I Might Vote For The First Time Next Month

I’m thinking about voting for the first time next month.  I mean, seriously thinking about it.  But I’m not sure I want to break the seal – cross that threshold – and break my long string of abstaining.

 Here is the background on why I have never voted: 

  • In High-school my family moved from the Chicagoland area to Saskatchewan, Canada. After High-school I stayed in Canada to play football when my family moved to NY and I became a dual citizen.

When you come of age outside your culture of origin, you see some stuff within that culture a little differently. Voting (and politics in general) was one of them. I didn’t see its impact locally like I would have if I was a farmer or a school teacher, I saw it through the media circus. Loyalty and responsibility take on a different meaning when you have dual belonging.

  • When I got filled with Holy Spirit and called to ministry I was initiated in a very dualistic form of evangelical charismatic christianity. It was spiritual in contrast to physical. Church in contrast to world. Supernatural in contrast to natural.

I was a zealous young man and so I took it further than most. Many would quote the verse “we are in the world but not of the world”. I would take it further and quote 2 Timothy 2:4 “”No good soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  I followed the Lutheran idea of ‘two kingdoms’ (kingdom of God and kingdom of this world) all the way down.

  • When I became Ordained I not only opted out of Social Security (which ministers are allowed to do in their first two years of filing taxes) but I registered with the Government as an objector.

I am a registered objector. I indicated that what remaining taxes I did pay, I did not want them going to pay for wars … and this was before W was in office (!). I would tell people “I am not political. I am focused on the spiritual realm not the physical. The government takes care of people in this way, I take care of people in a different way. Plus, I don’t want my loyalties in the natural realm to limit my ministry to people in the supernatural.”  It actually worked quite well for me for a time. I was very vocal about my opting out of the system and in my congregation was a eclectic mix of New England Democrats and pre- Fox News Republicans.

Why I am thinking about voting for the first time: 

  •  I no longer subscribe to the dualism of natural – supernatural, physical – spiritual, or church – world. I have shed my understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms.  I read Jesus’ admonition about “In the world but not of the world” differently now … and all it took was an introduction to Biblical scholarship and some Roman political history. 
  • Randy Woodley was my mentor in seminary and he would ask me to explain my politics to him and then challenge me that it was incoherent and inconsistent. I play my conversations with him over and over in my head. Once you study colonial history (or even 20th century history) you realize that to be silent in the face of systemic oppression and repressive legislation is to become complicit with the injustice and suffering that the God you claim to serve is so opposed to.
  • I read Martin Luther Kings “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”  and realized that I was one of those white ministers he was talking about being disappointed in and let down by.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; …Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  •  The attacks on September 11, 2001 and the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld (and Halliburton) parley into two wars under the false guise of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ haunts me when I think of how a different administration might have proceeded differently.
  • As one getting their PhD in Religious Education I have become all too aware of the impact of economic and bureaucratic decisions on children’s education. I don’t see how you can know what I know now and not do something so little that can make such a big change for so many.
  • I live in California where we don’t just vote for candidates (which I am still not sure I can do) but we also vote on propositions. Some of these propositions directly impact school budgets and it would be gross neglect to stay silent on them when our public schools are in such desperate shape.
  • The Paul Ryan budget is immoral and unimaginable. I was still siting on the fence about voting – even with the whole Tea Party and Occupy movement thing – until Romney’s selection for his Vice Presidential running mate. I have watched the union stuggles in Wisconsin and Chicago, I have listened to the disgusting rhetoric of this latest financial crisis and continueing bailouts of Wall Street and too-big-fail banks… but when Romney picked Ryan … and I had just recorded that interview with Randy Woodley … I was horrified.

 Why I am still hesitating: 

I read Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ and can not shake the nauseating reality of just how broken our democratic system is. Both candidates are owned by big business and the election (thanks to the Citizens United decision) is a sham.

It seems to me that to participate in a process this corrupt is to somehow be complicit with the immorality and to sanction or validate these compromised actors.

I have gone this long and there is just something in my identity, something about the way that I imagine myself and tell my story that can not conceive of crossing that line – of breaking the seal and entering into this realm. It is the strangest thing to think about.

 In the end: 

Smiley and West is my second favorite podcast in the world (next to the one I am on). No, President Obama did not do so many things that he said he would do the first time (like close Guantanamo) but … he also did some stuff (like health care reform) that was much needed (although I question the for-profit nature of our insurance companies).

I’m not sure how I feel about endorsing professional politicians, but in the end I just don’t know how I can have learned what I have learned about education in the country and not do something that would so greatly impact the young people – and disproportionately young people of color.

