Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Call To Vote

For the past two months, I have been traveling around giving a series of presentations to various audiences based on my latest book “Conversations With America.” The book is a collection of essays drawn from the eleven years of this social commentary blog site. But the essence of my in-person presentation is our need to start a different kind of national conversation than what is occurring today. It is a call to stop just arguing with each other in tirades that accomplish little to nothing, but instead to start truly listening to what each other has to say in order to find a new common ground that we can build upon. While the current tour has been a forum for me to share some thoughts with others, it has also been a wonderful opportunity to listen to the diverse questions and thoughtful comments people have shared with me in return. (See the schedule of these events on the “Program Offerings” tab at This direct input has also been supplemented by listening to interviews by thoughtful journalists with people across the political spectrum, as well as discreetly overhearing conversations in restaurants, stores, and other locales among everyday people living everyday lives.

The biggest takeaway to date is how concerned, and truly engaged, our citizenry is in the current social / political landscape. Regardless of which “side” one is on, this is an engagement fueled by frustration; anger; distaste over our political style, language and process; a feeling of powerlessness over decisions and events; a distrust of our neighbors; and a sense that our America has lost its way. Simultaneously with this sense of engagement, many are also worn out from the daily non-stop headlines coming out of Washington, D.C. that swamp time for local and personal life priorities. A time of quiet for all seems badly needed.

The last eight years have been a brutal assault on our nation’s ability to conduct a civil discourse among ourselves, find shared solutions across divergent opinions, and identify some common goals that we can wrap our arms around together. While a given individual may feel that s/he has “won” an occasional battle or achieved a particular objective, those brief moments of victory yield only a fleeting moment of satisfaction as the country quickly moves on to the next headline, the next battle. We spend little genuine time thinking and planning in-depth for how to work with and resolve our national issues. Instead, we make a cursory, quick decision, check it off as “done,” and hurry on to the next item calling for attention. The result is that our issues either come back on our plate to be readdressed once again, or our short-sightedness causes a whole new set of unforeseen domino problems. (Witness the continuing minefield of our legal and illegal immigration issues.) The dog is so busy chasing his tail for the appearance of momentum, he can’t see the steak bone lying just outside his view.

After the last two years of this political meandering, we now have the opportunity for the American people to pause this merry-go-round, assess where we are, determine where we want to go, and communicate these decisions back to our “leaders.” Our next Election Day in America is November 6th, 2018. They call this an “off-year” election because there are no presidential candidates on the ballot. But our current President’s words and actions are very much on the ballot in absentia, as well as the aspirations of those would like to take his place in 2020; that is the special purpose of each off-year election. Through our votes for the entire U.S. House of Representatives seats, and 1/3rd of the Senate, we fill out the national report card for how our leaders are doing, and thereby how we ourselves are doing. Given that we have been pulled apart in two diametrically opposite directions these past two years, that report card, that directional signal, is more important than ever before.

People need to vote. Whatever our political opinions, whatever our personal grievances, they need to be expressed at the ballot box – the place, the action, the voice that speaks the loudest and is the most effective. We need to take stock not just of our politics, but of ourselves. After all of the discordant speeches, the rallies, the letter-writing, voting takes the temperature of the times and reports back to all of us as to where we collectively stand – for better or for worse. As a country, where we have been standing thus far is with each foot firmly planted on separate pathways. In that configuration, it is hard to walk forward in any direction.

In 2014, our previous off-year election, just over 1/3rd of registered voters voted. It was the worst off-year voter turnout since WWII. Mathematically, the priorities and future direction of the country were then determinable by only 18% or more of voters (even less of a percentage of eligible voters!) – a pitiful minority of the citizenry. This is not how democracy is supposed to work. This is not meeting our civic obligation. This is not giving needed counsel to our government about where we collectively seek to go. This is not honoring the right and privilege of voting that our ancestors marched, fought, and died for.

On November 6th, please Vote. Each of us needs to be heard from. The future course of your life, and the fate of your aspirations, may very well depend on it.

©   2018   Randy Bell