Electoral madness ’06

I need some help.

Elections are about three weeks away, and I haven’t decided whether or not I should vote. I just moved to this area a few months ago and I don’t know much about local politics, but I am familiar with the U.S. congressman from this area, and I’m not impressed with him.

I spent three years in Washington, D.C. working in politics and advocacy. My work there made me painfully aware of how U.S. policies affect the rest of the world. I’ve had numerous people tell me, in countries ranging from Vietnam to Colombia, that while they had no say in how the United States government functioned, I did, and would I please go back and talk with lawmakers and tell them about the havoc being wreaked around the globe? I tried.

I left my job increasingly convinced, though, that real transformation will never come through worldly structures. I have friends who agree with me, and try to dissuade others from voting, feeling that Americans put too much faith in the government to make things better.

When I worked in D.C., I tried to encourage people to be politically involved. I told them that one vote–or one passionate advocate–can make a difference. But I also try to take seriously the arguments of people like John Roth.

Are you planning to participate in the upcoming election? Why or why not? Should I? Here’s your chance to weigh in. Vote early and often.

Comments (7)

  1. TimN

    On Tuesday night I went to a speech by Howard Zinn here in Chicago. Someone asked him about his view of abstaining from voting as a political statement. He responded that participation outside of voting is far more important than voting. Afterall corporations know that politics requires year round participationg. Should we have the same standards. Nonetheless, he encouraged people to vote.

    In the case of the Elkhart voting district, I’m a bit biased since I lived in in or near his district for many years. Chocola is a particularly slick corporate operative. In 2003, he posed in front of hummer while proposing special legislation to target eco-activists who damaged property, labeling them terrorist. The New Standard has a good article on the “eco-terrorism” campaign.

  2. Amy

    If you don’t vote, it seems that you lose permission to complain about the political process. My dad grew up Mennonite, and still doesn’t vote, although he has abandoned all other shreds of Menno life (including pacifism). I get so sick of him complaining about politics, and doing nothing. It is a small thing, and I’d agree with Zinn that it’s not THE MOST important thing we can do, but, as for me, I need to do it. Even if it’s for a “lesser of 2 evils” candidate.

    I’m am trying to shift the way I think about politics a bit, in that I don’t want to vote just for the President. The most important way to get our voice heard is to vote locally. In your city, county and state.

    So, I’m looking forward to kicking Santorum out of US Senate in a few weeks. And I’m looking forward to a new mayor in Philadelphia next fall. I’m working to vote out my current city council person.

    Sorry I can’t be more coherent than this. I’m beat.

  3. dan

    Negative transformation certainly happens within worldly structures, but so can positive transformation. I think the trajectory of history has been towards more human rights, not less. Christians have historically been on the forefront of human rights work, but it isn’t until it becomes social policy that it really affects *everyone* (think slavery, civil rights).

    We have been faced with complete Republican control over the government for the last 6 years, and it has been a total disaster. Democrats certainly lack political will to do the right thing a lot of the time, but I think the last 6 years demonstrates that there is a huge difference between the parties, even if the local Democrat is a weenie. Complete power in the hands of republicans have corrupted this country beyond what I imagined possible 6 years ago (torture as policy, pre-emptive, unilateral war, illegal wiretapping, suspension of habeus corpus) so it is important that there be at least some brakes on that power.

    So, I would encourage you to vote. Specifically, vote to break up Republican control of the government. It might not make a difference in the end, but then again, it takes almost no effort.

    Or, to think of it in another way, is not voting against the current party in power giving implicit approval of it? If Bush claimed a mandate after ’04 with 51% of the vote, how much more damage will he do with 2 more years of blank check power?

