This election season, for the first time I can remember, I have been called an idealist. I know, it’s kind of shocking—who in their right mind could be an idealist in today’s political climate? And, I’ll be honest: The potential consequences of this election kind of scare me. So, surely I am not an idealist when it comes to American politics. American democracy, however? I suppose that’s another story.
I come from a small town in New England: Ipswich, Massachusetts. And up there, we cling vehemently to the old structures of local government. We have town selectmen, complete with town meetings that publically debate licenses and zoning and budgets in an absurdly dull fashion. My father is an elected member of this town government. He moderates these absurdly dull meetings with an enthusiasm—really, an idealism—that, though I do not understand it, I admire.
When you grow up in a town that prides itself as the ‘birthplace of American independence,’ you gain a sense of institutional trust that can only come from an idealist perspective. Though we may complain about this selectman or that town bylaw, or the length of town meetings, we take pride in our practice of direct and local democracy. And I think this holds for national government, as well: As infuriating as the politics in this country can be, I think our system beats most others.
At least, that’s how I feel about things. The other day, I was talking with a friend who comes from New York City (which is, in many ways, quite the opposite of Ipswich, Massachusetts). She had spent the summer volunteering her time at Obama for America and, for many complicated and personal reasons, has decided not to vote in this upcoming presidential election. Logically, this choice does make some sense: She had spent the whole summer staring at the facts and statistics that prove her vote for the president in her area of New York really just won’t matter. It’s no surprise to anyone that New York is going blue.
At first, I couldn’t understand her decision at all. Given my relationship to the democratic process, voting had always been this clear-cut thing for me—an obviously fundamental way to exercise my democratic rights and voice my opinion, not just for my candidate of choice, but on the issues I care so deeply about. This will be my first time voting in a national election, and as a young person, a college student, and especially as a woman, I want my voice to be ‘heard.’ I didn’t understand how anyone could pass up being a part of that.
Personally, I believe that anyone who has the opportunity to vote should. Because, no matter the color of your state and its position in the Electoral College, no matter if you’ve given further support to your candidate in the form of time, energy, or money, voting is the purest form of political expression.
Of course, in the United States, voting is a right, a duty, and (with the rise of prohibitory ID laws) a privilege, all at once. And that makes it a pretty complicated thing for people like my New Yorker friend.
And, as I discussed my views on voting with her (as I tried to lay down my argument with the much logic and reason as she did), I realized my passion for this must be coming from somewhere. As I waxed poetic about the symbolic power of voting and used phrases like “great equalizer” and “community activity,” I was forced to recognize that my argument wasn’t entirely based in objective reason.
And I was okay with that. I was okay with being the idealistic American enamored with the sound pillars of democracy upon which our government is built. And she was okay with being the kind of American who exercised democracy in ways other than voting—through phone banking and knocking on doors, and convincing housemates from Ohio to get registered in their swingy home state.
She has her logic and realism for politics; I have my zeal and enthusiasm for democracy. And I’ve taken that idealism (along with my informed opinions) to my absentee ballot, and exercised my right, my duty, and my privilege to vote.
While I still encourage anyone and everyone to partake alongside me in the voting ritual, I concede that not everyone will share the same idealist vigor that I have, and that not everyone will vote. But, no matter how you choose to spend your time on Election Day, and regardless of how much or little you think your vote will count, I would implore you to really think about why you’ve made your decision. If you’re anything like me, it may well teach you a little something about yourself.
Meaghan Murphy is a second-year in the College majoring in English.