Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Good Morning, And Good Luck

So, I voted just now. I'm not going to say for whom, because that's rather beside the point.

There was a line, and I'm glad. More than glad, I'm proud. Proud of my neighbors for already showing up in enough numbers to be backed up almost to the door of the school, and proud of the local volunteers working to give each and every one of them the chance to practice their civic duty. (Whoever started the cliche that New Yorkers are cynical and uninvolved didn't know what the hell he was talking about.) And I'm proud of my fellow Americans all around the country who are lining up outside their polling places, as well as the thousands who have taken advantage of early voting to already register their choice. (That includes you, Mom.)

The news media, God bless their hyperbolic little hearts, have taken to calling this the most important election in years. You've gotta adore their pluck, but the secret they won't tell you is, every election is the most important one in history on the day it takes place. Every two years, we pick the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. This time around, we're also picking a President and Vice President. Together, over the next two, four, and six years, these people will write the legislation that determines how our country will run, fill the upper echelons of each Cabinet department, and appoint dozens of ambassadors, commissioners, federal judges, and probably at least one or two new Supreme Court justices.

And today is the day we decide who those people will be.

Everyone knows those famous words a little past the beginning of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, etc." It's the heart of our democracy. But I've always had an affection for the words that come last, the way the men who sat in that hot and uncomfortable convention hall 232 years ago affirmed their commitment to the path they had just taken: "We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." That, to me, is the spine of our democracy, the promise of each man (and, today, each woman as well) to entrust our future to our fellow citizens, and to shepherd theirs in return. We take not just our own lives, but the lives of our fellow men in hand when we step into the voting booth. It is an awesome power, and an awesome responsibility, and an awesome privilege.

You might be skeptical at this view of the process, and your place in it. "I'm just one person pulling a lever or pushing a button. I can't possibly affect the fates of millions of people all by myself." Believe it, buster. You are not a closed system. The choices you make, no matter how mundane, impact the events of others' lives, and you make thousands of choices every day. Believe me, it adds up. You affect the lives of everyone around you just by drawing breath, and they affect the lives of everyone around them in turn. The entire planet is an infinitely complex social cat's cradle created by over six billion human beings going about the business of their lives. Pluck one string, and sooner or later, the whole thing feels the vibrations. If the scope of this macrocosm is beyond you, think of it in terms of baseball: Each play is shaped by the actions of each player. The pitcher gets things started, but the batter, the catcher, the infielders, the outfielders, and the umpires all have a role to play, and something as simple as the direction one is looking when the ball is hit can determine the outcome of the entire game. We usually can't tell exactly how until after the fact, but that doesn't make it any less true. I'll say it again, because it's important: You are not a closed system.

If you still don't believe me, ask someone who doesn't live here, or anywhere else in the world that allows this simple act of involvement in one's own life. Ask those who are fighting now for their right, or the rights of others, to be a part of the process. Ask those who have fought for it, who marched for it, who went to prison for it. If you're of a mystical bent, hold a seance and ask those who died for it, how important voting is. They'll tell you what I've just told you, what all our teachers and parents and philosophers and founding fathers have told us, the truth that keeps America alive:

Decisions Are Made By Those Who Show Up.

So get your ass out there and show up.

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