Voting as Duty (and another practice in living your yoga)

You may be pretty or plain, heavy or thin, gay or straight, poor or rich. But nobody has more votes than you. All human beings are more equal to each other than they are unequal. And voting is the great equalizer. It is important. It is imperative. There is no time for complacency.”
Maya Angelou, Winston-Salem Journal

I registered to vote the day I turned eighteen years old. It was 1989, and I was full of ideals and passionate optimism. I believed in my country. I believed in personal freedom. I believed everyone living in America had the same opportunities. I was naïve beyond belief, thinking, as many eighteen year olds do, that everything I needed to know I already knew. I was intelligent and free thinking, after all. Wasn’t I?

background

I was raised in a small town in Eastern Washington where it was commonplace to see more than one pickup truck on any given day outside the Feed and Seed with a gun rack and a “protected by Smith and Wesson” bumper sticker (located just above the mud flap women). My family lived on a gravel cul-de-sac in a house with a wrap around deck that my dad built by hand. From that deck, I could see the Interstate on one side and Idaho on the other. We had a vegetable garden and a freestanding garage in our yard where my dad fixed cars, built everything from furniture to dollhouses, and hung deer during hunting season. We owned a large, hand-built dining room table, but most nights we ate our dinner on TV trays while watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I never went without food or fresh water and I always had clean clothes (though I didn’t always wear them…).

I spent countless hours of my childhood running with wild abandon alongside the river that flowed from the Idaho panhandle past my hometown on the way to the Columbia River. I loved nature and I had no fear when I was in it. Well, that’s not true. I was afraid of spiders. And there were plenty of spiders where I grew up, but the men in my life handled them. All in all, I had it pretty good.

voting: a brief personal history

I have several memories of being bundled up in the back of my parent’s car to make the ride to the elementary school where my parents disappeared into little booths to cast their ballots. From an early age, I yearned for my chance to take part in this mysterious ritual, and I loved the feel of a community gathering together (I also loved the free cookies and the flag sticker that I got from being there). I had no idea exactly how my parents voted, but I knew that they took this responsibility seriously, and that I was being primed to follow in their footsteps.

It was a no-brainer that I would register to vote the day I turned eighteen, even though the first Presidential Election I would participate in wouldn’t happen for another three years. I was now an official adult. I had my own car, my own job, and I was now a card carrying registered voter. Could I be more mature?

The first Presidential Election that I had the fortune to be involved in was in 1992. It was strange and exciting times. I was living in the big city of Seattle when more than half the residents were wearing ripped jeans and flannel. “Grunge” had become a style and a descriptor for a certain type of music. I was living in a rundown apartment that had wood floors that slanted from age and where more than one appliance turned on at a time blew a circuit. I worked in the circulation department at the local newspaper and I was hanging out with people who talked politics over coffee. My over-caffeinated head was spinning with enthusiastic idealism.

At the time, Bill Clinton was running against George H.W. Bush, and people were thinking about presidential candidates in different ways. Bill had proven that a candidate could be “cool” and could discuss his underwear preference on MTV. He talked easily with young adults as a valid audience and he spoke in a way that didn’t immediately turn off blue collar workers. In fact, blue collar workers seemed as smitten as I did (that is if they weren’t smitten with Ross Perot). President Bush (Sr.) seemed sweet and grandfatherly, but he wasn’t as exciting, different, or charming in the ways Clinton or even Perot were.

I was about to cast my first ballot in an election that mattered, and I was filled with pride and what I can only describe as a feeling of superiority. I knew best what this country needed, and I judged anyone who thought differently than I did. It was an “us” against “them” thing. My thought was that if you didn’t vote the same way I did, you were ignorant, uninformed and wrong. Or you just didn’t care. About anything.

present day (or “The Yoga of Politics”)

There have been several elections since my first, and my passionate belief in the process has never waned. I believe in democracy and I love that I have the freedom to participate in it. What has happened in the many years since my first election, however, is that I care less about how people vote (of course I wish they would agree with my choices..) and more about the importance that people contribute to the process by voting. I would go so far as to say that I think voting is not only a right, but a duty. And here’s why I think that:

  • People have literally been beaten, jailed, and killed fighting for the right to vote in America. People are currently struggling over the same right in some countries.
  • Government impacts everything from social services to roadways to health care to environmental and international policy. Nearly everything we touch has some connection to policies that are enacted by government; the food you eat, the roads you drive on, the air you breath, the doctors you see, etc. If you think in any way that it doesn’t matter or you aren’t impacted, I dare say (lovingly, of course) that you are mistaken.
  • Taxes are spent on services that impact communities. Politicians decide how that money is allocated. Our elected officials make spending decisions based on how we vote. If you don’t vote, your voice/choice isn’t counted.

