Thursday, October 2, 2008

Strange Views

While running a few errands the other day I chanced to hear an international call-in program on PBS. You may know this broadcast; it features people from all over the world having a say in a chosen topic. Like most media attempts to deal with crucial issues, it seems to be exhaustively rushing through it's time slot and capable of little more than a few sound bytes, people talking over one another, and an occasionally salient point made amid all the frenzy. I think it's a BBC program, so all the hosts are Brits and they do a reasonably fine job of sorting out the mess. Sometimes they ask inane questions.
I usually talk to the radio when I hear this program in the car. Rarely do I want to join the conversation.
A few days ago I caught this worldwide discussion in mid-stream. They were discussing compulsory voting and much of the conversation centered on how practical this idea would be. Seems like people who live in more recent democracies think it's a good idea to make people vote, while those who have known only a democratic government would never think of forcing anyone to vote, but felt the need to remind them that that if they don't vote then they have no right to complain about the results. They get that, but unfortunately feel that when they can't support any candidate, they just can't be bothered with voting.
And then came the call of a young man in college who announced he has never voted and wasn't planning to start now. Ironically he now attends the University of Mississippi where the first presidential debate was recently held. What followed was a series of responses encouraging, if not admonishing that young man to vote. What can you tell someone who can but won't vote? I was gnashing my teeth. This guy was so out of touch with his history. I kept thinking of Malcolm X's line that people who don't know their history will unfortunately destroy it. If I knew I could miraculously get through and speak my piece, I'd tell him to recall two words: Strange Fruit. Not the Billy Holiday song, but the metaphor it's based on. I'd remind him that people were lynched in his very state for trying to vote. That's reason enough to exercise his citizenship. But I'd also tell him the story of an old Kansas couple who I heard about a few years ago. Every election day they rise at 5:00 a.m. and drive three hours from their rural farming community to the county seat to vote. They have lunch, then they drive three hours home. Day is done. Here's the kicker. He's a Republican and she's a Democrat. Their votes cancel each other out yet they never miss the opportunity to vote. They get it.

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