Thursday, April 18, 2013

When 86% is No Longer a Passing Grade

The failure today of the Senate to pass universal background checks set me thinking about gun control. Again. But also about a few other things - about self-respect, about drops in a bucket, and about looking my children in the eye when I explain tragedy, loss, and evil.

A recent poll by CNN/ORC indicates support for universal background checks hovers somewhere around 86% (various polls for the last several months have indicated similar or slightly higher percentages). But today, elected officials voted against universal background checks.

If 86% of a democratic population support something, and it's voted against by elected officials, the responsibility lies with the democratic population. We can blame our dysfunctional leaders all we want, but we put them in their positions of leadership. Whether we voted for them, didn't vote at all, or voted against them but didn't do anything to make sure others knew where we stood - we put them there. And we can complain about big corporations, about lobbies, about money and politics being in bed together; but even in a corrupt democracy, 86% should be a force to at least be reckoned with.

And so today, 86% of us failed. We failed to contact our senators and let them know what we wanted. We failed to be a democracy. We failed to support the belief that voices, not money, ultimately matter. I did it too. I called my senators a few weeks ago and let them know what I wanted, but I didn't call yesterday. I let my voice go unheard.

Why didn't I call? Well, because I figured I didn't matter. I figured I wouldn't make a difference. I figured someone else would. I figured lobbyists were taking my senator out to lunch as I considered making the call. It looks like 86% of you thought the same thing...

When we choose to let our voices go unheard we relinquish our self-confidence. When we blame our elected officials, we shirk our responsibility. When we fight on party lines, when we use inherited rhetoric, when we sigh with resignation and accept our hesitation before going to a movie theater or sending our children to school - we give up our democracy.

We are all drops in a bucket. Very, very, very tiny drops. But we're still drops.

After the Senate held their vote today, I did call. I called almost every single one of my senators and congressmen/women, I'll call the rest of them tomorrow. I called to find out where they stood on issues important to me, to offer my thanks and support if we were on the same side of an issue, and to express my viewpoint as a registered voter if they weren't. It was a painless experience - absolutely painless. In fact, it was much, much easier than every other conversation I've had about this issue with anyone else. I made 15 calls. It took 15 minutes.

15 minutes. That's it. 15 minutes. Now, if I want to get involved in lots of issues it's going to take a lot more time. And I've spent hours and hours and hours on this one particular issue - reading articles, reviewing studies, debating with people on both sides of the argument. Being involved requires some time. But most people I talk to already have an opinion. And most people I talk to still don't call. We don't seem to have 15 minutes to spare to call the very people we chose who actually hold the literal legislative vote.

We should. We should have 15 minutes to express our opinions to our legislators. We should have 15 minutes to speak on behalf of what we value. We should have 15 minutes to fight for things that deeply affect us and those around us. It's an incredibly worthwhile 15 minutes.

But I called for another reason. While I believe in the importance of speaking up for our beliefs and values, I believe in something even more strongly. I believe in my children knowing they have a mother who fights for them.

I don't know how all this gun legislation is going to play out, and maybe it will go in the opposite direction of what I would hope, but in 5 years from now, if/when my kids get sent home early from school because there was another mass shooting (I'm just praying it's not in their class), I will be able to look them square in the eyes and tell them "Bad things happen, that's just part of life. But I have fought to protect you from the moment you were born, and I will continue to until the day I die."

And maybe for you, it's not your children. Maybe you don't have any children. But you have someone in your life who doesn't have a vote. Maybe it's a grandparent with Alzheimer's who survives on social security. Maybe it's a pregnant 17 yr old sister on Medicaid. Maybe it's your student, whose parents are undocumented workers.  When life in this country knocks them down hard, I mean, incredibly hard, you'll want to look them in the eye and know you've used your voice. 

I owe my 15 minutes to my children, because they need to know their mother is championing for their best. And I owe my 15 minutes to the good people who live in this country but can't vote, because they need to know the dreams of political freedom they pursued aren't impossible. And I owe my 15 minutes to myself, because I want to know that even though I may not have been listened to, I spoke when it was important.

I don't think my voice will tip the scales. I don't think anything I do will radically change anything. I don't think the amount I recycle and compost each month is going to put a dent in the lack of resources my grandchildren may face. I don't think my avoiding debt is going to save the financial system. I don't think giving the occasional money or food to a homeless person is going to stop poverty and hunger. But I do it all anyway. I do it because it's right. I do it because, at the very least, I don't want to take away from society. I do it so my children will know I did my best, and so I can gently and confidently look their pain in the face, brokenhearted for them, but guilt-free. And I do it because I hope others are too.

I know if enough of us act, we catalyze change. Why should a political democracy be any different?

To find your senators' contact information click here.
To find your representatives' contact information click here.

note - while my political views are probably not invisible, my goal with this post was not to champion any cause but to promote the use of the individual voice, your individual voice, in the democracy we so proudly hold as a nation.

As a potential point of interest, President Obama's speech shortly after the Senate vote today can be found here

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your post, Sarah. As a former political science student, and someone who at one time spent a lot of time debating, reading, calling representatives, etc...This was the kick in the back side I needed. I spent my dinner conversation this evening bemoaning the vote outcome, but did nothing on the front end to be heard by my Senator. This was a good reminder that this has to be a priority for me, because I want my child to know that I'm fighting for him, and that he should fight for what is right as he becomes able to do so, too. I'll be making a few calls tomorrow:)


The Favorites