Our participatory democracy is founded on the principal of a peaceful transition of power. When we do not condone our government, we can change it — not through riots or violence, but by the power of the ballot box.
The key to change rests in the hands of those who choose to use it. There is no point in arguing against the state of affairs without also the willingness to vote, in hopes of changing those affairs.
While most young people cannot vote, we are most certainly not without agency. From the March for Our Lives to the inaugural youth-led Climate Strike, young people are by every means passionate about changing the world. Even so, for those fortunate few who are old enough to vote, it is critical that the right to vote be kept at the forefront of every plan to stir change.
Voting does not have the immediate grandeur of a protest, nor is it responsible for a spectacle that spurs the full-scale engagement of a community. It is, however, much more direct.
Voting is the ultimate, most accessible means of peacefully overturning a government, with a regimented schedule to allow for planning. As young protesters of the nation age into the leaders of tomorrow, it is important that we remember: We have the right to change our world, not merely the capacity.
As far as New Mexico is concerned, it only takes a single form and a few minutes to become a certified participant in American democracy. There may not be awe-inspiring marches and signs to coincide with voter registration, but let’s not forget that we need to vote in order to make good on our chants of “Vote them out.”
There is no such thing as choosing not to vote. As Susan Sontag once wrote, “Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech.” Choosing to forgo the ballot box when it is available, either out of distaste for the candidates and their policies, or any other argument with the system, is itself a vote for the victors. Casting aside the opportunity to change the government, only to hate the election results, is pointless because the opportunity to avoid the outcome has passed.
One vote may not necessarily turn the tide in an election, but it is important to understand that it is never just one vote. There are many other people who choose not to vote, and together they have a great deal of sway as to the eventual outcome. While they may not support the inevitable victors, they do nothing to stop them. After all, Al Gore lost by 537 votes. I wonder how many people chose not to vote in that election?
While voting may not be a requirement, it is a right that most certainly should be treated as a duty. Benjamin Franklin’s anecdote that we have “A republic, if you can keep it,” has been repeated a great number of times in the wake of the third official presidential impeachment, but that does not mean it is any less true.
Regardless of party, the truth will always be the same: A democracy requires a watchful eye, and voting is that eye.