Written by Audrie Zettick on November 5, 2008
Growing up with grandparents from (now) former Soviet Bloc countries, I recall stories of why they left the old country: dictators who starved their own people, confiscating food and guns; and political parties run by the elite, who confiscated property without regard for rules of law. My grandmother entertained me with stories about how she tricked her cousin into allowing her to eat all of their shared soup—their only meal. She put a spoon across the middle and told her she’d only eat from her side, “saving” her cousin’s portion for later. They had once been “upper class” but had all of their property taken from them during the Russian Revolution of 1917, which eventually ushered in Lenin.
The stories were sometimes amusing but more often grim. Voting is a right I don’t take lightly. History demonstrates it can be a “use it or lose it” issue.
Among voters this week were people who remembered when their family members worked cotton fields to save enough money to pay their “poll tax” — a requirement to vote in many southern states. Effectively prohibiting both poor African-Americans and whites from voting, it wasn’t outlawed until 1964 with the passage of the 24th amendment to the Constitution.
Yesterday the cost of voting was free, even if campaign spending per vote was astronomical. The result was the historic election of our first African-American president. Even those who did not support President-elect Obama can be heartened by his potential as a role model for younger citizens of all ethnicities (yes, I hope). Like my family, perhaps they can now realistically see that in American, anything is possible.
But unlike the cost of voting, good government isn’t free. No matter which candidate garnered your vote in this historic election, you still have an outstanding obligation—to actively stay informed.
Enough, you say. Like fish and visitors, campaigns smell after 3 days (or in this case, 2 years). We already know all about the issues and what this administration will do. We’ve heard it all: the surge in Iraq, economic bailouts, cap and trade environmental policies, the Russian invasion in Georgia, union card checking and taxes.
‘Fess up. In your gut, you know some of this was campaign rhetoric –from both sides. It’s time to think long-term, beyond November to the effect new policies will have on our country. Decisions made in the next 6 months may have a lasting impact. According to a 2004 study by UCLA economists, the policies intended to help the economy out of the Great Depression–enacted by newly-elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt–actually extended the depression by 7 years.
Let’s leave the campaign talking points behind. In this YouTube, Twitter and Google world, we can check more than one source to ensure we are getting a full perspective. Then, thanks to technology, we can easily contact our congressman, our senator or our president with our concerns.
Yes, being actively informed takes time. It’s a bit of a headache, but necessary as we stand at the brink of a critical time in the United States. Take two aspirin, get online and informed, then call your congressman in the morning.