Certain About Everything, Except What To Do
I am astounded quite often at the amount of effort some people will go to in trying to claim that something is unimportant.
I register people to vote through my organizing work with the Bus Project Foundation. (This blog reflects my own views and not those of Bus. Today is my day off and I’m doing laundry and writing.) I meet thousands of people some days, and I ask all of them in a very polite way, “can I register you to vote today?”
We have a quick method by which we determine who, among the unregistered potential voters, is worth pressing to register to vote. Based upon their response, we divide all them into A’s, B’s or C’s. A’s say “yes, please, thanks, you’re awesome for doing this.” C’s on the other hand say “go fuck yourself,” and I then turn around and walk away. The bulk of people who are unregistered are B’s. They’re a little uncertain about whether they should take 90 seconds and register to vote.
So I push B’s a little, which is how I’ve registered 1400 people to vote since April 10. I tell them how easy it is, how important it is. Occasionally, they’re only a couple of encouragements away from signing and dating the form. But sometimes a B candidate will take ten minutes or more to be swayed. Ten minutes. This has maybe happened to me a hundred times, 95 of whom eventually registered to vote.
People are willing to explain themselves very often. Strangers, I think, like to meet each other, even if they don’t admit it. It’s a human trait we’ve forgotten thanks to technology. In between all these facebook friends and tweeters, we’re not really ever in contact face to face, especially with people we don’t know, thanks to cell phones on trains. People, when they get together and talk about less-mundane and more-important stuff, are harder to block or ignore, and a thousand times more meaningful and real, than any blog post. You actually have to keep talking to the persistent, friendly stranger. Sometimes they won’t go away for some time, as when you work with or attend classes with someone you don’t really like. This is where I have an advantage: I’m a physical presence in the real world, and thus much harder to troll than anyone espousing the importance of voting on the internet, as I’m doing here. But I’m recounting actual experiences of this, for whatever purpose that might serve. I’m talking about the 1% of the population who acts like this.
B’s are people who sometimes might tell me “I’m too busy.” And everyone -is- busy. I’m busy registering voters and doing laundry, you’re on your way to lunch, you’re on your way home to skype your internet girlfriend, my mom is busy making ends meet and playing Farmville, your mom is rushing to a bathroom in a Macy’s, your son is busy playing Halo and your daughter is busy playing spin-the-bottle with her girlfriends. They’re also eligible to vote and should do everything they can to make sure they can and do vote.
If at the end of ten minutes convincing someone that it really is important to participate in democracy, they register, then that ten minutes has not been wasted, and life can resume until the vote is to take place. If at the end of ten minutes they simply refuse and turn into a C candidate, perhaps shouting or proclaiming to be annoyed, they have just wasted their own time. My time is supposed to be spent on these conversations. They could have just said “fuck off” and I could have smiled and said “have a nice day” and walked away and talked to someone else. But they just had to have their say.
So the candidate has essentially beaten back my persistence and friendliness, my barrage of voter registration factoids and pleas for sanity during insane times and volunteerism and civic engagement and high-fives for doing the right thing. In their defense of their own inaction, they’ve spent ten of their precious minutes explaining to me why they’re not interested in politics and too busy to spend 90 seconds telling me their current address and driver’s license number. I am an organizer, and pretty certain of my powers, and I suppose when I am unsuccessful it is because I was matched with a more-powerful “disorganizer”.
This person would spend ten minutes describing rampant government corruption, the lack of participation, societal apathy, the cesspool of campaign finance, corporate power, and more. But they will not register to vote and participate in the official rule-making bodies. Some of the most-informed people with all the right ideas about the awful present have internalized a hopelessness that is beyond despair, into Stockholm syndrome and weltschmerz. Truly a disorganized, scattered mindset, which can so readily accept failure.
If registering to vote as a member of an “Apathy Party” were possible, would disorganizers bother? They seem to have the entire platform memorized. Like most members of most political parties, they’re blind adherents to the doctrine and the dogma. The Apathy Party platform clearly states that the world is fucked up, so we should just leave it alone because it’s apparently just supposed to be fucked up.
