HAVE YOU GIVEN UP ON
by Tracy Marks firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Web at http://www.windweaver.com/politics/politics.htm
Politics Index at http://www.windweaver.com/politics/index.htm
Have you given up on politics? Do you avoid watching or
reading political news or becoming informed on issues and candidates? Have
you stopped voting, even in Presidential elections?
We live in a critical time. Decisions made by our
government today may destroy the future of social security and keep the U.S.
engaged in wars against terrorism and wars for oil for the rest of this
century. Hundreds of U.S. troops are
being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of innocent Iraqi and
Afghanis have been victims of war. Rather than explore and deal with the
sources of terrorism, our government is creating conditions which can only
breed more terrorists.
At home, American suffer from unemployment, rising health
care costs, and increased insecurity about their economic and personal
futures. We have a President we cannot trust, and a government which favors
the rich and powerful. Meanwhile our media does not address the real concerns
of most Americans, but diverts our attention with celebrity gossip,
sensational and catastrophic stories, and political coverage which treats the
elections as win/lose horseraces, focusing on polling, fundraising, and
endorsements rather than seriously exploring the issues.
Some of us react with indifference and boredom, others
with anger or despair. Our indifference may mask anxiety and discomfort which
we prefer to ignore. Our negative feelings are difficult to face, and rage,
hopelessness and powerless may trigger similar unresolved feelings from our
personal histories which we would rather not experience.
One response is to tune out politically, and to focus on
our personal lives, trying to convince ourselves that we cannot make a
difference, and with our busy schedules, our time is best spent upon work,
family, friends and relaxing diversions which only temporarily help us escape
from our ever-increasing anxiety.
Another response is to deal with our uncomfortable
feelings about our country and our future, to begin to transform our despair
into hope, and direct our anger into action. But we may face innumerable
obstacles, internal and external, in our attempts to do so.
First, we must care enough about ourselves and our future,
about our families and friends and their
future, and if we can open our hearts wide enough, about people we do
not know in this county and other countries, and about the earth and
environment which sustains us.
We must care enough to be willing to feel and express our feelings
about our political reality, and to work at dismantling the inner messages
and rationalizations which paralyze us or shut us down emotionally. We must
make the effort to create instead new internal messages, ones which recognize
the difficult obstacles in our paths, but enable us to take slow, small steps
toward overcoming them.
We may be apolitical because of boredom, despair or anger,
but millions of people feel bored by political news, or angry or hopeless,
and they still vote, and keep informed and even become engaged in political
If we decide to overcome our political disengagement, we
can in time experience the motivation, determination, connectedness and
renewed hopefulness that political engagement and action can awaken. We can find others who share our feelings
and values, and from the energy that such community can bring, begin to take action to defeat Bush in
2004, to elect a different President one who is committed to the welfare of
all the American people, to the security of U.S. borders, and to a policy of
international peace and cooperation.
A democracy cannot remain a democracy unless the voices of all or most of its
citizens are heard. As citizens, we
all have a responsibility to become involved in the political workings of our
country. When we don't vote, we passively support the current establishment,
or the first choice of other voters.
When we vote, we actively influence the political process.
If we take independent political action, we have more influence. When we band
together with others to form activist groups which contact our congressmen
and senators and receive media attention for the stands we take, we are
indeed heard, and have an impact upon elections, and upon the future of the
United States and the world.
Finally, by helping to create a political climate
favorable to jobs, the economy, health care, transportation, family services,
the environment, security and a host of other considerations that matter to
all of us, we create a more viable future for ourselves personally.
THE REASONS FOR POLITICAL APATHY
Let's begin by considering the reasons that we may have
for giving up on politics, and counter them with more realistic, motivating
and empowering attitudes. Many of these counter-arguments acknowledge the
validity of the feelings and thoughts that we may have which have turned us
off to politics. These counter-arguments are, in many cases, more cynical
than idealistic. But they move beyond cynicism to embrace an attitude that is
committed both to acknowledging the realities of the present world, and
We'll begin with the initial reasons, and then explore the
deeper psychological and sociological reasons which may not be conscious.
