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Friday, November 19, 2010

Apathy- the Open Door to Oppression

(Originally printed December, 2007 in The Burro magazine)

It never ceases to amaze me how many people do not register to vote, or do not vote when the opportunity is there.

When asked, these people always cite the same reasons. The government won’t listen to them, anyway, so why even bother?

I wonder if these same people would care about who had keys to their house, or their car. Would they be so apathetic about issues like that?

Would they care who walked their kids to the bus stop? Would they care about who was a teacher in their schools?

Government affects every issue in our lives, and every aspect of our future— but many people care more about their favorite TV show than voting. Sure, we don’t have enough Democrats in Congress to override a presidential veto—but who cares? People get much more excited about who was just voted off ‘Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol”.

Maybe we should allow phone calling and text messages for national elections, like those TV shows. But I really doubt it is a matter of convenience that keeps people from voting, or registering to vote.

For years, I felt the same way. I wasn’t rich, and so why even bother? Rich people and richer corporations really ruled our country, I thought. What chance does one person have to be heard?

But George Bush pushed me into getting involved in 2006. I have a daughter, Aimee, who just recently finished six years as a translator in the Navy, and another, Holly, who is married to an Army soldier who has done several tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. My son James is currently a Navy satellite navigation chief on a submarine.

With Bush’s seemingly obvious disregard for our service men and women slapping one side of my face, and his buddies making record corporate profits in oil and the military industrial complex, slapping the other, I finally woke up. I had to get involved.

Now, let me put this into context. I grew up, the first generation not to be drafted, with echoes of the Vietnam War all around me. I grew up in a hippie town, Athens, Ohio—home to liberals galore, and so steeped in the 1960’s culture that The Grateful Dead stayed for an extra week after a concert, just to party.

I grew up with the television show M.A.S.H forming my complete view on war, and Alan Alda being a social hero.

So when my daughter Aimee told me she wanted to enlist, part of me died just a little. She said that she needed to do this to pay for college. George Bush had ruined my company when he got elected, with the big tech stock market crash in fall 2000, so I couldn’t help. I had to fire my 25 employees, close my offices on the main intersection of downtown Cleveland, and had lost the last bundle of cash that my ex-wife’s lawyers had allowed me to still have.

So knowing that my daughter’s situation was dire, I conceded and signed the papers. A little voice inside cried out, “I can’t believe you are going to let her serve The Man!” . Inside, I realized that I had secretly hoped for another career for her, one that hopefully included wearing tie-dyed clothing and singing Janis Joplin songs.

Six years later, she got out alive—with two babies and a husband now, but still my little girl. My daughter Holly’s husband survives, which is a focus of constant prayer. And my son James is circling North Korea as we speak, in the fifth month of a seven-month deployment.

Kind of makes those headlines come alive for me, as you might imagine.

So in the fall of 2006, I got involved. Having a media background, I was able to help out in the elections that saw Amanda Aguirre, Lynne Pancrazi and Theresa Ulmer get elected. Every single volunteer during that time should feel a great deal of pride for helping these amazing ladies, all Democrats, get elected.

And since then, with ‘The Burro’, and daily office duties at the Democratic Party’s headquarters, I have stayed involved.

But sadly, the vast majority of Yuma County residents do not feel the same way.

I often have wondered, in my 5-plus years here, what it is about Yuma that promotes such a widespread apathy about voting. And volunteering.

Of course, it’s not just politics. The apathy seems to invade every pore of daily life, in many people. Life is just slower, in every respect. I often joke that people in this town take two hours to watch ‘60 Minutes’.

I don’t know if it has anything to do with the Mexican culture, and the historical love of the siesta. Perhaps the Anglo culture should be more closely examined. After all, what can be said about a town where people gave up on their long trek across the old west, just a couple of miles short of the Promised Land of California?

You do have to give a lot of credit to the folks who turned desert into farmland, and who tamed this wilderness into what it is now. But how does such a pioneering spirit turn into unregistered voters, and voter turnouts like we saw in the last city election?

There is NO EXCUSE for voter turnout like we saw in the last election. You people that did not vote have absolutely no right to ever complain about what city council does. A whopping total of 7,668 people voted for city council, and the issues on the ballot.

