On Being Disenfranchised

My youngest son’s preschool is serving as a polling station today.  At both drop off and pick up I was asked if I was there to vote and both times I explained that, sadly no, as an immigrant I was not entitled to vote.  This is a difficult thing for me.

My Gran was intensely, fervently, obsessively political.  She had stridently held opinions on every subject and she was politically active in trying to change the things she believed needed to be changed.  Some of my happiest childhood memories of time spent with her involve being at protests and on rallies.  I suppose, therefore, that I learned to be politically engaged at her knee.  My family taught me early on how important it was to actively participate in democracy, that to not cast a vote is to undermine the very principle of democracy, to inform yourself and to cast your vote accordingly.  People fought and died to earn me the right to vote and I should wield that right and be thankful for it.  In due course, I registered to vote as soon as I was old enough to do so and cast my first vote as soon as I was able.  In my entire adult life, I have only failed to vote once – in a local election because I was in hospital having a baby.  I think that might be a reasonable excuse, maybe even one my Gran would have permitted.

When my husband and I were discussing the pros and cons of moving from Scotland to America, therefore, one of the items on the list was the fact I would not be able to vote.  I would be abiding by and controlled by the laws of and paying the taxes to a country I had no electoral power in.  As a resident and especially as the mother of four children, I would have a stake in a country but would have no political voice.  That was a Big Deal for me.  It became part of my difficulty with feeling like a Non-Person upon arriving here.  Like my Gran, I have passionately held views and opinions, values and beliefs, and it is frustrating to not be able to invest those in moulding the future of a state and nation I am now raising my children in.  

I am very liberal and left wing.  I am a socialist who believes to the core of my being that the haves and the cans have a moral obligation and a social duty to support and protect those who have not and who can’t.  I am against capital punishment, for equal rights across the board, pro gun control … an endless list of issues on which my new homeland and I are somewhat out of synch.  Right now I have no ability to shape the laws in regard to any of these core issues.  When it comes down to brass tacks, I cannot even vote for the local dog catcher let alone who nominally represents me in Congress, the Senate or the White House.

If and when I take up US Citizenship, it will primarily be motivated by my desire to vote, to participate fully in the democratic process once more, to have my say in a country I now have an important stake in.  For now, however, I just have to hope that the winds of change and the franchise being taken up by each new generation might move things along in a direction that more accords with my stance on key issues.  On that note, today a Federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage.  That I now live in a state that recognises marriage equality makes me very happy indeed and gives me hope in more ways than one.  Today, therefore, at least feels like an easier day on which to be disenfranchised. 

8 thoughts on “On Being Disenfranchised

  1. My husband and I were just talking about this, the changes that are destined to happen within the government at every level as this next generation of 20 and 30 somethings start to stake their own claims to careers in politics – the winds of change will indeed blow away any old or outmoded ways of thinking and dealing in favor of more liberal, socialist stances because that is what these generations want as well – for the most part at least 😉

    • I certainly hope so. It requires those generations to be aware and engaged, however, and I encounter enough apathy and disenchantment and distrust to make me concerned that too many people will opt out of their right to vote too much. Democracy is never something we should take for granted but perhaps those generations are too far removed from franchise and other civil rights to comprehend that. Perhaps seeing all these changes will inspire people to use their vote as their voice again. Certainly it’s inspiring to think how much has changed in just two or three generations. That is definitely encouraging and a source for optimism. Thank you for your thoughtful and positive reply.

    • That is what “these generations want as well… for the most part” says who? This country is split on such issues, which is why nothing gets done. But we cannot discount that each side is equally for their own views. Being liberal is fine, but when you try to push your views onto those that are conservative it becomes an issue. And the same can be said from the other end.

      • I think the most important thing is that future generations, whatever their ideologies and whatever end is the political spectrum they are on, engage with issues and exercise their democratic rights and actually participate in the process. The potential for apathy and for people to opt out of voting is far more concerning to me than what it is they would choose to vote for. A variety of opinions and ideologies are what democracy should be about anyway but that only works properly if everyone gets out there and participates. Thank you for stopping by my blog and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

      • I think there’s a difference though between compelling people to vote and encouraging them to do so. Making an active choice to either not vote or spoil the ballot even is still preferable to apathy and being switched off entirely. Interesting discussion – thank you. 🙂

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