If you care about your personal rights, your family, your community, your country, and the world (or even just one of those), you will vote. Voting is staking a claim in the future and participating in community. It’s giving a damn about something larger than yourself. And that’s pretty cool.

As a yogi, I view voting as just one more act where I get to live my yoga. Yoga doesn’t begin or end on the mat. It’s being in the world in a way that speaks to my values as a human being who is connected to all other human beings. It’s living intentionally and committing to action and service.

I know that there are a lot of people I care deeply for who have different values and beliefs than I do and who are voting differently than I am. What I can say is that I am voting from my own values and from my heart. I’ve been a bleeding heart liberal for as long as I can remember (which is shocking, given my upbringing), and no amount of yoga is going to change that. But yoga has softened my need to change anyone but myself. The fact that I am voting for Obama does not take away my ability to love my more conservative friends and family. In fact, yoga has helped to soften my reactions to dissidence and to respond in a less defensive and more open way (more proof that balance can happen off the mat, too).

If you’re an American citizen and you’ve already mailed in your ballot, I thank you. If you are waiting to mail it in, I encourage you to do that as soon as you can, because you never know what might happen, and isn’t it nicer to take the time to be thoughtful about it? Turn on some nice music, light candles, burn incense, pour a glass of wine or green juice- do whatever it takes to get in the mood. Think about the people you love and who love you. Think about your community. Think about your country and your planet. And when you’re done, you can walk a little taller knowing that you participated in an important civic duty. I bow to you.

And to those of you waiting to go to the polls, I hope all goes well for you. I hope the lines are short and the cookies plentiful. I hope someone smiles at you on the way in and shakes your hand on your way out. I bow to you, too. Thank you for taking part in this very important act. You matter.

8 thoughts on “Voting as Duty (and another practice in living your yoga)

  1. Very well written! I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Not very often are people able to discuss elections with respect for other’s opinions, and you have done it well. Thank you for encouraging people to participate in their right to vote and shape our country.

    • Thank you, Amy- I do believe in everyone’s right to make a decision. I know that there are so many people who I care about deeply who disagree with me on so many issues- religion, politics, etc. I have to accept that we can love one another fully, acknowledging that our differences will likely never change. It’s what makes this country so special, right? That there are so many varying beliefs. It’s actually a pretty beautiful thing. And it’s cool that we all have the same right- to cast our votes to elect officials. It never ceases to amaze me. I love this country.

  2. I agree with your choice…do I get a cookie? ;). Honestly, all the way over here in Australia we don’t put the same importance on the selection of the newest American President BUT we probably should. America is the market leader and a mighty powerful force and whatever happens in these next elections is certain to affect the rest of us whether we like it or not. I hope your vote is the one that re-elects Obama…he may not have done anywhere near as much as he promised but he is the lesser of two evils and we need less evil in the world. Thank you for another poignant and wonderfully written post. I really enjoy your writing style, it flows so beautifully 🙂

    • Thanks, Fran! I have to admit that I’m still completely smitten with Obama- I can’t imagine how hard it must be to try to get as much done as he promised with the gridlock of Congress as well as the insane financial/economic mess of our country (or should I say the world at this point?). I still hold out a ton of hope for him to be able to help this country unravel from the crisis we’re in- and hopefully to begin to offer more sustainable ways to improve our economy (like education- what a concept!). Fingers crossed. We’ve made it this far- I think things are really beginning to look up!
      And thanks for your kudos on my writing- coming from you, that’s a huge compliment!!!

  3. Hello Wendi,

    I have to disagree with you on several points. (adding a caveat that I live in Germany and our electoral system is a modified percentage thingy and that I do agree it is important to vote)

    Yes, people died in several countries, including the US, to gain the right to vote. Speaking from my knowledge of women’s equality movements though, in the end the vote was always given as a way to make the minority shut up about the more important issues. Issues like equal opportunity, health care and safety from (domestic) violence, equal pay and anti-discrimination. Considering that the Feminists of the late 19th and early 20th century already fought for many of the same things that women in western, supposedly progressive, countries are still fighting for I can not help but view the gaining of the vote in a “Just shut up now, you get to vote now.” way. Consider that women make up 52% of the US population and in over 90 years there hasn’t been a female president yet and women hold only 17% of congress and senate seats. If voting were the great equalizer we wouldn’t see this dismal picture.

