A cool spring wind causes me to pull up my lapels and shiver, while I stroll through the rose garden at Stanley Park. The varying temperature between the sunshine today and that still slightly chilled breeze which rolls over the coastal mountains reminds me of a time when I consciously chose not to vote. I am 31 years old and the first time I voted was in the 2015 federal election; that's 11 years of non-participation. Yes... I know... so many died in wars of the past so I could vote, that I could participate in freedom, and believe me, during those years that I chose not to vote, I had some pretty good arguments not to.
Democracy is an interesting idea. It's sometimes referred to as 'not the best form of government, but the best we have', and in its application it has seen various manifestations. In Western history, we talk about it originating in Athens, Greece. A unique quality of this period's practice was the randomized selection of people from the citizenry into the positions of government. Though, only an exclusive range of Greek Men were considered citizens, the concept is still provocative. 'What, are you telling me that Joe-Schmoe is going to be President?', in some ways is both amazingly progressive and also terrifying. It really depends on who wins the lottery.
Liberals and Conservatives, the redshift/blue-shift of the light in the universe, and the tearing apart of America with blue and red states.
Of course things are no longer like this, but an exploration of the ancient use of the Greek word, done by David Graeber in his Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, gives valuable insights to some of the eternal qualities of this method of governance. The word Demokratia can be translated as 'rule of the commoners', but a more exacting analysis suggests that it refers to the populous 'power' of the majority, or as Graeber defines some ancient opponent's use of the word, 'the violence of the people'. Here something fascinating about democracy reigns supreme, that at any time, if the government wasn't doing right by the people, a type of mass populous riot could swing through the region and remove those in power. But can't we remove those in power with voting too?
As I brush my hand through some of the tightly packed petals of the burgeoning roses, my index finger snags on an unexpected thorn. A tunnel is made between the inside and outside, through which what is internally blue emerges as a dark rouge bead. Such brief pain causes a stirring in my mind, a barrage of images trickle over me: Liberals and Conservatives, the redshift/blue-shift of the light in the universe, and the tearing apart of America with blue and red states.
In British Columbia, there is a wide diversity of landscape, topology, climate and biodiversity. Our provincial politics are summed up by essentially four parties: BC Liberals, NDP, Greens, and Conservatives. One important fact about our current government is that they were originally known as The Social Credit Party, and between the two names they have remained in power in B.C. 50 out of the last 61 years — this is quite the dynasty (the other 11 were served by the NDP). They also have the strange, misleading presentation of a 'liberal' party, when the run on a conservative platform with colours that are traditionally considered of the right.
I couldn't say there was a precise moment when my attitude about voting changed.
When I didn't vote, my voice was still full of criticisms towards the government, the way the public was lied to, cheated, and ruled over by openly corrupt politicians, and the general disillusionment I had with the idea that my vote could change any of this. Even more so, I felt that by participating in the system by voting, I justified and exonerated its corrupted will to power over me. Different people don't vote for all kinds of reasons, but apathy and privilege usually are dominant for those who have the time and energy to participate; and for those who are impoverished or without advocates, disenfranchisement and dis-empowerment are more the cause.
Though the monoculture of the rose garden was beautiful, I felt a bit limited, and sought other paths throughout the park. Currently the BC Liberals have been in power for 16 years straight. Being the incumbent party, it's easy to lay out everything that they have done wrong, and build a case. It is also easier for the incumbent to draw financial contributions to affect a larger audience. My partner who is doing NDP phone canvassing mentioned that the majority of the people she talks to say they don't like Christy Clark, but are undecided on who to vote for. Thus the proverbial wavering at the foundation of what it means to have a decision to vote, begins.
I couldn't say there was a precise moment when my attitude about voting changed. Over the course of a few years there were a series of conversations with people who both supported and disagreed with my position. Different material I read also helped guide me through my contemplations. For a time, I started to speak about how municipal government was something I might vote for, because I could actually go to city hall, walk into the council meeting room, and speak out about different activities in Vancouver. Then two major ideas were brought to me that reshaped some of my personal motivations. There is a whole world of poor, sick, addicted, underprivileged people who require advocates for most of their normal daily activities: food, housing, money, etc. Secondly, that I behaved in a way where my non-voting somehow was less hypocritical than putting energy and power into something I didn't agree with, that somehow I was held a kind of self-righteousness in my non-voting.
What makes an environment healthy is that the ecosystem is represented by a complex and sundry culture of being.
My insider source at the NDP also told me that in 2013, the BC Liberals led by Christy Clark beat the NDP by only 546 votes. This is a tiny margin to make up. There was a 55.32% voter turnout that year, according to Elections BC. There were probably thousands of 27-year-olds who were too busy playing video games, recovering from hangovers, or other nefarious activities, which stopped them from participating (myself included!). Also, many disenfranchised people who may not have known where to vote, how to get there, or when it was happening, were left in the dust of all those who have excess time and money and privilege to take that deviation in their daily routine to make their voice heard through voting.
After walking beneath the Red Cedars, Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, while reaching out with my hands to feel the Ferns, Salmonberry, Elderberry, Hardhack, Pacific Dogwood, the diversity of nature grasped tightly on my thoughts. What makes an environment healthy is that the ecosystem is represented by a complex and sundry culture of being. The more every niche is filled, the more the variety of species is maintained, and the richer and more elastic and long-lived the life of that system can be. Throughout the study of the biological world there have been repeated findings that biodiversity equals strength and can even promote more possibilities for evolution and co-evolution to occur within such communities.
Though I consider myself of anarchist leanings, with leftist politics, I observe a relatively conservative lifestyle, based on monastic and ascetic principals. My voting remains informed by the same concerns I've always had about the problems of non-regional governments and bureaucratic hierarchies. Because of my privilege, it is easy for me to take the short time to go to my local poles and cast my ballot. It's like a walk in the park. Though, I still believe in the freedom to be able to choose the act of non-voting. But if that is where you're at, at least go to the poles and spoil your ballot and realize that hundreds and thousands and millions of others make their way to write on a slip of paper, which will support the status quo or protest it for changes, which manifests as 4-year periods that definitely effect your daily life: at school, at the hospital, at work, where you eat, where you drink, where you...
In Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail, the act of remaining passive, as many whites were doing during the Civil Rights Movement, was put under the magnifying glass. For those who pursued racism with intent, the inactivity of the rest of the population worked as a silent solidarity to their behaviour. Inactivity is always a vote, it is a vote for those whose power remains unchecked to continue in the ways they have been acting, and maybe when that doesn't affect you, it seems okay to remain passive. But this should also mean that you are comfortable with any kind of oppression or injustice that results from such silence and that you are somehow willing to take responsibility for the actions of those you have not tried to confront, critique, or vote at.