When it comes to voting, I’m afraid that this is what we’ve come to:
After the results of the Brexit vote last night–including the regrets of many of the people who voted to leave–I thought it was time that somebody get the word out to people to clear up some misconceptions that have been perpetuated by soundbites and vote beggars, as well as give you some education about how government and democracy actually works.
First, to the government part. Governments are what make our laws that dictate what you cannot do. They are also in charge of enforcing those laws, and protecting the country that you live in as well as the people in that country. They also manage relations with other countries, to help with security and other foreign relations that affect industry, trade, and other things important to the people in your country.
Got it so far? Good.
Now, up until a century or two ago, most countries in the world were ruled by monarchies or dictatorships. A few were ruled by oligarchies, but democracies were few and far between. This meant that the number of people who had ANY say in the laws, enforcement of laws, protections, foreign relations, and other things that affected everyone in their country, was in the dozens at best. No one else had any say. Period. This didn’t mean that the people could sit around and let those few people take care of them and take the responsibility of making sure things ran smoothly. Heck no. This meant that the laws were based on the needs and wants of the people who made the laws–those few people. The laws kept them in power, the laws made them rich, the laws kept them from getting in trouble. Protecting the country was more about pride and power of the leader, not protection of the people (except for the detail that the fewer people there were to man the armies, the easier it would be for another country to take the power and pride away from the leader(s)). Foreign relations were more about keeping power and money with the people who already had the power and money.
Still with me? Let’s move on.
This meant that there were a lot of laws that most of the people didn’t really like, but there was almost nothing they could do about them. Like, they couldn’t talk bad about their leaders, at ALL, even if it was true. If they were accused of crimes, they were often guilty until proven innocent, and since it was usually appointees of the leaders who made the judgments, and not a jury of one’s peers, you were basically screwed if you had done anything to get on the bad side of any kind of leader or one of their friends. Religion at that time was generally based more on power and politics than conscience, as well, and many, of not most, countries had a ‘state’ religion. This not only meant the the religion was the official one of the country, but that the leadership, rules, and monies of the state and the religion were intertwined. This not only meant that the state religion affected laws and policies, but that the state affected what was taught at the pulpit. Think about that.
Now, the United States was not the first democracy, nor will it be the last. But the people living here considered the rules and restrictions they were living under unpleasant enough that they decided to go to war over it. Not just fight. Not just rely on a few strapping young men to go volunteer to sacrifice their lives in a foreign land for them. But to give up their homes, their money, their reputations, their comfort, and quite possibly their lives and the lives of their families by waging a war against the most powerful country in the world at that time. That is what a say in their country’s governance was worth to them.
Now, though, things have changed. Democracies have become so commonplace, and the world so populous, that we really take our way of life for granted. If something goes wrong, it is Somebody Else’s fault, and Somebody Else had better fix it.
Well you know what? That’s not how democracies work.
Let me say that again.
Democracies are not governments where someone else is responsible. Democracies are governments where YOU are responsible.
Now, I’m not going to use blanket, simplistic adages like ‘just vote!’ or ‘if you don’t vote, you can’t complain!’ Why? Because they are WRONG, and I will tell you why: with something as important as the governing of your communities, towns, cities, states, and countries, you absolutely should NEVER just throw crap against the wall and see what sticks.
Voting means you are in charge of the government in your country. And if others have been willing to work their whole lives, to give up everything, or even die for this, you should at least be willing to put a few hours of research into making an informed decision in the voting booth.
Don’t tell me you don’t have time. I know there are a few people out there that are crazy busy with serious responsibilities in their lives. But most of us spend more time in a single week scrolling through Facebook, watching sports, or playing on our phones than it would take to be decently informed on upcoming political choices. You cannot rely on the intelligence, sacrifice of time, or sense of duty of others to make sure your life runs smoothly. It never has, and never will, work that way.
So here’s some important rules to follow:
1. At least a week before an election, do some research and find out what issues and candidates are going to be on your local ballot. Then, from a few different sites (none of them social media, please!), gather information about the issues, the laws, and the candidates.
2. If you don’t know anything about any of the issues or candidates by the time you go into the polling place, don’t vote.
3. If you are basing your voting decisions solely on the party associated with that candidate or issue, don’t vote.
4. If you are basing your voting decisions on what you think your friends like, don’t vote.
5. If you are basing your voting decisions on how your spouse told you to vote, don’t vote.
6. If you are basing your voting decisions on hatred of some person, group, or people, you should probably not vote. (Protection of you and yours is one thing. Simple hatred of others is something else entirely. And it’s bad.)
7. If you are basing your voting decisions on what name simply looks most familiar, don’t vote.
Please note that I am NOT saying you should never vote. I’m saying you should VOTE RESPONSIBLY. Those career politicians you hate that you say we need term limits to oust? Stop voting them in. Those high-level politicians that you hate having as the only choices? Start voting good people in at lower levels of government so that we have better choices when they get to the top. WE are the ones in charge. WE are the ones whose responsibility it is to make our country better. So start taking the responsibility that was given to you seriously and put some effort into it. It’s important.