After all, I would hate to have the problem of Christopher Reeve that I spoke so harshly against.

 I am interested if you have any thoughts on my journey.  Comments? Questions?  

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37 comments
amaryahshaye
amaryahshaye

I'm not understanding how MLK Jr.'s Letter and the history of colonial domination becomes an encouragement to voting--at least on the presidential level. To me those things are actually indictments against a democratic republic that requires the domination of native americans and black folks in order to constitute itself as a nation state. Indeed, those histories betray the impossibility of legislative redress for colonial domination and White supremacy.

cammoblammo
cammoblammo

Let me approach the question from another angle. The discussion so far has pointed out a couple of the more obvious limitations of the electoral system you have in the US.

 

So my question would is: how would this post (and your approach to the election) change if

 

1) voting were compulsory; and/or

2) it were some sort of preferential voting system in which you could list the candidates in the order you prefer rather than just pick you favourite?

 

Additionally, how would this have affected your approach to voting in the past?

 

These are both features of the Australian electoral system and I find these sorts of discussions with people from overseas fascinating. The substance of your post bears similarities to the discussions we have down here, but it also bears some marked differences. I'd love to see your take.

dangarvin
dangarvin

Interesting. I've been having the same thoughts. At one time I was passionately conservative and republican. Then, with my wife's help, I began to realize what a load of crap I'd begun to sell my soul too. My reaction wasn't to switch to the other side politically, it was to turn off the talking heads and hand-wavers (of any side) and just cool off. Interestingly, this corresponded with backing away from that same version of Christianity. By the same token I didn't switch over to the other side theologically either. I just turned off all the chatter that I had become addicted to.

 

As a result of doing this I didn't feel like I had any business voting. I didn't think it was responsible of me to vote if I wasn't at least somewhat educated in my opinions. And so I have not voted for the past 6 years or so.

 

Recently, having had both my politics and my faith deconstructed practically down to the point of non-existence, I have started examining them again to see what form they might take if given some attention. I discovered that, when left to my own devices, without the influence of the chattering classes, I seem to be taking a very progressive form, both politically and theologically. Naturally, as a person who was so passionately conservative, this has been somewhat shocking.

 

I still don't know what I think about political involvement. In some ways Christian Anarchy seems like the right place to be. If I do become politically active again it will almost have to be in support of the Green Party.

 

Finally, I just read a Q/A by Greg Boyd that is relevant to this topic:

 

http://reknew.org/2012/10/qa-if-you-really-want-to-defend-the-poor-from-caesar-shouldnt-we-use-the-political-means-that-exist-its-easy-to-make-your-argument-when-you-are-in-a-position-of-privilege/

 

 I'm not sure I completely agree with him on this anymore, but I have always really respected his point of view on these matters. And one thing he and I and, it seems, most everyone here would agree on is the emphasis we should be putting on acting locally.

 

MattBarlow
MattBarlow

Bo, I sympathize with your dilemma. I have chose not to vote this election year (I have in previous elections, but it has been few and far between). While I honestly cannot articulate a good reason for why I am not voting, I CAN articulate some ideas that I believe may be far deeper and more effective than voting in a Presidential election.

 

First, let me unpack some thoughts as to why I believe people are led to vote. A Presidential election is based entirely on potential. It's not the promises of a particular candidate that we get swept up in, it's the potential we believe that a particular candidate has in shaping the future of our country. Our role as voters is simply to sway that potential one way or another. The second point I'd like to make about Presidential elections is that many of us consider it to be our only option as far as the potential for our country (and the world) is concerned - and on a national/global level, it may very well be, which should give anyone (including myself) pause when considering whether or not to vote.

 

Now, valid arguments against voting could be made on both points. On the issue of potential, it's very easy to see how hope quickly dissipates into cynicism. Pres. Obama's last four years is a perfect example of this. He was elected to office because people believed he had the potential for great change. Well, what happened? To sum it up, not much. So, it's understandable that a lot of folks have become jaded in this respect. Why vote, because at the end of the day, I'm just gonna be let down.On the second point, many chose not to vote because they don't believe in the "system" - the national government with all it's bells and whistles, how it's operated, and namely who it's REALLY being run by - so, until another option comes along to replace the current system...well, they're just gonna wait it out.

 

However, I'd like to put forth that there IS another option, and that potential for change does exist: at the LOCAL level. I'm not just talking about localized government (although that certainly should be included) I'm talking about those places where your power to influence, inspire, and perpetuate change is the strongest. Think about how much potential there is in your community, in the relationships you have at a local level. This is where effective, true change can and does happen.

