Photo of the Day

image of a young black woman at a campaign rally holding up a handmade cardboard sign with 'Obama!' written on it alongside a spray-painted Obama campaign logo
All the blubs. All of them.

I want to tell you a secret: I love watching people participate in democracy more than just about anything else. Even people who are excited for candidates I can't stand. Even despite the multitudinous legitimate criticisms of the many ways in which the American Democratic Experiment is fucked-up, including how some of our votes will count more than others because the way the system is rigged. In spite of all the flaws and failures, I love images of people excited to participate.

I am not in the business of telling people how to vote, or whether to vote at all. I am a firm believer that there are people who undertake the decision to abstain with a lot of thoughtfulness and deliberation, and I recognize that not voting is sometimes an agonizing choice for deeply principled people.

For me, voting is about the closest thing there is to a sacrament in my secular little world, so I will vote as long as I can find reason. Even though the vote I cast in the last presidential election was the first time my vote (mine) ever mattered on a national scale—because Indiana went blue for the first time in my life—I have always been excited to vote. I take the right and the responsibility seriously; I learn about the political and cultural issues in every campaign down to the infinitesimal details, and I consider just what I'm voting for as well as what I'm voting against.

I've told the story before of my dad's (half-joking) concern for my social future when I was 17 and focusing my energies on knowing the politics of Tennessee Senators, mentioned during the last election my firm childhood belief that memorizing the list of American presidents was a great patriotic act, and was moved to tears as a child by a Schoolhouse Rock after being awed by the realization that one day I'd get to help elect the president.

I come from a family of teachers and cops and mail carriers and government bureaucrats and social workers and political strategists and soldiers and war protestors and poets and journalists. We are Democrats and we are Republicans and we are Independents, leaning either right or left; we are Americans and ex-pats and immigrants; we are religious and atheist; and we are all engaged with our government, even those of us whose paychecks aren't signed by Uncle Sam.

I despair at the existence of citizens who don't care, who are derelict in their duty of paying attention and holding their government accountable and being informed enough to make wise decisions. I despair at the state of our media, that requires plowing through ten tons of shit to get good information. I despair at our two-party system, and both the Democrats' and the Republicans' intractable determination to thwart a more vibrant democracy to retain their stranglehold on the government.

And because I despair at these things, I feel joy when I see people who are engaged despite them. I admire people who try to make a difference in this world, who understand intimately that the personal is political and that politics are—and should be—personal to us all. I love seeing people who are enthusiastic about and inspired by a candidate, people who are fired up, and I love getting fired up about a candidate myself, even though I know there's no such thing as a perfect candidate, and I will always be disappointed to one extent or another.

Democracy at its best is, after all, unlimited optimism shot through with a cold streak of cynicism. Deliver your candidates to their offices on your shoulders, to the sound of hopeful cheers, then hold their feet to the goddamned fire with the ruthlessness of someone whose very life depends on competent and compassionate governance.

Because it quite possibly does.

That is the way I have always practiced democracy. That is the way I will always practice democracy. Celebratory. Cynical. I am, on the eve of another important election, feeling celebratory and cynical once again.

Tomorrow, I am going to vote for the man whose name is on that handwritten sign.

[Photo via.]

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