“For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take charge of beginnings and ending…I only know the middle ground where we live our lives….To resist occupation, whether you’re a nation or merely a woman, you must understand the language of your enemy. Conquest and liberation and democracy and divorce are words that mean squat, basically, when you have hungry children and clothes to get out on the line, and it looks like rain.”
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Current events, civics – we used to have whole classes dedicated to what’s going on in our country. What happened to them? I was a substitute teacher in two vastly different school districts, but the one thing they had in common was that neither seemed to spend much time encouraging students to be informed citizens of the USA. I know that “Government” is covered in Social Studies class, but without connecting the concepts to what’s happening in real life, any learning becomes instantly forgettable. Why should students care about branches of government or political parties or ideologies or elected representatives?
Did you see the late night talk show hosts interviewing random people on the street about politics? I did, and their responses were…well, I was going to use the word hilarious, but in fact, I think it’s rather alarming. One round of questions had to do with whether people preferred the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, and nearly everyone said they liked the ACA better. Ha Ha, we smart people are supposed to think. What a bunch of idiots! For me however, the laugh was half-hearted, as I realized that these people are actually encouraged to vote. I’m guessing that a lot of the people watching the show had no idea that those average Joes were being punked either, and their votes count just as much as the pundit who does homework and makes an uber-informed decision at the ballot box. Is it that we as a society have deemed current events unimportant? Should we look deeper into the quagmire from which our education system spurts to find out why our populace is so ill-informed? Maybe we should just admit that government and politics has become little more than entertainment akin to reality TV and sports, if it’s followed at all, and leave it at that. Or maybe there’s another point of view to consider.
I admit, that during the 90’s I had enough on my plate to keep me busy enough to ignore everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that was going on in Washington. I was working part-time from home as a freelance writer, but the rest of my life was filled with crafting Barbie hair-dos, searching for twirly, size 4T dresses at yard sales, and trying to keep the refrigerator stocked with food my two little girls would actually eat. I washed clothes, settled arguments, occasionally vacuumed, and watched way too many episodes of Barney. I also quit drinking and bid a traumatic good-bye to my first husband. In those years, I could have easily confused Afghanistan with the blanket tossed over the back of the couch; I absolutely would have been one of those people exposed on late night TV for the know-nothings that they were. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, and it certainly wasn’t that I had no strong opinions. My world was simply full.
We all live in our own worlds, don’t we? We function as best we can with what we have, and there’s a limit to how much we can fit into the minutes and hours and days through which we drag or march or dance our lives. We make a thousand choices every day that affect our immediate circumstances, while politicians drone on about taxes and wars in faraway lands that we’d never set foot in. Nobody cares about exactly the same things you care about — how could they? Although I do recall a couple of animated discussions over whether Hillary should leave Bill because of Monica, that’s about as deep as it got for me. In retrospect, I can’t help feeling a little ashamed. What idiots did I help to elect without having the foggiest notion of what I was doing? It’s actually rather miraculous that we, as a species, can agree about anything at all! At the end of the day, we all go to sleep.
I had the privilege of hearing President Obama speak at the commencement ceremony of my youngest daughter at the Ohio State University last year. Love him or hate him (and it does seem to be one or the other), he hammered on one very important point: he encouraged the graduates to become educated citizens, to study up on the issues, and to know exactly who and what they were voting for when they exercised their right to be heard through elections. He told them to follow the money, to know who was supporting the candidates and proposals, and examine their motives. My daughter was slightly disappointed — she was hoping for more of a cheezy, go-forth-and-conquer-type pep talk, but I loved it. I can’t think of anything more important for the future of our country than to encourage everyone to do the research and KNOW what they’re getting into when they vote.
It won’t be easy. There seem to be as many political organizations on-line as there are keyboard letter combinations, but it can be done. I’m with the president on this one. Don’t just vote because your friend or your mom or your pastor or your boss tells you to do it. Get to the bottom of the issue, find out as much as you can about the people you’re voting for, and follow your own conscience. Do a little homework ahead of time so you won’t be blindsided by a ballot asking you to say yea or nay to an issue you’ve never even heard of.
Maybe it’s because my children are grown and I have more time to look up and pay attention to a bigger world outside of my own life that I feel compelled to speak up now. I think that tunnel-vision focus on our own little lives is the reason why so many old white guys end up in congress doing absolutely nothing to help this country thrive. Elections are coming right up. Let’s go get ’em!
Wishing you a well-informed day!
The Poisonwood Bible is long, heavy, and wildly worth the time to read. That’s all I can say.