If there’s any statement choosing not to vote makes, it’s “I don’t care if I count.”
I usually avoid small talk, as it is an introvert’s kryptonite. But recently at the pharmacy I made eye contact with the woman in line behind me and started up a conversation, which quickly morphed into much bigger talk.
She began complaining about the stratospheric cost of her medications, to which I interjected with a smile and great optimism, “We’ll, hopefully be able to change that in the 2020 election!”
“Oh, I’m not voting.” she replied matter-of-factly.
She must have seen the color drain from my face, my jaw tighten, and my spirits visibly fall violently to their death on the linoleum floor, because she immediately followed with an unsolicited explanation.
“All these politicians are the same and I’m sick of all the negativity — and so I’m sending a message. I’m making a statement. I’m out.”
I forced a smile and suddenly felt the need to use the blood pressure monitor I’d been casually leaning on a few seconds earlier.
“This is why I avoid small talk,” I thought to myself.
Just as I was trying to retrieve a fitting response from among the hundreds of words swirling inside my head, the pharmacist called my name. I hurriedly approached him, finished the transaction and left, nodding quickly at the woman behind me without saying anything else.
On the way home I began replaying the brief interaction with the stranger in my mind and wishing I’d had said something. She represents a person I simply can’t comprehend: someone who chooses silence in the most important moments of their lives, when they have the ability to speak.
I suppose this is what I would say to her if I had the opportunity to rewind and replay the conversation, and what I’d say to those of you out there who feel like her:
Not voting is not a “statement.”
It’s rendering yourself invisible. It’s silencing your own voice. It’s self-marginalization. It’s allowing your future to be determined by other people and pretending that’s a moral victory.
Not voting essentially gives someone else a blank they get to fill, in on your behalf, since you aren’t present to tell anyone exactly what your values are, what boils your blood and keeps you up at night, what matters most to you. Whatever message you imagine you’re sending by opting out, remains unspoken in your head — and you end up saying nothing.
Generations of people spent their entire lives here unseen and voiceless, millions of others have braved bruises and bullets for the right to speak, a right that you have been handed upon arrival here and now so casually decline.
Participating in the electoral process is one of the greatest responsibilities one has as a citizen in a democracy, and to simply opt out speaks to a privilege that imagines you are not impacted by your own silence. You are. We all are. The volume from other places will ensure this.
The people who believe the opposite of you, those you are frustrated with and disgusted by, the hateful and the small-minded and the cruel who drive you to tears and to hopelessness? They will be voting. They will be explicit. They will not allow someone else to interpret what their silence means.
They will speak clearly and loudly, and unless you cast your vote — you will offer no dissenting opinion in a time when it is desperately needed.
In that way you will be a willing accomplice to them. Don’t relinquish the microphone to the bigots and the fear mongers. I don’t know what twists you up inside or what terrifies you. I don’t know the dreams you hold or the future you hope to see.
I don’t know what you want your life to say — and no one will unless you actually say it: explicitly, clearly, loudly.
Register. Vote. Make a real statement.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com