Friday, October 10, 2008

"what would you do if you found out the voting machines were rigged?"

On Tuesday in my Religion & Society class we talked about sacred rituals in various cultures and religions and why these are important. What makes something sacred or profane? Part of the equation, according to sociologists like Maurice Bloch (Ritual, History and Power) is those "on the top of the mountain" (literally in some cultures, and somewhat literally in our culture--Capitol Hill) set themselves up as our leaders and protectors. They demand tribute (taxes), and when some of that comes back to us in the form of gifts (roads, schools, etc.) we feel like we're getting something for free, something with which those on high are sending down to us as a gift. But really, of course, it's just our own stuff, but now it's been through the process of being sacralized.

My professor started talking about how our votes are kind of like this--the government gives us this "choice" of who to vote for and we feel blessed to get to choose. We feel like we're taking part in something sacred because our opinion supposedly really makes a difference in who's on the mountain and how they lead. They rain enough gifts down on us (tax breaks and kickers, adequate public services for most people, etc.) to keep us satisfied, then go about making themselves rich. (I'm feeling a little cynical today, I guess!) But we feel blessed by engaging in the sacramental act of voting.

Then my professor started talking about the way it appears that voting machines have been tampered with in the last two elections. (Actually he only said the last one, but there's plenty of hearsay and evidence about the Bush-Gore one that I think we can safely say the last two!) Exit interviews showed wins for Kerry in key states like Ohio and Florida last time, with margins of about 8%, but then when the results came out the next day from the voting machines, somehow Bush was up by 2%. My professor pointed out that the same method of exit interviews overthrew an election in the Ukraine a few years ago, so this is a good method--it's not like that method was flawed. So it can overthrow elections in the Ukraine, but here, that would be messing with a sacramental act. (Maybe it's similar to how people felt when there was a church controversy back in the third century over whether one had actually received the sacraments if one's priest was found to be deficient in some way. They decided that yes, even if there was corruption, you had still received the sacrament--you were safe.)

Now, voting isn't a matter of life or death, but still, if we mess with the idea that our vote doesn't count or whole country's principles are called into question. If we actually as a country believe that Bush won the last two elections unfairly, and yet he made all these policies that risked the lives of our own military, and took the lives of so many in other countries, how can we assuage our consciences? No, we prefer to say, he was elected by the people, for the people, however unfortunate that may be. (Sorry, just had to add that last part even though I know some of you are Bush supporters.) So we ignore evidence and we don't push too hard--we wouldn't want our whole system (of corruption, greed, idolatry...) to come crashing down. It's not a perfect system, but at least it works for me because I have roads to drive on and access to education, I have a place to live and food to eat.

So then my professor asked, "What would you do if you found out the voting machines were rigged or tampered with?" He said he didn't know what to do with this current generation, because we don't seem to protest like they did in the '60s and '70s. So what would we do? No one answered. "Cherice, what would you do?" He asked directly. (I felt a little like Ferris in "Ferris Buhler's Day Off"--"Anyone? Anyone? Buhler?"--except I'd done my homework.)

"Well, I'd complain about it on my blog," I said first. Which is undoubtedly true. But then I said it's hard to know what to do, because we've tried protest. We protested the Iraq War--we marched and we signed petitions and we sent letters to our Congresspeople and we met with our representatives--there were massive demonstrations all over the world--and yet we still went to war. We've protested additional troops, additional money given to the war with no stipulations on how it's spent, we've protested the fact that the US ignores UN policies...and nothing changes. So the way protest happened in the '60s and '70s isn't working for our generation. Why not, my professor asked? Well, there's a lot more control over the media now, and through the media the government makes all protest look unpatriotic, and makes unpatriotism look like the worst thing anyone could be (except maybe a terrorist, but you're probably helping the terrorists). This makes fewer people willing to protest, so that the media can downplay the importance of those who aren't going lock-step with the government's plan.

So we need to create new ways to protest that can't be ignored.

