The other day I contributed comments to a political blog. It’s kind of out of character for me and something I rarely do. I prefer story telling. But I was moved to address the apathy, yes apathy, of some Americans and the lack of participation in our political process. Of course, being a Democrat, I was addressing my disappointment in the last election. But it’s so much deeper than any particular political party and so much bigger than money.
Now. (Yes, “now” with a period. It’s a complete statement. I learned it from my mother and it has infinite meaning. More on that another time.)
Now. (again) These are the things I am passionate about.
Optimism. Compassion and loving kindness. Service. Food (always.) And — owning the political process. Speaking truth to power. WE are the power.
I can’t help but wonder how an astonishingly astute population can languish in such an astoundingly apathetic civic consciousness (Nope. that was not a two syllable sentence). Not until the current demonstrations — extraordinary in the tens of thousands — about police shootings of unarmed black men have I seen such a conscious unified movement. Folks are actually protesting for human rights issues in the United States. It reminds me of my own coming of age in the 60’s and, by God, it makes my heart glad!
Now let’s see…
Apathy: Indifference. Lack of concern. Lack of interest.
Truth: Webster defines it as a case or idea accepted as true or a statement of fact.
Well. Here is a statement of fact. We have become a nation filled with pitifully apathetic people who do not or cannot understand that our participation in the political process is as necessary as breath is for life. Eating, sleeping or, er um, copulating is not required for political freedom; showing up is the requirement. We vote. We try to educate other voters. We help build a free and democratic society brick by intentional brick.
All this talk — blah, blah, blah — about speaking truth to power can be so much wasted oxygen. We help speak truth to power by being a part of the process.
City Council, Mayor, and elected local leadership; County leadership; State leadership; national representation; president. Brick by effing brick. It’s not enough just to vote for the president.
What we have to understand is that folks are ignorant of how democracy works. Over decades, folks have come to believe that all they need to do is vote for the top.
Sigh. The presidential vote is not the sum total of our responsibility for living in a democracy. No matter what barriers are erected (district redistribution, voter ID laws, etc. –and folks will try to stop you) to negatively impact potential nonwhite and non wealthy voters, we who care about the quality of the political process and how that process affects our lives on a daily basis cannot underestimate the importance of participating in local to national elections of our legislators.
But folks don’t know how our political process works. I love this website: https://www.icivics.org/
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is the chairperson of the board of this organization that helps folks understand the way our system works. Please pass it on.
“Speak truth to power” is a great principle. But a great principle is only great when the folks living by that principle make it so. Speak truth to power. We are the power, folks. The truth shall set us free.
That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.
“Invictus” A New Year’s Reflection
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…
Excerpt from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)
On a warm day, during the Christmas holiday, I, the cook who usually whines about winter, was feeling content. But a little more than a month before, on November 9th, I didn’t feel so content.
I had stopped cooking, felt as if I could barely breathe, and teetered on the abyss of lost faith. Damn it. Who were those people that did not vote? The United States Election Project estimated that approximately 56.9 percent of eligible voters actually cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. A fellow writer declared it a national disgrace. I agree. So I asked anyone who would listen, “who are these people?” The answers I got taught me about some of the people in my world. There’ll be some changes made.
As November became December, my anger, frustration, and fear receded. Anger and fear are (for me) such immobilizing forces. I needed to reconnect with that part of me that is unconquered by fear.
So, on that warm morning, I did what I needed to do. I thanked God for a new day, stared into an empty skillet, and got started with a holiday meal. I needed to turn my attention to the things that mattered in my life: good health, good food, productive thought, writing, and spiritual nourishment. I needed to not be afraid.
I decided to roast a whole chicken in an attempt to make up for a horrifying Thanksgiving turkey disaster. While I’m certain kitchen life is not what Henley had in mind, I needed to keep going. I might have easily given up and cooked pasta because, truth be told, I could’ve killed a prize fighter with the drum sticks from that Thanksgiving bird. But I would not be conquered. With some trepidation, I pushed forward with “Invictus” going around and around in my brain the whole time.
Long ago, a boss of mine said with amazement, “God, you’re tenacious.” Hmm. If he only knew. I read that “Invictus” inspired Nelson Mandela every day of his 27 year imprisonment. I understand why. The words light a fire of conviction in my heart. Keep going.
Not so long ago, I was rifling through some old journals and came upon an essay I wrote about one of the most unconquerable souls I know: my mother. I know that if she had known this poem she would have repeated these lines to herself:
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…
One evening, as she sank into the warmth of her favorite chair, she nibbled on a piece of sweet potato pie. I watched and listened as she smacked her lips with deliberate and stubborn enjoyment. I shivered inside at how much I feared her. Who else could eat pie with such authority?
We’d just had a discussion—or was it an argument?—in which she, once again, silenced me with her eyes. Never mind the documented facts of what we were discussing. Only one fact mattered: she was the mother; I was the child (even though I was well into my 50s).
“So stubborn,” I thought to myself. She smacked her lips in satisfaction.
“Mom. Have you always been this way? So stubborn?”
This was my pitiful attempt at regaining some kind of self-dignity.
She smacked with impenetrable–I dare say unconquerable–glee. Her life hadn’t seen much glee. But once she found it, she would not let her glee be suppressed. Our roles are complete. Mother. Daughter. This is the way things are and always will be, even after we are both long gone from the planet. This is who I learned from. I’ve inherited this great stubbornness, this unconquerability. This certain kind of fearlessness. This trait has served me well.
It’s nearing the end of January; we have a new president. This past weekend over a million women and their supporters marched in protest of the new administration and its proposed policies. My friend Sherri said, “Democracy in action! Warriors strengthen yourselves; prepare yourself for battle. This is Medieval.”
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
I’ll not be conquered by fear.
Oh, about that chicken… I could’ve shaved nails with the breast of that bird. But I’ll keep working at it.
Posted in Writing from the heart
Tagged Commentary, creative nonfiction, empathy, essay, Fearlessness, inspiration, responsibility of voting, voter apathy