    Since the supreme court ruled in favor of citizens united in the court case against the federal election commission and corporations are now people, your voice and opinion doesn’t matter anymore. Of course, I’m assuming that you aren’t able to donate several million dollars to the candidate of your choice. Corporations can now donate to political campaigns with impunity. The only reason a hateful, fear mongering, uninformed and dangerous person like Mitt Romney is even close to beating Obama in this election is because of Individual very rich people and corporations (as Super PACs) financing a hate campaign that relies on racist stereotypes and elimination’s rhetoric.

    Politics is largely determined by lobbying and campaign donations. It’s really hard to keep up with all the nuances and actual bits of facts and science that shape legislation, so looking to experts is actually not such a bad idea. The problem arises when the expert you turn to is paid by Haliburton, or at least the problem for average people arises there. And while I want each Congresscritter to be informed and judge policy on their moral convictions, it is often the threat of removing campaign donations, or worse sponsoring the opponent, that shape decisions. (The sublimely pink movie Legally Blond 2 actually does a pretty good job of describing the system.)

    The last point I want to address is voter redistricting, happening especially in swing states that are GOP dominated, where voting is systematically made difficult for people who are often already disenfranchised, because they lack the means and bootstraps to make themselves heard.

    So to sum up this very long comment and finally make my point: Voting is important as a way to keep people engaged and identified with government and public policy. Yet it can’t be the only way we (and I mean yogis specifically here) engage in political activism.

    And to emphasize voting period, over voting for a liberal progressive candidate, is imho downright dangerous and unyogic. If we really take ahimsa as a guiding principle we can not encourage people to vote for a candidate that would leave the sizable (15%) poor US-population at risk of dying from undernourishment and treatable illnesses, while also leaving the middle class at risk of becoming poor, in favor of making the rich even richer.

    (Why do I care? I spent several years living in the US and love the country in a weird often painful way. Also, US policy still shapes international finance, fiscal and foreign policy in significant ways.)

    • Paula- WOW! Yes! I love your passionate response, and I do agree with most of what you say. But it doesn’t take away the fact that voting is an incredibly important act of participation- and I still stand by the statement that it’s a duty. I can’t agree that the right to vote was given to keep minorities quiet- but I can agree that there are still so many ways minorities are held down. I would also say that there are way too many people who don’t vote because of their complacency or belief that their vote doesn’t matter. And then there’s the fact that voting is made hard in so many places in the US- holding so many people back from participation.

      You’re right about the lack of women in congress and the fact that there hasn’t been a woman president or vice president- but the fact that we now have the very first person of color as a president is still awe inspiring to me. And Obama’s history as a mixed kid who was raised by a single mom in a lower-middle class family adds to the power of the ability to overcome some major boundaries to success. We will absolutely have a woman in the White House (as President- or I’ll even take Vice President at this point) one day- I have no doubt. But it has to be the right woman, and not just someone who is being voted in because of her gender identification.

      And the last point I’ll respond to (before my tea kicks in) is the importance of being involved in the process beyond voting. I think voting is an importance act of participation, but as yogis (and as human beings), it’s just as important to be involved in community by taking social action. I’ve done that by volunteering in many differing ways in community; teaching free yoga classes to people who can’t access fancy classes, reaching out to people in prison, cleaning up parks, working on multicultural panels, holding women’s hands during abortions, marching against rape and to prove that women should have the right to walk in dark places….and many more. We can’t just stop at voting. But we MUST ALSO VOTE. I can’t say it loud enough or too many times. Voting in whatever way matters. And then also taking action through the ways we are in the world (yes- ahimsa, asteya, satya- being kind and loving, not lying, speaking our truth, etc.- being good, involved, open and present human beings and not fearing those who are different from us).

      Yogis can’t just stand (and bow and bend and flow) in fancy studios thinking that asana is the only way to be a yogi. It’s also about being someone willing to stand in the middle of the battle (I won’t start quoting the Bhagavad Gita, but note that it’s on my mind, here).

      Phew. Thank you so much, Paula- I’m now even more inspired. Much gratitude for your response and your thoughtfulness.

dialogue is good- yes? comment here.

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