Americans squawk constantly about how the politically powerful control our lives. And yet, on Election Day, the candidates defer to us. All day, they huddle around televisions and exit pollers, desperate for any clue about our decision. Outwardly confident, but nervous inside.
That’s the way it should be.
This is a representative republic, operating under broadly democratic principles.
In our system, the ultimate power lies not in the capitals and the legislatures. It lies not in special interest groups or PACS. The most powerful element of the American political system is the voter.
You and me.
Voting booths are the front lines of the Constitution. As long as we retain the right to vote, we retain power over our government. It is why the one thing that angers us the most is election fraud or disenfranchisement. We know that someone who steals a person’s vote has also stolen a piece of freedom from us all.
I walk downtown during the lunch hour, watching people go about their diverse errands.
Tuesday, however, was different. I watched as folks went into a polling place. Their walk was purposeful. Their faces were set; the look of decision upon them. Upon leaving, they wore a visible pride, their heads up and shoulders back.
Across America, the same scenes unfolded. In fire halls and churches, in schools and shopping malls, people cast their vote. It didn’t matter whether they dressed in thousand-dollar suits, or in jeans from Goodwill. All votes counted equally. On Tuesday, We The People spoke in our loudest voice; in our strongest words.
We made our decision, one that will resonate globally.
Over the years, issues have risen and fallen. Political parties have ebbed and flowed. Presidents have come and gone. But throughout it all, the one constant, the dominant variable has always been that citizen … in that booth … casting that vote.
In city halls, state capitals and in Washington, the victors will arrive for the first time. The vanquished will go home, perhaps for the last time.
If your side lost on Tuesday, take heart. In two short years, we’ll do this all over again.
If your side won, however, be warned. Your philosophy, your ideology, your ideas are now on trial. Your ethics, your morality, your ability to lead through a time of crisis will be judged.
The solutions you so vigorously promoted will now become policy; your sole responsibility.
And if you break your promises, if things don’t improve … if you fail … then in 2012, we’ll fire you, too.
Very few nations on earth give this kind of control to citizens. And yet, despite the power of the vote, it’s hard to get a majority to participate.
Some run out of time. Others choose to remain ignorant on issues and candidates, or rationalize that their vote means nothing.
And face it. Some of us just don’t care.
People died for that right. In 1776, people risked it all against the most powerful empire on earth. People died in the Civil War to free the slaves. Women took on powerful political machines for some 80 years to get the vote. African-Americans fought, suffered and died to claim their right to vote.
A citizen refusing to vote insults those sacrifices. The blood shed, the lives lost, are all in vain.
In 2012, we will elect the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and a president. Educate yourself; get involved; understand the seriousness of the world in which we live. You are a citizen of the United States. You have the right to vote. Exercise that right. That’s your job.
Voices are calling you from Independence Hall in Philadelphia; from the scarred battlefields of Yorktown and Gettysburg; they cry from the bloody road between Selma and Montgomery. Hear them. Heed them. Learn from them.
Go vote … and make your stand for freedom.
Ralph Couey is a freelance writer living in Somerset. He is an occasional contributor to The Tribune-Democrat.