I didn’t vote for a long time. There was a reason for this. It wasn’t apathy. I saw that the political process had become a cynical game played by forces that did not submit to the rules, but made them for those who believe in such things. These forces mock the constitution, use elections as events to manipulate common people, and consolidate their power by profiting from turmoil. I’m talking about how the heartfelt emotion—the passion—of sincere people is tabulated, sorted in spreadsheets, and used in big data algorithms to predict outcomes that are not meant to serve humans. They are meant to keep us off-center and feeling uncertain so that we will be reactive, weakened by fighting each other, and unable to create a unity that could make significant change.
Who are “they”?
I need to be clear that I don’t see a single, unified cabal. There are many cabals, but they are smaller players that serve a much more powerful master: Fear. They also serve Fear’s child, the Belief in Scarcity.
These smaller players appear to be mighty—multi-national corporations with billions or hundreds of billions in their war chests. They use these funds to buy politicians, rewarding those who play the game as they dictate by writing and passing the laws that govern our lives. The only thing these inhuman entities crave is power. The fuel for the only kind of power they understand is money.
The trouble with voting in the usual way is that we feel that we’re accomplishing something if our “team” wins. We feel that we are doing something that might make a difference. But the massive interests that run so much of the show from outside of the political arena don’t care who wins, they only care about whether or not they can buy that person and use their influence to further consolidate power. This leaves average citizens in approximately the same position as a fan of the Green Bay Packers. They get up early on game day, paint their cheese-bloated chests green and yellow, and show up to the stadium ready to throw their passion behind a team they care about. If Green Bay wins, they are elated. If they lose, the loss is personal and temporarily devastating. It felt good to imagine that they had a part in the outcome, but they did not. Their battle was entirely vicarious. Their part in this fairly harmless conflict was meaningless, but their passion is not. The feeling of being part of something that prevails matters and that’s why I’m sharing these thoughts with you now.
Your desire for a world that works means something.
When I say, “a world that works,” I mean a world in which one feels safe to be her or himself—to raise children, to make meals and go camping, to create through meaningful work, to connect with and serve others—to do a million tiny human things that are trifles in themselves but add up to a good life when taken together.
Isn’t this why we vote?
This year has been one of major changes in my life. I had an experience last year that woke me up to how disconnected from life I had become in some important areas. It seems insignificant in the bigger picture, but it was a turning point for me. I had my hand on the body of this small, sick feral cat that had come to live inside. My daughter and I were at the veterinarian’s office, hoping that the doctor could give Jaxon S. Feral a shot that would restore him to health. “I’m afraid he’s too sick and weak,” she told us and then asked, “What do you want to do?” I had to make the awful decision to put this cat down. Meg and I stood there with tears running down our cheeks, holding Jaxon’s head while his heartbeat slowed and then stopped. You can read that story here.
It was at that moment that I realized how I was not treating life reverently in many areas. If I could feel such grief at the death of a scroungy cat, how could I ignore the suffering of animals that were being slaughtered in far away charnel factories so that I could go to Whole Foods and buy chunks of their flesh wrapped in tidy packages? It became a worm in my brain that wouldn’t leave me alone every time I went to the grocery store. “Are you willing to change your habits if it means lending your energy to a world in which our interconnected lives are treated as if Life is deeply sacred?”
This is just one example. It’s a very personal one. You have your own questions to ask and answer.
I began to ask myself, “Could I enjoy this product if I were present when it was being made?” These shoes or this smartphone, could I look myself in the mirror if I watched a nearly-starved person making it in some distant place for a few of my pennies per hour? What about the carpets I walk on all day long without more than a passing thought; do I care that they are produced in factories that are creating metric tons of toxic waste in the process?
I’m not done with all of this. I have a lot of questions to ask and answer. I enjoy the creature comforts of a First World existence. I’m not entirely sure where all of this will lead—how many compromises I might eventually make to live in the world we’ve created together. But I’m waking up and I care. I want to walk my talk about living with reverence for life: mine, yours, and ours.
As all of this sinks in, I realize that there are many ways to vote. One of them is to show up at the voting booth in November or drop my ballot in the mail.
But I cast many votes every day and these are the decisions that matter to forces that don’t care who wins or loses on election day. Every dollar I spend is a vote for the kind of world I want to live in. Every bite of food I eat is a vote for or against my own health and the health of the world as a whole. Each interaction with another human is a vote for either love or fear.
Casting votes that matter requires a level of personal responsibility that isn’t easy. It means staying awake to life and changing habits that are not aligned with the things we say we believe.
But you know what? This isn’t all about doing our grim duty because it’s the right thing to do. Every time I cook a plant-based meal now, my body says “yes!” I find joy and renewed artistry in the acts of learning new things and eating in a way that feels lined up with what I believe about life. Rather than taking from me, making conscious choices turns out to be restorative.
What kind of world do you want? Vote for it by making choices that move us more in that direction—even if any of those individual choices feels way too small to matter. These things matter.
The conglomerates have to pay attention to one thing: revenue.
When big companies see demand trending in new directions, because of their self-interest, they are forced to change what they produce. We are already seeing evidence of this as fully-electric cars are now sexy, solar companies are on the rise, and people are rushing to buy things that are good for them and the world as a whole. They can’t ignore this and we can’t afford to, either.
I chose the image for this essay because I’ve loved it for a long time. I can’t find the name of the artist, despite spending quite a bit of time searching for her or him, so if you know whom I should credit please let me know in the comments. But the reason I selected this painting is that it evokes something I feel in my bones: the beginning is near. Stand at the base of the wall and all you see are the carcasses of a post-modern world in decay. Climb the ladder and you can see that something new is trying to be born right now.
I feel that we are on the cusp. This change is hard and dreadful in so many ways, but with a little effort, we can look over the wall and begin to see a future that is possible if we want it.
Will you join me in asking “What kind of world do I want?” and then casting votes with tiny, meaningful choices? Your votes are yours, not mine. You may not care about all of the same things I do, or you may come to different conclusions and choose other ways to express your truths.
You know what I would love?
I’d love to live in a world where people are all casting votes for life—theirs, mine, ours. I believe in that world. I believe in you. I believe in what’s possible when people are alive together.
Audre Lorde says it this way:
I believe in societies that do not use members of that society …for the profit of other parts of that society. I believe passionately in societies that define the good in terms of human needs as opposed to terms of profit. I believe that it is possible to have societies… …that do not categorize, reject, trivialize, objectify other human beings because of their differences. That we can be different and use those differences not to destroy each other, but to move. These are the things that I believe… …and everything I breathe, say, do, is a part of that. The way I eat, the way I raise my children, the way I teach, the way I write. And it gives me joy in the doing. All power is relative. No one of us can bring about change by ourselves. But for each of us, our part is vital. you are responsible for using that power, whatever it is! And that is not altruism. That is survival.