Because the Status is Not Quo
Today’s election day, and I’m happy to see everyone talking about voting, paying attention to what’s happening, encouraging people to get out to vote. And especially heartened when I see tweets & instagrams from all the first time voters.
But I’m worried, worried, worried, about the state of civic life in America.
Not about our politics exactly, although there’s much to dislike in that arena. At some level, partisan politics in America has always been this way. Angry, divisive, histrionic. Trevor Loy posted this awesome quote earlier:
"There is only one redeeming thing about this whole election. It will be over at sundown, and let everybody pray that it’s not a tie, for we couldn’t go through with this thing again.
And, when the votes are counted, let everybody, including the candidates, get into a good humor as quick as they got into a bad one.
Both gangs have been bad sports, so see if at least one can’t redeem themselves by offering no alibis, but cooperate with the winner, for no matter which one it is the poor fellow is going to need it.
So cheer up. Let’s all be friends again. One of the evils of democracy is you have to put up with the man you elect whether you want him or not. That’s why we call it democracy.”
That’s from Will Rogers, about the election in 1932. That one turned out okay, if not perfectly. (When is it ever perfect?)
What I worry about more is not the top of the ticket — all the focus is on who wins the White House, and maybe Congress. I worry, instead, that increasingly we seem to be more and more obsessed with only the big national and state races, and less interested in local decisions — and, more importantly, how to live engaged, meaningful civic lives with the people around us.
I worry that politics, and government, and governing — the way we run our country, and our cities, and our neighborhoods — is becoming something that they do, not something that we do.
More succinctly, as Jen Pahlka, founder & ED of Code for America, puts it: “When you complain about being in traffic, here’s the thing: you’re not in traffic, you are the traffic.”
Our politicians suck because we let them suck. We think of them as they, instead of us.
Our bureaucrats suck because we let them suck. We think of other people as running our government.
Our media sucks because we let it suck. Because we encourage narrowcasting. Because we don’t demand more than clickable headlines and false equivalences. And, again, because we imagine it’s them, not us.
We don’t need anyone in the White House, or the State House, or even City Hall to improve our lives. We need to be more involved, more civic, and engage.
But that’s only possible if you think of today and voting as a point in time, a step along the way.
For myself, I’m happy and proud of our long tradition of open elections in this country, even with so many issues along the way.
But I’m also planning to use today as a reminder to engage, to keep engaging, and to always remember it’s we and us, not us and them.
From one of my favorite shows, Dr. Horrible: “The status is not quo.”
We can fix this. We can improve our cities and states and country and world. But we have to engage, we have to realize we are the traffic and change things.