Tuesday was election day here – a primary, in which we selected candidates that will be on the fall ballot. Michigan will be electing a new governor, so we decided who the party candidates would be on November’s ballot.
Several of my Facebook friends were posting memes like this one:
While I understand the sentiment – it’s important to take part in the process and make your voice heard – I don’t agree with the literal message here.
The literal message suggests that it’s ok to marginalize some voices from public debate.
The literal message suggests that everyone who votes has a well-considered opinion that has resulted from understanding and thinking about the issues, whereas those who don’t vote are too lazy for that mental exercise.
The literal message suggests that everyone affected by public issues CAN vote.
The literal message is coming from a place of privilege – from a person who knows how to vote, where to vote, and has a way to get there. (Yes, public transport is available, but those who need it most might not know how to arrange for it).
Worst of all, the message shuts down conversation. It builds a fence and shuts the neighbors out. It implies that some opinions are more valuable than others. It suggests that one can only earn a spot in the public debate by sporting an “I voted” sticker on election day.
I understand the sentiment, I really do. But I also think we must be careful of marginalizing the voices of our neighbors, of pushing away other members of our communities based upon their outward behaviors, behaviors for which we might not know the reasons.
Let’s open a dialogue instead. I’ll start. I’m not going to stigmatize those who don’t vote, or tell you that you don’t have a right to be upset with the outcome of an election, or the behavior of public officials who should be acting in the best interest of their constituents. If you didn’t vote, I’d be curious to know why. Perhaps there’s an obstacle that can be overcome, or a problem we can fix. Perhaps you’re feeling like it’s futile to participate in the process.
Let’s be willing to listen to each other.