Why Bother?

6 Nov

I votedIn February of 2002 I lost my job. Actually, everyone in my firm lost their job. I was out of work for a couple of months (which perfectly coincided with the two months of severance I was given) before I was finally hired by the wig factory, for which I have been stitching and weaving merkins for over twelve years. Those two months sucked, as anyone who has been unemployed fully knows. Then it got worse: I got jury duty.

Yes, jury duty. The bane of democracy. It’s like the adult version of detention, wherein you are officially hereby summarily summoned to appear at such and such a place at such a such a date at such a such ridiculously early hour in the a.m. to sit with a bunch of smelly no good Brooklynites to determine the fate of some dude who probably did it because they’re all guilty anyway, right?

Naturally, I didn’t even get a good case. I didn’t get summoned to Brooklyn Criminal Court. I got Civil. And somehow – even though I had worked in a law firm previously – I was called to sit on a jury. Here was the case: a Russian kid out in Sheepshead Bay jaywalked into the middle of Coney Island Avenue and got hit by a car driven by an off duty transit cop.

It was a boring case that lasted two days and somehow went to verdict. So six bored men (yes, we were all men) decided in favor of the defendant because the kid was obviously too stupid to cross the street properly.

And that is my jury duty story. And I can’t wait to go back.

It wasn’t the trial, which was us sitting in a poorly ventilated room listening to witnesses relaying rehearsed testimony. It was the deliberation. Six men from completely different backgrounds – here’s a Jew, there’s a Russian Jew, a Jamaican guy, second generation Irish cabbie, a flummoxed stockbroker married to his Blackberry, an old Italian dude from Bay Ridge – sat down and suddenly we were on. We were fair-minded, unprejudiced, adult, responsible. People may grumble that they have to do fucking jury duty. But actually doing fucking jury duty is an act as transcendent as it is banal. It is remarkably boring, bureaucratic, filled with overly-specific legalese, and is nothing like the law as depicted on TV. But it is also a right and a duty. Even in a piddling little pedestrian knockdown case where the max the guy could get was less than my annual salary (not much, let’s just say), there was something noble about six schmoes from Brooklyn being given the job to determine the fate of these other two schmoes from Brooklyn. And when they stuck us in that room we did not joke around, we did not take our job lightly. We did our civic duty.

Doing jury duty made me – gulp! – proud to be an American. Yes, other countries have trial by jury, but I live here. If I lived in Australia, I guess doing jury duty there would make me proud to be an Aussie. Jury duty, like other civic responsibilities, involves sacrifice – in this case sacrifice of time (and for those with shitty jobs that don’t pay you for jury duty, money). We all give back in one way or another – civil service, military service, jury duty, taxes. You can’t simply live in a country and not have both give and take, no matter what some may think.

Of course the basic element of participatory democracy is voting. It’s simple, easy to do, and dismissed as a hindrance as much as jury duty.

 I voted on Tuesday. (Hurray me! I’m awesome! Won’t someone please please love me…) I didn’t vote because I wanted to, but because it’s my duty as a citizen to help elect my representatives. This is the first time in years I have not followed the run-up to the election, mainly because I knew that my side (liberals, Democrats, the left, progressives, un-real Americans, baby killers, war pussies, e-bola carrying brown people, the Hollywood elite) was going to get its ass handed to them by the other side (conservatives, Republicans, the right, the Tea Party, Real Americans, NASCAR dads, gun totin’ flag wavin’ ‘bortion doctor killin’ good ol’ boys, the South, Chuck Norris). And frankly, I didn’t want to see Rachel Maddow have to hold Chris Matthews hair back as he ridded himself of his corned beef and Jameson.

Over the last couple of years I’ve soured on politics. Not so much because President Drones A Lot has comfortably settled into counting down until he can go back to Hyde Park and wait for President Is It My Turn Yet? to appoint him to the Supreme Court, though his apathy doesn’t help. It’s a nationwide apathy that bothered me most. This kind of foregone conclusion that the Dems were going to lose badly, that no one wanted to run on any of Obama’s accomplishments (health care, an unemployment rate under 6.0%, we’re not owned by China yet, an economic recovery far better than Europe), and the prevent defense that so many Democratic incumbents were playing. All of that bothered me.

I was uninspired. I knew that we were going to lose badly, and worse – I didn’t care. I didn’t care what happened in the election or to the country. GOP obstruction had been so extreme over the past few years, I basically figured they couldn’t get any worse if they won. Besides, this happens all the time – midterm elections tend to go against a President’s party, especially the one during the President’s sixth year. It’s not like the GOP is going to have Congress forever. Everything in this country ebbs and flows. We have it, they have, we have it, they have. Also, I firmly believe that the Republican party is so batshit crazy that if they actually got the Senate, they would behave so stupidly no one would want to give them the keys again.

Even with my serious lack of enthusiasm about this election, about the President, the Democratic party in general, the way our nation is moving, the world in general, and basically anything that doesn’t have to do with me personally I never considered not voting. Not that my vote really made that much difference: Cuomo won by 13%, as did my twenty-count indicted Congressman.

I am not going to say that voting is some noble act, like how I felt about serving on a jury. It’s not a noble act. Hell, it’s basically not even an act. There are so many other things that you could do that might change the country more than voting. You could donate money to a candidacy – that’s how rich people get their way. You could protest war and injustice. You could debate issues with friends and colleagues. You could work for a campaign. You could actually run for office.

Voting is literally the least you could do. It is the simplest, easiest element of democracy. You walk or drive to your polling center, check off a few boxes, get a “Hey I’m Awesome Cuz I Voted” sticker, and repair to Olive Garden for the unlimited breadsticks and diabetes. Oh, but all the politicians are the same. Yeah, because Gore would’ve been the same as Bush, McCain would’ve done the same as Obama, Douglas would’ve freed the slaves, Hoover implement the New Deal. Well, one vote doesn’t matter. Yeah, tell that to all those Floridians who said the same thing in 2000. But the system is broken. The system is perennially broken. It’s our job to make it a bit less. Voting is like a touch of spackle on the surface of our country.

Albert Camus said: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”

Do we wake up in the morning, get out of bed, live our lives? It’s simple, basic stuff. Similarly, voting is the simplest aspect of civic participation. Yes, you’ve got the blues, your life is pretty awful right now, no one likes you, you’re butt ugly, your job sucks, everyone laughs at you and not with you, and you’re allergic to pie, but you still get up and go on living. You can be as depressed or apathetic about the government and the state of the nation as you want, but if you can get out of bed in the morning you can vote.

The reason elections swing one way or another in this country is because of voter turnout. It’s that simple. “Democratic turnout was down because of an apathetic base.” That is such a loser excuse. “I don’t feel like voting today.” Fuck you, asshole. Look, if you legitimately believe that voting will make things worse then don’t do it. Otherwise, you have to give back, just that little teensy weensy bit.

We can’t participate only when we want to. That’s the libertarian point of view: I don’t want to pay taxes. I don’t like this rule, so I shouldn’t have to follow it. Personally, I would like compulsory voting introduced in America, which is a lot better than trying to prevent legitimate voters from participating just because of their political affinities/color of their skin.   

There’s rarely a line at my voting place. Especially during midterms. But this year there were four people before me. All were Muslim women in full burka gear. I don’t know who they were voting for, and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. See, to them voting is not a small thing. It is not the least one can do in a democratic society and I doubt very much they will grow apathetic with this little boring ritual we Americans seem to take for granted. 

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