The Democratic party has it rough. Let’s be honest for a second. This is a party claiming to represent liberals, moderates, women, all minorities, all religions, immigrants, the LGBT community, and pretty much anyone that isn’t a rich, straight, white male. Seriously. All that. That is not easy. And when a political party is trying to unify that many voices and experiences and perspectives, sometimes you need to get real with folks.
Enter Marcia Fudge.
She did not come to play (even though she did win the game of Musical Democratic National Convention Chairs). Addressing the women’s caucus on Thursday, July 28, Representative Marcia Fudge said:
“I have lived long enough to know that if we make a mistake this time, we will not recover in my lifetime.” To drive her point home, she continued, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count… If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”
And then she basically dropped the mic and walked away.
Reread that. I’ll wait.
You probably feel uncomfortable. The audience in the women’s caucus was uncomfortable too, though we did cheer. There’s a deeply ingrained American idealism that tells us to reject this notion, that tells us that it is fundamentally undemocratic to force people to vote. And we’re right – it is. No one should have to vote for a candidate he or she loathes. And, as American citizens, we don’t have to. It is 100% democratic and within our rights to abstain.
But here’s the thing that Representative Fudge gets that a lot of people don’t seem to understand – if you look around and there isn’t a single candidate in the field that you feel represents you, it means you’re not holding up your end of the democratic process. You need to find candidates that do represent you and work to get them into office. Our presidential candidates don’t show up out of nowhere to run for president. (Okay, Trump did. but generally the candidates you see in the primaries weren’t parachuted onto the ticket.) Let’s look at the Democratic party’s own Ralph Wiggum – Martin O’Malley.
Pretty much everyone went, “Who the crap is this oblivious Melvin?” You know who he is? He was on the Baltimore City Council from 1991 to 1999. Then he was the mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2006 before leaving that position to be the Governor of Maryland from 2006 to 2014. The only reason he’s no longer in office is because he reached the term limit. So, this Poindexter that everyone thought was a no-name joke has been voted into public office for over two decades. He’s been around. He is proof that our presidential candidates – no matter how baffling – come from somewhere, generally and hopefully from a long career of public service.
So why had no one heard of O’Malley before the primaries? According to the Pew Foundation for midterm elections voter turnout hovers around 37%. Why? Because most people don’t know who’s running for City Ward Alderman or Justice of the Peace? Well, why the hell not? These people are out there in your communities and they want to tell you their vision. So you can definitely go out and find people that represent you in a way you want to be represented. Or, and this is crazy I know, you can be that person. See, when you’re excited for city council, the odds of you ending up excited when you get to a presidential campaign increase dramatically.
I know. This sounds like work. And between running your small business and/or chores and/or night school and/or The Walking Dead and/or raising children and/or the everything and anything that gives your life meaning, finding time to attend a Town Hall meeting can be tough. But this is important. The stakes are very, very real.
If you live in Philadelphia and enjoy one 20 oz. Mountain Dew with your Walking Dead every week – you’re now paying an extra $15.60 a year for the privilege. Why? Local politics. Wondering why you pay outrageous city taxes and your kids still go to abysmal schools with textbooks from the 1980s and classrooms that look like sets from a horror film? Local, state, and federal policy.
The decisions local, state, and federal politicians make touch every facet of our lives with real consequences for real people. And for small business owners, those consequences are clear, present, and unavoidable.
You want to hire a part-time, minimum wage employee? Fantastic! America thanks you creating jobs. But what does that mean for your profit margin? Well, living in the United States, the federal government mandates you pay them at least $7.25 an hour. Oh, but wait – your business is in New York. Now your employee has to make at least $8.75 an hour. I see here your business happens to be in Syracuse. Well, guess what – your part-time employee is now entitled to $15 an hour.
Need a small-business loan? Politicians are often making the decisions on what funds are available to whom and when. Want to put up a sign? Your local politicians have serious opinions that become serious laws on how big that sign can be and how it can be lit. Zoning, health insurance, tax codes, billing practices, health codes, minimum square footage, liability – pretty much anything and everything you can think of that has to do with the daily management of your business has been touched by a politician.
When we get down to talking about this kind of nitty-gritty, there’s always a lot of shrugging during elections. They’re all the same, I hear all too often. Or, as Stan from South Park so eloquently put it, “I think voting is great, but, if I have to choose between a douche and a turd, I just don’t see the point.”
I hear you on this. I really do, but if you genuinely think all politicians are the same, I want you to think long and hard about G.W. Bush’s presidency and that of Barack Obama, and then, with a straight face, tell me that they are exactly the same. You can’t. I mean, you can try, but then you probably think all ice cream tastes the same too. Yes, it’s all ice cream, but if you try to hand me butter brickle instead of chocolate fudge brownie, I’m going to know the difference.
So, yes, democracy takes work. If we want democracy to work for us, to impact our lives in a way that is positive and meaningful, then we need to pull our weight. We need to watch debates and show up to town hall meetings. We need to ask questions and demand answers, real answers. We need to understand our municipal, state, and federal governments and the people who run them. We need to show up to the polls for every election – not just every four years – and we need to show up to the polls with the knowledge necessary to cast a vote for the people that represent us and our interests. Because if we don’t, Representative Fudge is right – we are ungrateful, we are lazy, and we are trifling.