You may wish to ignore those which
don't relate to you, and focus instead on those which echo your current
feelings and attitudes.
ALIENATED, EXPERIENCING POLITICS AS IRRELEVANT
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "Who cares?" Politics has nothing to do with me. "Politicians don't address or act on the real issues"
COUNTERARGUMENTS: Those of
us who do not care much about the plight of Americans and non-Americans that
we don't know do care about our own personal futures and people we know and
love. We want to be able to retire with social security income, and to feel
safe we you leave your house or fly in a plane. We may want to find better jobs rather than hold on in fear to
our current jobs because no better choices are available. We want our
salaries to increase each year and at least keep up with inflation. We want
our states to be able to afford at least adequate education for our children,
and trained and available firemen and policemen. We want to stay healthy and
not suffer from illnesses caused at least in part by environmental pollution.
We want that we and those we love are likely to be alive ten years from now.
No President is going to fix all or even most of what is
wrong with this country or the world. The capacity of any one person or his
administration is limited; the difficulties and the oppositional forces too
great. But some the candidates are likely to be committed to taking action on
issues which are important to us personally, and to help create the
conditions in which we can feel more confident of having a viable future.
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "Politics is confusing and
overwhelming" "I don't
understand the issues or difference between the candidates" "I don't know how to vote or who to
vote for" "I don't know what to do to have an impact"
COUNTER-ARGUMENT: Politics IS confusing and overwhelming,
and we don't like feeling stupid,
ignorant or confused. But we don't have to know all - or follow the daily political news. We can
read an hour a week, or even an hour a month. At http://www.ontheissues.org/ or http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/special/president/issues/index.html,
we can inform
ourselves about the candidates' stands on issues. We can
learn about the voting process at http://lwv.org/voter/index.html or http://www.vote-smart.org, and explore news sites from http://www.webwinds.com/classes/news.htm.
As the primaries and Presidential election approach, we can read a newspaper
guide to the issues and the candidates. We will never understand all the
intricacies of the issues or the candidates' experience, but we can still
make informed decisions.
The links at the end of this article provide additional
online information and guidance. Many political action websites also have
user-friendly forms which enable us to quickly contact our Congressmen and senators, or sign petitions in support
of issues or candidates.
DISTRUSTING POLITICIANS IN GENERAL
"All politicians are crooks" "Politicians are liars" "They will say anything to get
"They say one thing and do another." "It's all about money and
SOME politicians are crooks and liars, will say anything
to get elected, and are intoxicated by power. But not all. Many candidates
today are sincerely committed to their ideals and values; if they may fail to
actualize many of their aims or intentions when in office, they are likely to
fail because of the power of opposition forces and because of the necessity
of compromise on some of their values in order to manifest others not
because of insincerity or lack of commitment. Better a leader who succeeds in
50% of his aims in creating a more viable future for Americans, than one who
takes us entirely in the wrong direction.
"Politics is a joke."
"Elections are a farce."
"Big corporations run the country." "Political news is
all about gamesmanship, polling and tactics and has nothing to do with real
Big corporations DO have considerable power to control the political agenda.
But grassroots campaigns, when large and strong enough, can expose the
corruption and begin to make small changes to alter the system. The election
of 2000 was a farce, but this does not mean that the election of 2004 will be
also. Only a small portion of political news does address the real issues,
but at least that small portion exists, and hundreds of alternative news
sources are springing up especially upon the Internet - to provides a larger, more accurate and
more informative presentation of national and international realities.
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "I don't like any of
them" "They all say the same thing" "In order to get to where they are in politics, they sell
themselves out so that I can't support any of them".
COUNTER-ARGUMENT: Politicians, like all of us, are fallible. In order to
gain the political power to make a significant difference in this country,
politicians have to raise money, make promises, disarm their opposition, and
compromise. Like it or not, that is
the existing system, and the nature of human beings. We struggle to tolerate
imperfect people in your personal lives, and likewise must struggle to
support imperfect people in an imperfect political system.
