A friend asked me the other day why I stay involved. I am just one person; a small cog in the internal combustion engine political machine. So why bother? Why be so self-important as to assume that I can make a difference?
It’s a tough question, with a lot more philosophy involved than you might think. Being involved: with community service, in politics, in student government- means giving up your time and energy and not getting a whole lot back. So why bother?
Those who work in politics in particular can tell you how frustrating campaigns can be- months and indeed years spent in preparation, half of the time all for naught. Late night strategizing sessions, early morning canvassing, hours upon hours of phonebanking and confirmation calling and volunteer organizing- only to see your candidate lose because of a stupid word slip or semi-slanderous commericial or maybe just because people didn’t like your party that year. Why even try?
I guess the answer to these questions is that, if you don’t try, who will? One thing the Wall Street Meltdown Crisis of the Century taught is that people have to look out for themselves. The government won’t, your friendly local banks won’t, and Wall Street most definitely won’t. If you want to make your neighborhood safer or cleaner or prettier or nicer, you have to do it. If you want a candidate to win, you have to help them yourself. If you want change to happen, you have to make it happen.
But it goes deeper than just doing things for your own good. Politics are about changing the world, changing history, profoundly affecting the lives of your future children. Think about a world without Bush- without the war in Iraq, without No Child Left Behind, without being so far on stopping global warming and environmental destruction, without such terrible debt, and probably without the aforementioned Wall Street crash. A few more people could have prevented all of these things- by ensuring enfranchisement for African-Americans in urban Ohio in 2004, or by educating a few more voters in Florida in 2000. These were elections that were quite literally decided by a relative handful of votes, and the impact they had is quite plainly devastating.
Not deep enough for you? How about this. Think about the time you spend watching TV, surfing the internet, playing video games, and whatever else you do in your free time. To avoid any unecessary preachiness, I’ll put myself in this position- I do these things, far more than I should. When I look back on my day every night, I think, what did I accomplish? If the answer is “watching the entire 5th season of America’s Next Top Model on VH1” or “napping and eating a lot,” then the day was probably a waste. Those are not the kind of things I want to think about when I lay on my deathbed. Those are not things that make the world the better place. Those are not even things that make me a better person. And while they may be relaxing or easy or even fun in small quantities, they are indeed wasteful and fruitful and, when repeated millions of times all across a listless nation, harmful.
John Kerry lost Ohio by just over a 100,000 votes. Bush won Florida, and the election, in 2000 by 537 votes. All of this could have been prevented. But it wasn’t. Who is going to stop it from happening next time?