Can we be like
drops of water falling on the stone
Disbursing in air
Weaker than the stone by far but be aware
that as time goes by the rock will wear away
“The Rock Will Wear Away,” lyric by Holly Near, music by Meg Christian
Over at Adventus, I have been in a discussion about whether or not changes in the Congress this fall will make any difference at all. He proclaims, pessimistically, that nothing will be any different, that we’re all kidding ourselves. I think he’s wrong, I hope he’s wrong, but maybe he isn’t.
So why bother? Why bother voting? More importantly from my standpoint, why bother trying to get other people to vote?
I have always been involved in voting efforts in various small ways. I registered voters during two different presidential campaigns. In 2004, on my own dime I flew to Florida to be a poll monitor with Election Protection. In 2004, and again this year, I have posted information in various journals about registration and voting rights.
I want people to vote. It matters. It is the first step to an involved citizenry. The next step — and I try to work on that one too — is to talk, and listen, about the important issues that need to be addressed. Other people do that better than I do. Me, I do voting. It’s not sexy, but there it is.
But why bother, if it is not going to change things?
The first answer is obvious: it’s not just about Congress.
It’s about city councils and mayors, and affordable housing initiatives, and school boards and parcel tax referendums, and county commissioners and parks and rec bonds. It’s about what sort of prosecutors and judges carry out justice in our community.
In California this year, it’s about whether a girl can get an abortion without her parents being being notified beforehand.
All these things affect our lives more on a day to day basis than what happens on Capitol Hill. For example, when faced with the need to close a school, the school board where I lived picked for closure the 85% Hispanic school, which served not only as a school but a community resource and where most of the students walked to school. This was in spite of the fact that the committee which had investigated school closures had picked another school as being the best candidate for closure, a school where the parents were quite vocal and organized. After tremendous community outcry the school board changed their decision, but guess what incumbents I am voting against next month?
So it’s about those things.
But it is also about responsibility.
I cannot open the cell doors at Guantanamo. I cannot make torture illegal again. I cannot restore habeas corpus to detainees, or bring troops home from Iraq, or any one of the myriad things our country is doing in the world that make me weep for the blood on my hands.
All I can do is try to influence the people who have the power to do that. I can write letters, send emails, make the occasional phone call (as I did over the Military Commissions Bill). I can try to get others to act, including giving people information that will make it easier for them to vote. I can write. That’s my gift.
If I do not, I wash my hands in the face of evil. I become like Pilate.
I do not know how to atone for my country’s sins, but I can refrain from adding to my own already large pile of transgressions through inaction here. I have to work towards change, even if that change is slow in coming, even if that water falls onto basalt, not chalk. Even if in the end, the rock does not give way, no matter how much water rushes over it.
The other alternatives are despair beyond hope, or denial, or insularity — we’ve got ours, the rest of the world can go hang (and will).
I’d rather be a drop of water.