In 2004, failing to vote or voting for a minor candidate
is voting for and supporting Bush and keeping him in office. If we can't
wholeheartedly support a leading Democratic candidate, we may be able to
halfheartedly support a candidate
one who is at least a better alternative to our existing President. Or we may
be motivated by protest rather than support
- by our opposition to Bush and his administration's policies. The danger is that we allow our criticism
of individual candidates to lead to apathy the apathy which can only help
re-elect Bush and continue the downhill spin which our country is
experiencing both nationally and internationally.
"The campaigning process is ugly and turns me
off" "The candidates focus
mostly on attacking Bush or attacking each other"
Most of the candidates spend some of their time
criticizing Bush, but not as much as the media would have us believe. If we
listen to entire speeches, or read the text, we will discover that only a
small percentage is personal attack upon Bush or another candidate. And
unpleasant as those attacks may be, they sometimes have positive results
educating the public about another candidate's inadequacies or inaccuracies,
or mobilizing the determination of the public to keep Bush out of office in
If the personal attacks most disturb us, we can vote for a
candidate who is more invested in articulating his vision for the future then
his discontent with the past and present. But we don't have to make up our
minds based upon the 10-second soundbites from speeches which are often
broadcast out of context. We can dig deeper. The media an important issue
in itself thrives upon moments of conflicts, and blows them up out
proportion, and out of context. For more reliable reports on national and
international politics, we can check out Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, http://www.fair.org/, or Media Channel http://www.mediachannel.org/or some
the alternative media links at http://www.webwinds.com/classes/news.htm.
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "They're all the same" "There is no real difference between
any of them" "It doesn't
really matter who is in office"
COUNTER-ARGUMENTS: Yes, the Democratic candidates are
similar in many of their attitudes, and because our existing political
system, all must adapt themselves to political and business realities. But
they differ as well. Some emphasize
foreign affairs, others health care. Some are committed to the Iraq war,
others wish to pull out completely. Some want to repeal all tax cuts, some
only the tax cuts on the wealthy. Each has different priorities, and a
different set of experiences which will influence his/her priorities when in
office. We can look deeper. Any of the current candidates in office would be
significantly different in both domestic and international agenda and style
than George W. Bush.
MONEY AND POWER
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "It's all about
money." "They're all ruled by the corporations and lobbies that
fund them and so is the President"
Some candidates such as Dean are NOT receiving most of
their campaign money from large organizations, corporations and lobbies, or
from the rich and powerful. They are receiving thousands of small
contributions from ordinary people. As a result, they are not making promises
to serve the needs or profit motives of these large organizations,
corporations or lobbies, but are making a commitment instead to the ordinary
Americans who are supporting them.
Once a candidate is elected President, he will have to
battle with the existing system and learn to function within it. This means
dealing with the power of Congress (probably Republican), the Senate,
corporate lobbies, oppositional political parties, and citizen's groups which
oppose him. Like it or not, power is necessary to deal with power. Money is
necessary to counter the power of the wealthy who are committed to their own
interest and profit at the expense of the have-nots. Becoming more
politically engaged means acknowledging and grappling with political
realities, no matter how much we dislike them. But we can support ourselves
to a candidate who is able to work within those realities without being
corrupted by them.
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "One vote won't make a
difference." "I don't have
the power to make a difference." "Only the rich and the corporate
lobbies have power".
COUNTER-ARGUMENT: Every vote makes a difference. A few
thousand uncounted votes in 2000 resulted in Bush rather than Gore becoming
President. If we all felt our votes didn't count, then no one would vote.
Many people exist who have more power than we do politically, and
organizations have considerable power to override the will of the people, but
every time we vote or write a letter to a Congressman, we influence the
political process, and when we organize with others and are heard, we have an
even greater impact.