 

My overall point is this: the life you lead in your community has so much more potential to make an impact for change than your vote in a presidential election will ever have. National elections are important, but I think we give too much attention to them. While we focus so much on changing the world, we often ignore what can be changed right in front of us: our home, our front yard, our street, our neighborhood, our relationships, our communities. Think global, act local.

castaway5555
castaway5555

Thoughtful words ... appreciate your journey ... glad you may vote; I'd encourage it. I've voted all of my adult life (I'm 68) and have always counted it a part of my citizenship, with connections to my faith. As a Calvinist, I'm not an "Idealist" - folks are sinners, or shit-heads. But many years ago, when I turned 21, I registered Dem, and have remained so over the years, not because the Dems are pure and clean, but because they represent a hope that I share, and an ethic that I believes comes closer to Scripture than other ethic systems. Though practice often falls short of the promise, I'll vote again this year. I still believe that every vote counts (is that an idealist statement?). On a variety of matters, I'm closest to the Green Party. Oh well ... Bo, you've got my vote!

willhouk
willhouk

Bo, I totally hear your arguments to not vote, or at least to be torn. I've wresteled with these things myself. In 2008 I  voted Obama and he was the first mainstream candidate I've ever voted for. I will vote for him again in 2012 but it's probably the last time I'll vote for a mainstream candidate. The main reason is I think he is actually different. He can only do so much but the vitriolic reaction against him from day 1 has shown me that he is a man from outside the system. And that really frightened people on the right. I agree with Cornell West that he has not kept some big promises, but in an imperfect world I am alright with an imperfect choice in Obama. Maybe next election I'll vote Nader again if he runs. I like him. I vote for Nader was not a vote for Bush. It was a vote for Nader, and I'm glad I didn't give into pressure in 200/04 to vote for Gore/Kerry.

DaveHuth
DaveHuth

As a Mennonite who came to this tradition during a time when many Mennos were undergoing large shifts of thinking about this, I can tell you that you're not alone in your ambivalence and conflicted principles. We feel you, brother.

JanG
JanG

Bo, I've been a voter since age 21 (the legal minimum when I started), mainly for symbolic reasons: a vote is a tiny voice in the wilderness.  I vote for good education, health care, enviromnental issues, those laws and propositions affecting the poor, and so forth -- as well as candidates who (from what I can see) intelligently support those things.

 

This seems like a religious issue to me, though I suspect that will bring debate!  By this, I mean that we have an obligation to speak for those in need of help, which is a facet of grace to me.  A vote, to me, is one step I can take to provide that help -- but I hastily add, "among many others, some of which are more effective." 

Isaac FL
Isaac FL

I am from your neighbor country from the south, Mexico, this year we had presidential elections too, I currently live in Seattle and after watching the debate in the USA and in Mexico I have to say you guys are fortunate. What was done to my country was horrible, as far as I can see the voice of the people still matters in America. I cannot vote in the US but the people that can need to do it, the country needs it.

DenikaAnderson
DenikaAnderson

I've chosen not to vote previously because I hate that so many conservatives try to make the States a "Christian nation" and thus vote according to their beliefs. I figure that, since my Green party ways are very influenced by Jesus, I should do likewise and not vote. I'm curious how you'd respond to that.

ngilmour
ngilmour

I plan to vote against incumbents all the way down, then write in Joe Schriner for president. (Vote for Joe!)

 

Like you, I'm far more concerned about referenda than I am about candidates.

DouglasHagler
DouglasHagler

Does it help to hear that your vote doesn't matter? :) For me, when I vote, I vote my conscience. If there is no good option, I don't vote in a specific election. I tend to vote for school levies as long as I understand how they will be spent and I agree with it. I vote for the Green Party, the party most aligned with my understanding of Jesus-y political priorities, whenever possible. That being said, I was a very enthusiastic voter when I turned 18, and since then my disgust and disillusionment has only grown. Do I vote for the guy who seethes with contempt for the poor and the vulnerable and lies compulsively, or the guy who fires drone-missiles into apartment buildings in Pakistan and who has prosecuted more journalists under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined? Be still my beating heart.

 

Vote Jill Stein.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @amaryahshaye  You make a clear case ...  I should have said more for clarity.  I was trying to say that my past position was truly challenged by reading Dr. King's letter and while voting is not the solution to that problem - the awareness and advocacy of education (especially Urban ed) is something that I can do.   -Bo     

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @cammoblammo Those two changes would significantly impact me.   Part of the American tradition is the legacy of objectors. Always a minority and always criticized is in built into the system none the less. 