The very idea that a single word of theirs would be wasted on describing anything not worth caring about is absolutely hilarious to me. Wasted words, in the Apathy Party platform, or on the street or a doorstep where I’m asking someone to register to vote.
Less hilarious in a “ha ha” way, and more hilarious in a “aww, shit” way, is that the government we have is the only tool we have to fix the government we have. While we spend the rest of our hours on exposing the corruption and demanding the real change, there’s an hour a year, roughly, where we take our trusty, rusty Swiss pocket knife and attempt to clean it… using only our rusty Swiss Pocket knife.
Fortunately it’s not considered cheating to put a little elbow grease into the process. And here is where Apathy Party dogma, the campaign rhetoric of the disorganizers, meets reality head on: it’s possible to get involved, even if you don’t. And if you know something is wrong but you’re not doing anything about it, you’re actually abetting the wrong thing to continue. I’m looking at Joe Paterno’s now-removed statue here. Or just the (HIGHLY TRIGGERING) awful case of the worst-homecoming-ever from 2009. The old adage rings truer each day, “evil will succeed when good [people] do nothing.”
America is a country with problems. Poverty is rampant. Women are paid less than men for equal output in nearly every industry and their health-care is constantly being threatened and maligned by anti-equality advocates. This is a country where gays and lesbians aren’t allowed to marry by Federal law. Where many 9/11′s worth of people die every year thanks to a poorly-crafted private insurance system which sells us treatments and not outcomes. Transgender people are denied basic equality, where poll-tax-equivalent voter ID laws prevent poor and minority voters from registering their opinions, where kids’ work produces value at a very early age, but people can’t vote until they’re 18 and usually don’t vote (see: Apathy Party) until they’re over 25. This is a country where people get shot in the face during a movie and some crackpots blame the movie industry, instead of the readily-available gun that the highly-unstable shooter was using. These are wrong things. Problems the American government, in conjunction with state and local authorities, could fix. Would fix, if everyone voted. Most people are not happy with this stuff. But most people don’t vote.
Who is already happy, and fine with how things are in such a problem-filled place? It’s mostly just the wealthy. If you’re not wealthy you shouldn’t be happy in America, because better is possible. But there are also worse-off people who still identify and vote with the wealthy: the middle-class and upper-lower-class people who are also (mostly) white, male, straight, self-and-only-self-concerned gun owners. This is the demographic of the wealthy, the group that traditionally pays for the campaigns, (Donald Trump, Sheldon Adelson, George Soros) Even among the less-powerful they are the only demographic that consistently turns up to vote for the power structure that keeps the wealth in the hands of a very small, very elite group.
This is also coincidentally why neither major political party will touch the issue of assault rifles. The wealthy will need an assault rifle in the hands of a private mercenary stationed in a friendly-to-big-business state, just to fight back an angry mob of all the properly-roused people who don’t have anything to defend and thus never gave a damn about assault rifles, gay discrimination, sexism, racism and a dogmatic commitment to private enterprise, even when it makes poor people suffer so that others may be extravagantly wealthy and for no other reason. The real majority in this country is the 99% of us who don’t have anything and are still getting robbed, and the government is allowing it because the government is broken and not serving the majority, despite claiming to be a shining example of democracy.
And in this place, disorganizers will argue, probably politely, particularly persistently, for ten minutes that the government is meaningless and we should just accept it, while simultaneously rambling on about the problems in this country, like there’s nothing we can do. 1% of people feel this way. Mission accomplished, propagandists from the past: they’re committed to the status quo like an abusive boyfriend, and those organizers having conversations and working to help these disorganizers are like the friend whose shoulder they’re crying on, saying “just break up with him already. I can find you a couch to sleep on.” Because we gotta get out of this funk, and back to being great. Nobody’s going to do it for us, those days are long since gone. We’re going to do it for ourselves, and so for each other, with help from people who care. Friendly, persistent people.