What do we do about a government that has no accountability to its people? What do we do when we supposedly have the right to vote but our votes don't count? Or even if there's a fair election, we don't really get to choose the people we want to represent us, we just choose between the options given to us? What do we do when our voice means nothing to our leaders?

We just got our ballots in the mail the other do we vote our conscience, or do we vote the lesser of two evils and vote for one of the options they've given us?

Since I'm feeling cynical I decided to include the lyrics to a Ben Folds song called "All U Can Eat." Here ya go:

Son look at all the people in this restaurant
What d'you think they weigh?
And out the window to the parking lot
At their SUVs taking all of the space

They give no [care]
They talk as loud as they want
They give no [care]
Just as long as there's enough for them

Gotta get on the microphone down at wallmart
Talk about some [stuff] that's been on my mind
Talk about the state of this great of this nation of ours
People look to your left, yeah look to your right

They give no [care]
They buy as much as they want
They give no [care]
Just as long as there's enough for them

Son look at the people lining up for plastic
Wouldn't you like to see them in the national geographic?
Squatting bare-[bumm]ed in the dirt eating rice from a bowl
With a towel on their head and maybe a bone in their nose
See that [jerk] with a peace-sign on his license plate
Giving me the finger and running me out of his lane

God made us number one because [s/]he loves us the best
Well maybe [s/]he should go bless someone else for a while, give us a rest
[They give no...]
Yeah and everyone can see
[They give no...]
We've eaten all that we can eat


Anonymous said...

On top of that you didn't even mention that the electoral college selects the president anyway- so in reality we have even less of a voice- there were several states in Bush/Gore that Gore won the "popular vote" and Bush won the state and vice versa. It makes it hard to want to vote when you realize that.

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurie Kruczek said...

If my vote were invalid due to some other party, I would protest like there was no tomorrow. I really would. I fight for my vote. I know it is all imperfect, but it is what we have to work with. I love this country and I will do what I can to have a voice in it, no matter how small.

As for that song, I'm not a fan. All of those people Folds is so disturbed by are our brothers and sisters. If he wants to be elitist and "above" them, that's really sad. He thinks Americans just want more and more and don't care about anything else? I think he needs to spend more time in the real world with those very real people. Does he think he needs to re-educate the masses? I bet the masses could teach him a few things.

I am as liberal as they come, but I'm not defeatest about the future election or the people WHO WILL vote Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

Micah Bales said...


All I know to do is to try to change my life and seek to imitate Christ, being a vessel for God's love to those around me. We have got to change our lives, each and every one of us, and we must come together as communities to live drastically differently. Our very salvation as a nation and as a planet depend upon it.

How are we supposed to seriously challenge this system we find ourselves in when most of us aren't even willing to make sacrifices on the order of giving up our cars when it is undeniable that driving automobiles contains the seeds of war?

In terms of the Empire - I'll vote. But I don't know what to do beyond that.

In Love,


Laurie Kruczek said...

I forgot to add, that protest can be on so many levels, not just mass demonstration. There are people in Oregon who chain themselves to oldgrowth trees to make a point. I am talking 70-year-old Quaker women doing this. They eventually get arrested, but they do what they can. We have kids of this generation protesting this way, as well, or climbing the walls of the mayor's office, pole sitting, sleeping in front of it, what-have-you. Maybe things don't change ASAP, but they didn't necessarily change in the 60's ASAP, either. The Vietnam war still lasted until the mid-70's, didn't it?

As for the government and media's approach to protest being unpatriotic, I have to admit that I personally stopped peace marching during the first Gulf War because the police were video taping the protests. They were making a visual record of every free citizen excercising their rights. It made me furious. Now days, pushing 40, I don't care. What can they really do to me? Make me an enemy of the state for advocating for peace? Oh... okay!

Great post with interesting ideas, btw. Thanks!

John K. said...

As a Christian anarchist, I think voting itself should be protested.

I pray that Obama loses. But then again, I also pray (probably harder) that McCain loses.