I also, as a Canadian, much prefer the more-than-two-party system.  This either-or option thing is just damnable.  IT has created a miserable game of my team v. that team.  Most of the time I don't think ANYone is representing me (of the good of the people) but is only trying to help their team win. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @castaway5555 :)  funny!   but seriously - thank you for the response. that was REALLY interesting to read.  -Bo

MarshallPease
MarshallPease

@willhouk

I guess you don't live in Florida. Which I suppose went to show that you never know what's going to make a difference. 

 

Since I live in Oregon, it's pretty clear that my *vote* isn't going to affect this year's result in any practical way ... I suppose the popular vote means *something*, but. Anyway I can say I tried. I *am* going to vote for Peter DeFazio against some SuperPac money from Indiana. 

 

If you want to help the Greens or the Naderites, send them some money they can use to by some publicity. The system is so out of control that it's hard to think of anything actually useful to do, but just bugging out doesn't seem right either. So OK, but my local community is where I want to put my energy.

 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @willhouk  I'm with you on disappointment in Obama. I'm with you on vitriol and reaction. I'm with you on the reaction of right (especially Boehner).  I'm with you on Cornell West.

 

But I am not with you on the Nader thing (or 3rd party).  I DO think that a vote for Nader was vote not for Gore and thus for Bush.  It's the damnable part of this two party system.  What kind of voters are thinking about this in ways that would lead them to vote that way?  Fox news folks or NPR folks :)  ?      And who would they have voted for if they ONLY had 2?     -Bo 'binary' Sanders 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @DaveHuth  I have read your comment 3 times now... I am very intrigued.  Have you ever written 500-800 words on this subject?    -Bo

 

if you have can you send it to me?  If you haven't would you consider it?   ;) 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @JanG Great stuff!   I love the 'among other things' !   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Isaac FL Thank you SO much for writing in. I value your opinion as someone with dual belonging VERY much.  I will take your words very seriously. -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @DenikaAnderson very interesting take :)  I guess here is what I would say to that ....

 

It's impossible to compare Jesus' political situation to ours - its anachronistic. BUT it  IS possible to extrapolate from Jesus' political involvement.  Ya know what - this would actually take me a while to flesh out, maybe I should write it up for tomorrow. 

 

For now, what I will say is that Jesus didn't vote because Jesus couldn't vote. So that is just not an apple to apples comparison.  

 

whatcha think ?   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour This is clearly not your first time at the rodeo on this stuff ;)  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @DouglasHagler I totally get what you are saying about the system.  :)  I do.  And I have many of the same concerns (especially the drone strikes)

 

I would vote 3rd party but ... there are 2 issues.  That Ryan budget ... and Mitt's militarism.  -Bo 

amaryahshaye
amaryahshaye

 @BoSanders 

 

Got it! That makes more sense. I would just say that I fully support your hesitations in the last paragraph and think a dedication to local politics is the only kind of political dedication that makes sense in our modern day oligarchy. Also, The Problem with Grace by Vincent Lloyd might be a book you would be interested in reading re: political/community engagement and theological virtues.

 

Seriously <rant>, if Christians did less blabbing about president and spent more time going to their local city planning meetings and education meetings and immigration hearings and supporting poor folks in those ways (instead of supporting some abstract idea of legislative change a presidential candidate might offer), I think we would be in a better place.

 

I remember the first (and last) time I went to vote in 2008, I felt so horrible because I had spent all my time reading up on presidential candidates, but next to none lookign at local representatives and city council members and Sheriffs, and all the people who are actually have more of an impact in my city. And then I said, if I ever voted again, it would only be for local offices. </rant>

willhouk
willhouk

 @MarshallPease I live in Nevada so I guess my vote counts a lot more than yours (kidding of course). I know it counts more because I get at least 5 phone call every night and mailers that fill my mail box. I really like what DouglasHagler had to say about a vote for the Green Party. I mean I understand the argument that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush but you can't just dismiss my fundamental right to vote for who I like. All of these punk bands, and musicians and movie stars got on the John Kerry bandwagon and the dude lost. If I had voted for him I would have really felt like I wasted my vote. Kerry, Bush, same freaking guy. I wanted to vote my for what I believed in and I'm really glad I did. Oh, this just came to mind, in the case of Florida Gore won anyway. The Supreme Court shut down the counting and declared a winner. So, again I say vote for who you like. And MarshallPease you are totally correct about local issues. A lot of this stuff is really a moot point because we should be focusing on our local issues which will effect us more closely. There is a school board meeting tonight that I can't make that will be about budget issues. That will effect my son's schooling, our foster kid's schooling and my paycheck. That's really important.

