You get what you vote for
It was a few months ago, in winter, and I was at a documentary film viewing at a large restaurant and bar in Itaewon, amongst other expatriates, most of them black Americans.
They were attractive, well-dressed, funny, educated and engaged in the political happenings of our native country. Yet, missing from their discussion, and in many other discussions throughout the country, especially in progressive circles, is the biggest problem facing American democracy:
We do not vote.
Specifically, the people most affected by government policy do not vote: young women, racial minorities, the poor and working classes, and increasingly, the upwardly mobile, middle and upper-middle classes within colored communities.
When I see or read about rallies and protests against Wall Street, against the great and growing wealth and income gap in the American economy, against corporate welfare, greed and power, against stubborn unemployment, I ask this question: how many of these people voted?
Statistically, not many of them. The conservative movement, with its Tea Party vigor, votes and continues to do so. They were able to elect like-minded people to Congress.
In a democracy, every aspect of our lives is intimately and inextricably connected to the laws and policies that govern our participation in society. The Trayvon Martin case, with those ridiculous ``stand your ground” laws, and ever-laxer gun laws in Florida and in many other states, was precipitated by legislation passed by conservative members of state governments, voted in by the Tea Party influx of 2010.
Work conditions, wages, healthcare, government-funded student loans, women’s reproductive rights, environmental/corporate/financial regulations _ the list is extensive, are all controlled by elected officials. Judges and appointed officials in federal government are chosen by those we elected. There’s no getting around it.
And so, I ask again, as the inimitable Congressman Barney Frank asked when discussing the Occupy Wall Street Movement: how many of these people voted?
If you don’t like policy, rallies and protests alone won’t do much to change the status quo. Most economists say America needs another jobs bill. This current crop in Congress won’t ever pass anything to help the economy, because it helps Obama.
Further, the complaint about corporations and the ultra-wealthy taking over politics is a silly and naive one. The Supreme Court judges who allowed for increased participation of the wealthy and corporate bodies to influence politics were appointed by Republican presidents, elected to office by Americans.
The congressmen and senators in both federal and state government who support increased participation of the wealthy and businesses in our politics were all elected.
If our body politic is too fat, lazy and uneducated to not even do a cursory study of the issues affecting their lives and vote, while the wealthy and powerful, conversely, understand the importance of voting and lobbying Congress, I say, more power to them.
I have less and lessening sympathy for the masses of disaffected folks whining about the current state of affairs in our society, when for the past generation and more these very same people watched as their wages stagnated and their quality of life declined and did nothing to stop it, or worse, voted against their economic interests.
We spend vastly more money, time, and energy on hamburgers, hairstyles, and the hometown football game than we do on voting and staying involved on whom and how our government is run.
I’m invested in mutual funds, so less capital gains tax is great for me. I’m not a woman, so the ever-increasing erosion of women’s reproductive rights does not affect me in the same way it does women. I’m gainfully employed, have no debt and don’t pay American taxes, so the policies regarding these issues don’t directly affect me. In so many ways, being an expatriate has allowed me a vantage point and distance from the heat and immediacy of American politics. Yet, I’m more engaged in American politics than the majority of my generation.
You get what you vote for. Some of the rich and well-connected often privately, and increasingly, publicly, say about the poor, working, and struggling middle classes: ``Let them eat cake.” When I witness the apathy and ill-informed disaffection of these aforementioned classes, the ``regular people”…slowly, surely, I’m tending to agree.
The writer holds a master's degree in English literature and literary theory and is currently an English professor outside of Seoul. His email address is email@example.com.