Monday, January 18, 2010

Be One Of Those Who Show Up, Massachusetts Edition

Caption: Martin Luther King addresses voting rights marchers in Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965.

Image credit: Screenshot of this video by Cujo359

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," they said, "that all men are created equal." Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down. Decisions are made by those who show up.

-- President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

Yes, I love that quote. It was delivered by Bartlett during a talk at a local university. He was trying to encourage students to participate more fully in their society, particularly by voting. If there's only one quote I remember from The West Wing, I'd like it to be that one.

Maybe, given that this is the day we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, we should let him talk. In a speech he gave in Montgomery, Alabama following a voting rights march from Selma, Dr. King said this:

Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.

Our God Is Marching On! (March 25, 1965)

The vote, he said in that speech, gave black people power to go with the dignity they'd won with the Civil Rights Act. He and the people who marched with him believed in the power of the vote, and they were willing to risk beatings, attacks by police dogs, and fire hoses to earn it.

It seems a shame to throw such a thing away.

I don't live in Massachusetts. I had relatives there, but I lost touch long ago. It might be presumptuous of me to tell those who live there what I would do, but frankly, I don't care. I don't know enough about Martha Coakley to know for sure whether I'd vote for her, because it's not my choice to make. What I do know for sure is this:

I'd be showing up.

We've had close statewide elections recently in both Washington and Minnesota that were decided by fewer than 400 votes. In each case, if a few hundred of one candidate's supporters hadn't shown up, that candidate's opponent would have won. Washington would have a real estate con artist for a governor, and Norm Coleman would still be a Senator. I'd say right there is reason enough to try to make the best choice.

I understand apathy in the face of lousy choices. I understand wanting to send a message that you're not satisfied with those choices. But any vote you cast is a choice, and that choice tells politicians something, whether they want to listen or not. The only thing not voting tells them is that you didn't show up.

So, if you think Coakley is the person you want for a Senator, vote for her. If you don't, then vote for Scott Brown, or for a progressive third party candidate, or write someone in. But march on the ballot box and make your voice heard. Because as far as I'm concerned, the only vote that's wasted is the one you refuse to cast.

Just be thankful you don't have to get past a phalanx of redneck sheriffs and their foul-tempered dogs.


Lex said...

Amen. Voting is a responsibility, not a privilege or a right. You don't have to vote for either of the corporate approved candidates, but you do have to vote.

In '08 i made sure to vote for a guy running against Levin. I looked up his platform and liked it better than most of the candidates. He hooked me with refusing to spend more than (i think) $400 for the campaign. That was some spare change i felt i could believe in.

Yeah, he lost and i don't even remember his name. But it was good while it lasted.

Write in, leave the ballot blank, whatever...but do it for a reason and vote.

Cujo359 said...

I view it as a right, and I view it as something I can do to make my world better. Might not amount to much most times, but sometimes it does.

Life's like that.