DouglasHagler
DouglasHagler

 @BoSanders  @willhouk To be blunt, Bo, if the Democratic Party (in this case) never loses votes for doing evil, they will never stop doing evil. A vote for the Green Party is NOT a vote for the GOP. It is a vote to change politics in the US for the better, at least for those of us who support (most of) the GP's platform. If every two years we just anesthetize our conscience and vote for the lesser of two evils, we have no right to complain about the things that are wrong with our current system persisting. If you give a dog a treat every time it bites you, it will just learn to bite you more.

DaveHuth
DaveHuth

 @BoSanders Perhaps! You intrigue me as well! I'll e-mail you, home skillet.

Isaac FL
Isaac FL

 @BoSanders  @Isaac FL Thank you for acknowledging my comment. I must add that the government is not the president only hopefully is "we the people", coming from Mexico I can see that people in the US still have a voice, even Walmart sells fair trade organic coffee because of "we the people" but if "we the people" don't say anything, then we might experience something worse than raising military budgets. Thanks again for allowing me to comment. 

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @BoSanders Indeed not.  I'm inclined to favor new politicians to entrenched ones, and I want to reserve the right to say, "I didn't vote for that bozo!" when one of the owned-by-the-corporations candidates takes the Oval Office.  I'm going to echo what other folks have said on this thread: I just can't get amped up thinking about the choice between the Ryan budget and the Obama assassinate-American-citizens-without-a-trial policy.  It's gotten to the point where I can't even call one of them a "lesser" evil.  They're just evils of different flavors.

DouglasHagler
DouglasHagler

 @BoSanders Oh, I agree - both are morally disgusting. The thing is, voting for Obama isn't a different in kind, only a small difference in degree. Even if you add mayo and tomato to the turd sandwich, and make it with a slightly smaller serving of turd, it's still a turd sandwich. Or, in this case, an economically regressive, militaristic sandwich that wants to further erode civil liberties and habeas corpus.

EricE
EricE

 @BoSanders  How is Obama terrorizing Pakistan not militarism?  ( http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/09/every-person-is-afraid-of-the-drones-the-strikes-effect-on-life-in-pakistan/262814/ )

 

Or his military acts in Libya without congressional approval?  How's that not militarism?  

 

Additionally, Obama taking away people's right to a fair trial is unconscionable, given he expects us to trust him (and future presidents) to use that power cautiously.  

 

Andrew Bacevich has written some great stuff on militarism over the last few decades ("The New American Militarism" and "Washington Rules" to name a couple). 

 

I am actually leaning toward the Green Party, as well.  Their stance on the economy and energy is very close to what I think our country needs to do.  And, I actually think voting for 3rd party candidates can make a difference, if enough people do so. It shows people aren't happy with the two main parties.  

MarshallPease
MarshallPease

@willhouk

Right now Nate Silver figures there's about a 9.1% chance that Nevada will be the "tipping point" state, and the margin for Obama is 1.9 points, which is 1,121 out of 59,000 registered voters. So your vote would be worth about 1/10,000-th of a President, I figure. More than mine, yes. That's more or less the same value as my vote for Congress which (plus county commissioners) is enough to make me turn in my ballot. And while I'm there, I might as well toss my pebble in the urn for Obama because I do think it makes a difference. It's the difference between four more years of obstruction or validating the obstructionists, but that's a choice I'm willing to make.

 

 @cammoblammo 

Yes, I think progressive voting would be an excellent way to eliminate the ideal vs. pragmatic dilemma. So would campaign finance reform, ha ha.

 

 @BoSanders 

Say, my points are gone again! What's up with that??

 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @DouglasHagler difference in degree and not in kind is SUCH an important distinction!   -Bo 

EricE
EricE

 @BoSanders Oh, I see.  Thanks.  I guess for myself, as much as I don't want Romney in the White House, I just can't see myself supporting Obama given some of the things mentioned above.  The differences between Romney and Obama on the economy are minuscule, IMO.  Both stress infinite economic growth that isn't sustainable.  It's just that Obama thinks that middle class growth should drive the economy while Romney thinks the growth of the upper class should drive the economy.  The Green party at least offers an alternative to this.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @EricE I should have been more clear :( sorry  - Obama's use of drones is horrific - not doubt.  What I was referring to was Romney's stated desire to INCREASE the military budget by 2 Billion.  INCREASE! 

 

Where as Obama wants to use the money we 'save' from the winding down the 2 wars to go to infrastructure.  (they said this again in last week's presidential debate.)  -Bo