If you're like me, this election doesn't feel anything like 2008. The
excitement and hope of that historic election have been replaced by
worry and disappointment. The 2008 campaigns at least occasionally
addressed our country's serious problems.
This year it's all noise, attacks, and accusations. Little actual
policy makes it through. Meanwhile, billionaires, big oil, and Wall
Street corporations unleashed by the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United are able to spend unlimited amounts of money to flood the airwaves with anonymous attack ads.
It's a tough election season, and many Americans say they'll be voting with their feet by staying home.
But not voting is a huge mistake. Things could get much worse, and if enough of us stay home, they almost certainly will.
The Great Recession is creating hardship for families in
every part of the country. More than 6 million Americans fell below the
poverty line in the last two years, and nearly a quarter of all
children under the age of six are living in poverty. Unemployed workers are
typically going jobless for six months, nearly twice as long as they
have during any time since World War II. Median household wealth fell by
20 percent since 2007, retirement savings have evaporated, and now some
are talking about dismantling Social Security.
This is not the year to stay home. Our families can't afford it.
Democracy is especially fragile during times of stress. It's a time when our commitment to build a more perfect union is tested.
Voting alone isn't enough, but it does make a difference. We may not
be able to directly influence big corporations to create jobs at home
(or at all), but we can elect leaders who will press for jobs in our
communities. We may not be able to force employers to offer pension
benefits, but we can elect leaders committed to protecting Social
Security. And maybe we can't bring down the high cost of college
tuition, but we can vote for members of Congress who will support Pell
Grants and other means for young people to gain the skills they'll need
to find work and build a strong country for the next generation.
Elections aren't everything. Frankly, Congress has fallen short many
times, and it is bound to disappoint us again. If we want better
policies, we have to do more than vote. We have to get organized,
develop our own agenda, and hold our elected officials at all levels of
government accountable to us. We'll need to organize in our communities,
work places, and political districts to counter the influence of
big-money special interests and the media they control, and set a course that will protect and support strong families.
Voting isn't everything, but when combined with organizing outside the political process, it can be powerful.
If we work together, we'll be able to create green, family-wage jobs that stay in our communities. We'll protect social security and assure our veterans
get the long-term help they need. We'll rebuild our failing schools,
divert our young people away from the "cradle-to-prison" pipeline,
combat discrimination against women, gays and lesbians, people of color, and ex-felons, and restore a sense of possibility for everyone's future.
Voting alone won't accomplish all of this-it's just the beginning. A
democratic system isn't something delivered to us by politicians. It's
ours to remake with each generation-as the saying goes, "Use it or lose
Don't be discouraged by the cynicism of television pundits, the
negative advertising, and the bad economy. Vote for the country you hope
for-and then go out and help build it.
Sarah van Gelder is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine, an independent media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. The Winter 2011 issue of YES! features a pro-family political agenda and other stories about how American families are surviving, and even thriving.
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