Refer to our coverage here on iBerkshires http://www.iberkshires.com/blogs/election2011 and the debates archived online by your local access television for help in brushing up.

You should vote because we both know that no two candidates in any election are really identical, and that that’s just one more silly excuse not to just suck it up and do it.

You should vote because it makes us look less like jerks in front of all these other countries.

You should vote because, at the end of the day, all of the excuses not to are sort of cop-outs.

You should vote because if you don’t, someday you may come to wish you did.

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