But what if we vote or take political action and it makes
no difference? The candidate we support is not elected; the "health care
for all" that is important to us does not become a national policy. At
least we feel empowered by taking action; at least we will strengthen our
self-esteem and do not feel guilty or responsible for contributing to the
political situation which ensues. We have no control over the consequences,
but we do have control over our own
actions. And if millions of other people continue to take action, political
change WILL occur.
NOT HAVING TIME
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "I'm too busy. I don't have the
time." "I don't have enough
time for my family or friends or time for a personal life how can I have
time for politics."
COUNTER-ARGUMENT: Many of us are busy and don't have much
free time. But we set priorities. To create an hour a week for political
involvement, we give up an hour television show or an hour's sleep. If we
choose to make political education and involvement a priority, we can create
the time. An hour a month is better than nothing.
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "It's too difficult to vote" "I can't take time off to go to the
polls or stand in line"
"I'm out of town and can't be bothered with absentee voting"
COUNTER-ARGUMENTS: If voting is important to us, we can plan ahead to have an
hour available on election day, to share child care with a neighbor, to wake
up an hour earlier, or to make arrangements with our boss to miss an hour's
work. We can register to vote or learn how to fill out absentee ballots on
the Web. Once we decide we care enough,
and are willing to take responsibility as a citizen for shaping the
future of this country and our personal futures, we can endure the inconveniences of lines at the polls and a
missed hour of work on election day.
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "I'm not political" "My family isn't political" "I'm a Republican, so I vote Republican and don't need to
pay attention to the Democratic candidates."
COUNTER-ARGUMENT: Our identities are not fixed in stone. We do not have to be
stagnant beings, defined entirely by self-images forged in the past. We are all in process. Saying "I AM NOT political" is
really saying "I WAS NOT political", because our future self has
not yet emerged, and we have the freedom to change.
EXISTING ATTITUDES: "Bush is going to win anyway."
COUNTER-ARGUMENT: Bush is only going to win if you let him
win - if we don't vote, or don't take
a stand against him, or support of causes in which we believe. The future is not determined, but
we can determine it and negatively by remaining indifferent and
REASONS FOR POLITICAL APATHY
Whatever reasons we give for our political apathy, many
people who vote have many of the same attitudes and yet they still vote,
and in some cases are politically active as well. This may reflect the fact
that our reasons for not voting or being politically engaged are not the real
reasons or the entire picture. We may not have acknowledged or come to terms
with our deeper attitudes and feelings.
Let's look at some of the deeper psychological reasons,
and then at some interpersonal and sociological factors which may also
contribute to our political
indifference, anger or despair.
The psychological reasons may be related to: not being in
touch with our feelings, not wanting
to feel discomfort or confusion, and not being able to deal effectively with
our anger, despair or powerlessness. In some cases, our reactions to the
political scene may trigger often
unconsciously - feelings or memories from our personal history which we do
not wish to re-experience, and which we have not resolved.
The interpersonal and sociological reasons may be related
to: not feeling connected to people who are politically concerned or
involved, not wanting to feel or think differently than those around us or
experience conflict in our personal relationships, not feeling support from
our community in regard to political awareness and action, and not being
motivated or engaged by the media's coverage of political issues and events.
UNRESOLVED ANGER and DISTRUST
Some of us may have a gripe against the world at large. We
may not to want to admit it, but we are still angry with our fathers or
mothers or authority figures in our past for abusing or neglecting us. We
may, consciously or unconsciously, want the government to be the universal
mother or father the parent that we never had. We may expect the government
and political leaders to provide for us more than is possible, or to
compensate for what we lack.
We may, as a result, have difficulty accepting or
supporting a political system or political leaders which do not help us
overcome our personal discontent, or which contribute to it even further.
Some of us may even be stuck in behavior patterns related
to passive-aggressive anger, preferring
to remain disengaged and complain rather than take responsibility for
making our lives and the world better.
Political action is a constructive outlet for anger. Our
rage can empower us rather than
paralyze us. If we can't actively
support a candidate, then we can at least actively protest against some of
Bush's policies and the orientation of the current administration. If
redirecting anger into assertive support FOR a cause is not possible for us,
then we can take action AGAINST policies with which we disagree. Rather than
allow our anger to keep us stuck in
passive complaining or destructive behaviors, we can find constructive
outlets for expressing and redirecting it.
