There is very little demanded of us in the United States. There is no mandatory public service, and most obligations, even paying taxes and serving on a jury, are full of loopholes and wiggle room. We complain of the things we are expected to do, and we are free to do as little or as much as we want. Freedom to choose and accountability for our actions are the constant ever-changing companions to a working democracy.
Accountability for the greater good, actions beyond the benefit of our immediate loved ones, is very much our own decision. Only 40% of us vote during midterm elections. The number of young people coming of voting age and still not registering to vote is astounding. I work with young adults who have never taken the time to register or who have registered and never voted. After our most recent elections, I asked for a show of hands who voted and the results were mixed. I go through the usual talk on the importance of voting in a country based on rights and freedoms, but I know they are only modeling the behavior they experience in the greater society. If there is no understanding how their vote connects to everyday expectations, if they somehow graduate from high school and still not understand civic responsibility, what then do they use as a model?
Our low voting numbers are a reminder of the lack of accountability in America. There is so little effort put into protecting and expecting the act of voting, it has become more of a symbolic act than understanding the real connections. Why vote when your job can still disappear from a decision by a corporate headquarters a thousand miles away? Why vote when you can spend your whole life working hard and smart, only to be wiped out by an unexpected medical event or gunned down by a bum with a gun? We have American soldiers protecting citizens in other countries trying to vote while we have elected officials working to gerrymander and restrict Americans voting here.
The good news is that all such decisions and potential outcomes are structural, and they can be linked to the actions of our elected officials. If our representatives are set loose without continued accountability by the voters themselves, then bad outcomes are guaranteed to happen. Voting is the protective tool of democracy. President Harry Truman famously said, “the buck stops here.” When it comes to voting, the buck stops with us. A vote this week is a vote for freedom from corporate excess, freedom from social media complacency, freedom to live in communities without the worry of indiscriminate violence, freedom from conspiracy theories, and freedom from religious zealotry. Accountability begins with us. It begins with voting for proper representation. It begins with modeling the behavior for young Americans and the world to see. Let our vote this week be one of accountability, because the voting numbers tell us we can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org