Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The power of a vote


By JOELLEN COLLINS
Express Staff Writer

You will be reading this the day after the hottest election I have observed in my rather long life. Over a cup of coffee or tea you will, as I am, possibly be smiling or perhaps dour, maybe elated or even disgusted. Many of us will be bleary-eyed from staying up late to watch the results or to attend a "celebration" party. Yesterday was a historic one, no doubt.

At last, many of us will think, it is over and out—the barrage of negativity, the polarized positions, the strong passions, the hateful comments, the rapidly changing polls, the media blitz about everything imaginable, and maybe even the excitement of the contest, not good for stress. Thank God, we might say, we do not have to be listening to campaign rhetoric any more. Yes, thank God. To paraphrase a much more serious thought, we are free at last.

The truth is, we are not. The media is ready to jump on all the newsworthy events to come: the reaction around the world to whomever is chosen, the lame-duck presidency of George Bush, the Inaugural Ball. Pundits will ponder the methods of the anointed in dealing with our recessive economy. How will he take on this huge boulder of Sisyphus and get it over a hill instead of seeing it roll back down, only to be pushed back up in an endless display of futility? The frustrating nature of this action cannot be lost on those who face the challenges of this office. I, for one, don't think it is over and out at all, and, while political junkies may be excited by this prospect, most of us may wish a reprieve from the obsessive coverage of recent election events. Nothing, though, is ever over and out for responsible members of a democracy.

Actually, I think that whatever our feelings this Wednesday morning, we must remember a couple of items. One is that, while divisive, the recent election has also brought more people to the polls than at any time in history, even factoring in increased numbers due to population growth. We can hope passions just may lead to commitment. When a 105-year-old African-American woman went to the polls to vote early last week, she symbolized to me, with my corny hopes, the true strength of our system. In her walker, she, a woman who undoubtedly faced daunting obstacles in her life, represented some of the strides we have made in my lifetime. She voted. If you didn't, then you may not have read this far anyway. I retain the hope that my readers share with me the optimism that overall, the system will continue to work if we are vigilant.

The second reminder is that however upset some of us may be this morning, we owe it to ourselves and our children to continue to participate in the means of positive change. If, on the other hand, we are happy with the new administration, we can't be complacent with the results of this hard-fought campaign. While we have the right to criticize those in power, we also have the obligation to put our concerns forth in ways that are productive. I hope the venomous mail I and others have received while expressing our opinions is just a small negative in the overall strength of our society to enable freedom of speech. Again, perhaps the passions engendered by the issues and the candidates espousing them may translate into some kind of endeavor that will contribute to a better America.

I am not bragging about my voting; it seems a fundamental obligation of a citizen to do so, as natural as getting one's teeth cleaned. How could one be proud of something so essential? How could I not vote? I love my country, in spite of the direction in which I feel it is going, especially reflected in the world's view toward us. I have spouted imaginary American flags in my ears several times in my life: standing in the quiet of Arlington Cemetery on the Fourth of July, watching our citizens showing an outpouring of love towards slain leaders, feeling the nightmare of 9/11, and while representing my country in the Peace Corps. In happy or sad times, this surge of patriotism has engulfed me, but it always emerges when I show up at a polling place. Whether we are crying in our coffee or shouting "Hooray!" this morning is not the issue. What is, is that we voted.




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