PERSONAL DESPAIR AND DEPRESSION
Some of us may feel depressed about our lives, and wrestle
with despair about our future. If so, grappling with national and
international issues may further trigger depression and despair that we do
not wish to experience. Therapeutic help in dealing with depression and
perhaps the grief from the past that may underlie it may make a difference,
and enable us to feel more engaged in
your own life and in politics. Expressing and validating our feelings will
unblock our energy, clear our minds and free us to make important changes in
We may also become surprised and pleased to learn that
choosing to become politically involved especially with others who share
our values helps us express and
redirect our personal despair and depression, and turn it into motivation,
enhanced self-esteem, and an increased sense of possibility. We may not be
able to quickly overcome our despair and depression, but we are likely to
discover that by connecting and acting with others politically that we
transcend some of the symptoms which have previously immobilized us. Indeed,
our personal depression may be influenced
and exaggerated by the sociological and political conditions; taking
action may help dismantle at least some of the causes which contribute to our
INTERPERSONAL and COMMUNITY SUPPORT
Are the people in your lives apolitical or do they share
different political views than you? If so, you will need courage to differ
from them, and to dare to express or act upon your values, especially if your
are regarded as "unpatriotic" for not supporting the current
A dedication to bettering our country IS patriotic, and in
a democracy, dissent is not only patriotic, but also necessary for improving
existing conditions. On a personal level, the self-esteem that results from
daring to be different and daring to speak our minds is well worth the risks
and discomforts involved in the process.
A first step for many of us may be reaching out and
finding others who share our feelings and attitudes. Hundreds of email groups
(mailing lists) exist which can provide support and help us connect with
likeminded spirits, educate ourselves politically, and feel empowered to
express ourselves openly. In our
communities, we may be able to find
political action or support groups where we can feel free to express our
feelings and beliefs, and empowered to act upon them.
The first step in reaching out is the most difficult, and
the most alone. Once we take that first step, we are likely to find that the support,
energy and motivation of others enables us to overcome many of the internal
and external obstacles which we previously encountered.
FAILURE OF THE
MEDIA AND POLITICAL SYSTEM
TO ENGAGE US
The quality of the media television, radio, newspapers
has deteriorated in regard to political coverage during the past decade.
Today, fewer than a dozen mega-corporations control the media, and are
motivated by profit rather than meeting the needs of the public.
Key decisions particularly in regard to what the media
addresses and how it does so - are made behind closed doors without awareness
or input from the public. Journalists and television news personalities feel
constrained by pressures not to criticize government policy, or alienate
advertisers or corporate sponsors, or stir up political controversy which may
have an adverse effect upon their bottom line. Considerable attention is paid
to the stock market and elite issues of concern to the upper middle class,
since they are the audience which advertisers seek to reach. The media
neglects addressing the real concerns
of the lower and lower middle class.
As a result, political news becomes bland and onesided,
focuses upon personalities, or avoids the issues and treats the election as a
game or horserace of winners/losers in which the tracking the polls becomes
more important than informing or educating the public. The most basic issue
the influence of corporate power over the media and the government and its
effects in undermining democracy, is not addressed at all. Investigative
reporting is reduced to a minimum, issues are not explored in depth, and
candidates are only given twenty
second soundbites to explain the complexities of their attitudes or proposals
for the future.
The news becomes entertainment, focusing upon celebrity
gossip, sensational and catastrophic stories, and political oneupmanship.
Talk show hosts who are entertainers, rather than informed reporters adhering
to professional standards of journalism, quote politicians inaccurately and
out of context, and stage sham debates with guests who are no more informed
to further provide misinformation to the public, or push their personal
agendas. Uninformed, inaccurate and biased discussion serving elite
interests as well as the continual focus upon polling influence the
political decisionmaking of most Americans,
and therefore election results.