That means over 25,000 registered voters in the City of Yuma did not vote!

And of course, that doesn’t even touch the amount of unregistered voting- eligible people in the City of Yuma. That number is a bit harder to determine, as I found in a recent conversation with County Recorder Susan Marler. The Federal Government keeps numbers on voter-eligible age brackets—anyone 18 or older- but it does not claim accuracy, because of the number of non-citizens that are included in those figures.

The estimated population in Yuma County in 2004 was just over 176,000. That was a ten percent increase over 2000. According to online figures, in 2005, we had over 52,000 of our residents below the voting age of 18.

That would mean we have 124,000 people in the county that are ‘of-age’ to vote. According to figures from the Arizona Democratic Party, there are just over 56,000 people registered to vote in Yuma County.

Let’s do the math together, shall we? Over 68,000 people in our county don’t care enough to even register to vote.

Our city had an estimated population in 2005 of almost 89,000 people. If the same percentages of them are of voting age as in the county, then that’s almost 63,000 people who are voter-eligible.

Which would mean that around 55,000 people in the City of Yuma don’t care enough to vote. And that they are willing to be ruled by the decisions of the less than 8000 people who do vote.

What is wrong with this picture? I know that “Back to the Future” is probably too old of a movie to reference, but please picture me pounding my forehead as I scream, “Hello, McFly!!!”

So less than 8000 people decided that your city council members should make $300 a month. They also decided your mayor should be among the most underpaid mayors in America. And that you don’t need more money for public parks, and other civic improvements.

Let’s put this local apathy in historical perspective with a widely known poem from World War II, written by a German named Pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Now, let’s try to make that poem more modern, more relevant. Here’s my version:

First, they ran an Oil Man for President
And I did not vote
Because I believed it wouldn’t matter.
Then the Oil Man took us into an illegal war, But I didn’t vote for Congress,
either, So my elected officials didn’t listen to my complaints.
Then thousands of people died, from my country and many others,
And it seemed like no one could stop the Oil Man, Because I still wouldn’t even register to vote.

Let me be quite blunt about this— if you are waiting for an American Revolution, and you think it will happen any other way than voting, then you are a complete idiot. Sure, our original Right to Bear Arms was meant to give us the power to overthrow a crooked government, like the one we had thrown out in the Revolutionary War (it was King George then, too, wasn’t it?). But you and I can’t buy a Stealth Bomber, or a tank.

Armed revolution in this country has absolutely no chance of succeeding. But arm yourselves with a voter registration form, and you can fire a round on Election Day that could be heard around the world.

Repeatedly, I have run ads in The Burro that say “Volunteer. Vote. Victory!” But we can’t even get volunteers to come into the office and make phone calls. And frankly, the only reason our office is open is because the State Party pays the rent. The apathy that I have detailed in recent elections extends all the way to the core of our local party.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you volunteered? Or donated? Maybe you have a special cause that you are involved in, and your time and money goes there. But what cause is more important than what kind of government we have? And who is in office?

The 2000 presidential election was lost through voter fraud in Florida, and 2004 was lost through voter fraud in Ohio. But these elections could have easily been won— by Democrats— if eligible voters had voted.

Now, there is no hint of voter fraud in Yuma, but just to illustrate the point, let’s use those numbers. Which election do you think would be easier to cheat in— the one we had, with less than 8000 votes cast, or the one where 63,000 eligible voters cast their ballots?

We have the ability in this country to elect better people, in vast majorities for every election, and sweeping across both sides of Congress. But until we start registering voters, and those voters start exercising their voting rights, we make it easy to cheat in elections. In fact, we are saying that we don’t care if they cheat. We don’t care what they do. And we don’t care who does it.

This empowers people like the Bush administration to do anything they want—keep us in a war that we hate, raise gas prices above three dollars a gallon, have health care and prescription prices soar through the roof...

Just remember— if you don’t vote, don’t come crying to me about it later.

You can register to vote by stopping into our new offices at 1600 S.4th Avenue, suite D (for Democrat), or by going to the County Recorder’s office, or online HERE. You can get an early ballot sent to your home, so you don’t even have to leave the house.

Or you can just wait until the Nazis—or Blackwater—come rolling down the street.

Maybe then people will believe that voting is not just a right— it’s a responsibility.

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