  4. jdaniel

    I’m gonna vote this year, but I think you hit on something important, Lora, when you said, “I left my job increasingly convinced, though, that real transformation will never come through worldly structures,” I think I agree; It’s tempting sometimes to think that if we’d just get the right person in office things would really be different. We forget that politics are often as much (some would argue more) about power as they are about service and actually doing something good (just, fair, right, etc) for the country (or state, or municipality). I remember a certain amount of frustration in the months leading up to the 2004 Presidential election stemming from the real or perceived notion that defeating Bush would solve our problems– as if this one man was the cause of them and that the Democratic Party’s candidate was almost certain to turn things around.

    I appreciate J.D. Roth’s concern, in the Speaking to Government transcript, about the divisions and misappropriation of faith that politics can promote in the church. I think we need to be careful about getting too wrapped up in a political agenda, recalling Tempting Faith and general Anabaptist history (separation of church and state does, after all, run pretty thick in Anabaptist blood).

    But, I think we need to strike a balance. I can no longer conscientiously be a part of the Mennonite tradition of being the “quiet in the land.” We need to be aware of what’s going on around us and I think have the responsibility to speak our conscience to elected officials. Daryl Byler (also in Speaking to Government) highlights the call of Colombian Mennonites for North Americans to speak out about the harmful role of the U.S. in Colombia. Byler challenges us to speak to government as Christians, as members of a global community, and as citizens of our country. I think we need to balance this with J.D. Roth’s call to remain aloof from the divisiveness of two-party politics– the church should never endorse or claim affiliation to any political party, but its members should freely engage any and all who represent them in office.

    I’m registered as an Independent (unenrolled) because I’m not really interested in allying myself to any party. I’m probably gonna vote for the Green/Libertarian/Populist candidate in the election for Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat this year. I don’t care if that means I’m taking votes away from the Democrats; I’m tired of only having two mediocre choices, and I’m impressed by candidates willing to assert themselves in promoting non-violence. But, I have to rememind myself that my hope does not lie in elections, nor in those elected.

    I’ll end with two quotes from the Speaking to Government paper cited above:

    We are Christians living amidst the world’s lone economic and military superpower. And we live in a democracy where we have the opportunity to make our voice known. These two realities create a special responsibility for us.” ~ J. Daryl Byler

    And along the way, consciously nurture the Fruits of the Spirit in your midst, so that our shared witness to the world cannot help but reflect the deep sense of love and compassion that we bear for each other, as brothers and sisters in the church. Above all, do not retreat from the pain and suffering of the world; but let the healing of the world begin with the hard, joyful work of reconciliation in our own congregations and in our own church“. ~John D. Roth

  5. eric

    I’m with JDaniel on this one, though I wouldn’t call it striking a balance. I don’t see two opposing things that I need to compromise between.

    I have no faith in the political system, but I’m glad for the chance to say where I stand in a national forum. With my faith somewhere else, all the politics is removed from the political system and I am free to express myself clearly, without concern for partisanship, ‘pragmatism’ or ‘steeling votes’.

    On the one hand: I’m a privledged kid, so I don’t have to think about pragmatism. It’s not like I’m the one being killed in Iraq. I’m such an elitist bastard with my ‘morals’.

    On the other hand: I always wonder who would be elected if people started voting for who they believed in rather than ‘who seems most electable’. I’m convinced an over-concern for pragmatic voting caused the Dems to lose the last presidential election. Who came up with the idea that moderates are the most electable anyway? Instead of a candidate that people felt passionately about, they put forward a candidate without any passion at all. Suddenly no one cared. (I never saw a punx4kerry site really get off the ground…)

    Quite possibly, if we’d all put less faith in the political system, care a little less about how practical voting is and refuse to fall for the politics of it all, it would work a lot better.

    Yes, what you just read is a pragmatic defense of non-pragmatic voting.

  6. jdaniel
  7. Lora (Post author)

    Thank you all for your comments; they were quite interesting and helpful. Since Dan asked: I had decided that I would vote in the election, but then decided to travel home for ten days and missed it. I’m relieved to see Chocola was voted out, anyway. And Amy, congratulations on getting rid of Senator Santorum. I hope Casey does a better job of representing Pennyslvania’s varied constituency.

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