Those of us who cannot support the current system, or
candidates who operates within it, may be motivated to become involved in
issues of media reform, election
reform, or any political reform which tackles the underlying foundations of
our current system. Informing ourselves via web sites such Fairness and
Accuracy in Reporting http://www.fair.org,
Common Cause http://www.commoncause.org
or Media Channel http://www.mediachannel.org,
may lead us to become politically engaged in changing our political and
Such action may be the most important of all, because
without a democratic media free from the control of business and government,
and without a fair election process, we become more and more of a plutocracy
- a government ruled by the wealthy and serving the wealthy - rather than a
free and democratic society.
We do not have to be politically informed on a daily basis
to make a difference in this country; we do not even have to become a
political activists. Registering to vote, educating ourselves
on the candidates and issues before the primaries and Presidential election,
and then voting may be the best that we can do, and enough to fulfill our
responsibilities as U.S. citizens. But the more we inform yourselves, and engage in take political action, the
greater the difference we will make in shaping the future of this country and
own personal futures. We are also likely to discover unanticipated benefits
an increase in self-esteem and personal empowerment, new friendships, and a
sense of community with likeminded people.
What do we need to
do to become more politically engaged? Reading this article is a first step.
A second step is allowing ourselves to CARE more deeply.
To care about ourselves and our futures our jobs, income, health care,
neighborhoods, safety, personal freedoms. To care about our family and
friends and people in our lives, and their happiness and future. And if
possible, to care about all Americans, and human rights everywhere.
Third, we may need to SHIFT OUR PRIORITIES, to make space
to devote an hour or more a week or even a month to political awareness and action.
This may mean diminishing, to a small extent, the time we spend in another
activity which in the long run is not as important.
Fourth, we may need to be willing to EDUCATE ourselves
politically, to allow ourselves to feel stupid, confused, ignorant or
overwhelmed as we begin to sift through the enormous amount of relevant and
irrelevant political information available in order to learn about the issues
and the candidates and make up our minds who we support.
Fifth, we have to
be willing to feel, to DEAL WITH THE DIFFICULT FEELINGS that such political
awareness may awaken, and to grapple with anger, sadness, disappointment or
even despair. But we may discover that in doing so, we are also rewarded with
increased self-esteem, fulfillment, hope and satisfying new friendships.
Sixth, if we are so inclined, we are likely to find help,
support, and satisfaction when we SEEK COMMUNITY and join with others in a
discussion of the issues, a sharing of feelings, and joint action - in
protests of policies with which we disagree, or on behalf of a cause or a
Seventh, we need to be decide to begin the process of
converting our apathy into engagement, our anger into action, and our despair
into hope. A passive indifference or disengagement from politics does not
serve us personally, or your country. A democratic society can't remain
democratic unless its citizens inform themselves and participate in the
political process. If we don't vote or engage ourselves politically, we
support the current establishment, the candidates that other people elect,
and the policies that other people support.
It's our future. We can have an impact personally and
politically. We may not be able to control
the consequences of our actions, but we can change our attitudes; we
can CHOOSE to vote and choose to take a stand FOR or AGAINST a cause or a
If our actions fail to have the results we seek, we can
continue the battle, uniting with others to have a greater impact in the
future. At least we will have taken responsibility, enhanced our self-esteem,
and become more engaged in the world around us.
If our actions have favorable results, and our chosen
candidate is elected, and laws are changed to support our favorite causes or
policies, we can celebrate. We can rejoice with others in our shared
victory. We can also claim some of
the credit, and experience both the internal and external rewards
Our lives are at stake here. Our country. Our
It's OUR choice.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks to my friends
and the members of Tikkun community who helped me to define many of the
reasons why people opt out politically as well as Paul Lachelier, a lecturer
in Cambridge, Massachusetts on "why Americans don't vote". Other
sources that have been helpful include Joanna Macy's out of print but still
available Despair and Empowerment in the Nuclear Age and the League of
Women Voters web site at http://lwv.org/voter/index.htm.