Saturday, November 8, 2008

Healing after a contentious election

I was in Target 2 days after the election, and the checkout clerk was still wearing her "I voted" sticker. I remarked on it, (saying something like "oh, you're still wearing your sticker" in a friendly voice) and she glared at me, and said in a voice tight with anger, "Yes, I'm still wearing it, because I'm angry. My vote didn't matter, now did it?"

I was stunned.

It was obvious that a) she had to be awfully angry to say something like that to a customer and b) was spoiling for a fight, and nothing I could say would help the matter. So, I said nothing, but was left both shaken, and saddened.

I can't address her anger. Nothing except perhaps time will heal that.

But, I can say this: your vote DID count. It DID matter. No, your candidate didn't win. But mattering, and winning are two different things. What your vote means, is that it sends one tiny message to the president-elect that not everyone agrees with him. That his presidency isn't mandated by everyone. That he must listen to and address those individual messages of dissent, or he will fail.

Your vote, win or lose is the only way you can make a difference in some cases. I have NEVER agreed with the "America, love it or leave it" mentality. To love a country is to strive to make it better. If we didn't love our country, it wouldn't be worth the effort toward trying to make it better. And voting is one of the ways we can struggle for the better.

I also have never liked the "United we stand, divided we fail" mentality. The truth is that part of what makes America great, is the fact that we have stood, and will continue to stand, as an often divided people. That our divisions do not mean we cannot work together. We have stood as an oft-divided people since the close of the Civil War, nearly 150 years now. Look at countries like the former Yugoslavia, the USSR, Rwanda, South Africa. Look at the religious divisions that have caused nearly constant fighting in Ireland, and the Middle East. We - despite our divisions - have managed to survive, and improve. Look at how we treated Japanese Americans in World War II. We rounded them up, and imprisoned them in internment camps. But after 9/11/2001, there certainly were random acts of violence against Muslim Americans, but there was never a concerted effort to imprison them.

And 50 years ago, the marriage between a white woman and a black man that produced President-Elect Obama would have been illegal under many state miscegenation laws. In that 50 years, we've come an awfully long way. Paraphrasing Reverend Al Sharpton: "Obama couldn't have been elected on the black vote alone. Many whites voted for him too." So we haven't healed the divide between conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious. But perhaps some day we will.

To, continue to vote. Continue to make your voice heard. Because it does matter.

No comments: