Greece was a democracy. Rome was a republic (also a form of democracy) which gave the vote to citizens of Rome. Even India is noted for having an early democratic form of government. Then democracy disappeared from the face of the earth for centuries. There were kings, there were queens, there were emperors and pharaohs, chieftains and popes. Almost every nation had one form of authoritarian government or another. People, ordinary people like you and me, were subjects. Our ruler may have been enlightened or frightening, greedy or benevolent; it did not matter what the nature of the ruler was, subjects had to do as they were told. Lots of people languished in prisons without ever being charged with a crime. Even subjects caught for crimes that seem relatively minor today were sometimes hung or severely punished. Life was hard and people longed for freedom. They longed for dignity. They longed to have an opportunity to be prosperous.
Sometimes we have to remember the past to realize how lucky we are to live in a free and enlightened nation like America in the 21st century. We take our freedoms for granted. We are upset when our government seems to withdraw or limit any of our freedoms. People are angry with the number of new laws that are passed to keep us safe from ourselves, rules about restraints in vehicles, rules about foods, rules about smoking and drinking, and rules about texting and talking on the phone in the car. Where will it end we ask?
We must admit, however, that there are certain rights that are fiercely defended even in these “nanny state” days. We still zealously defend our right to free speech, even though we would sometimes prefer not to honor the same right for others. Our government does not usually arrest us for our opinions unless there is a perceived threat of violent action in there somewhere. We strongly defend our right to bear arms and so far our government has bent over backwards to keep even assault weapons generally available in response to the hue and cry of gun proponents.
The one right we do not defend quite as strongly is our right to vote. Even though this is a right that is not enjoyed by people in many places around the globe we find reasons to avoid voting. We say we are frustrated that nothing ever changes. We say that our one small vote can’t really make a difference. We argue that the Electoral College really elects the president, that this is anti-American and elitist and therefore we refuse to vote in protest. Even worse, we just can’t be bothered. Our forefathers allowed only property owners to vote. As recently as the 1950’s some Americans were not allowed to vote or were subjected to such strict voter poll requirements that they found it impossible to qualify to vote. Republicans are passing laws in a number of states this year, in 2012, that require things like a photo ID to vote, things which are difficult for some Americans to get because of costs or transportation needs, or lack of a birth certificate (which is often lost).
With voter rights once again being challenged, this time in the name of “voter fraud”, it is more important than ever to vote. If you don’t exercise your right to vote (a right people are dying for) then you have no right to complain about our government. It is not just your right to vote in a democracy; it is your hard-won duty to exercise your right to vote. It would be wrong to suggest that people just winning their voting rights through demonstrations and even wars are winning something that is not worth having once it is won. It is essential to vote, especially in this year when America is choosing whether it wants to be a business (Republicans) or whether our America will fulfill our social agenda in the context of balanced budgets (Democrats). This year our election involves a real choice and it is a very close election.
Vote! Voting is a privilege that is not shared by all the peoples around the world. If you are lucky enough to live in a nation where you can vote in a legitimate election then you really need to exercise your right to vote. Vote! Don’t forget; don’t be too busy; don’t be too disillusioned; don’t let them stop you with voter ID laws. Vote! (But only once, please.) No matter who tries to influence your vote and no matter how hard they try, you cannot be forced to vote for a particular person. You still get to choose who you want to vote for. Vote!