I forgot to vote in the special election. Every time I thought about it, I was doing something else, and the next thing I knew it was too late. I expected to feel badly about it, because I vote out of guilt. When I was growing up in Chicago, my parents voted religiously. They showed up at the polling place in the gym at Gillespie school so the precinct captain would know they were whistling the right tune. Then the ward committeeman would know we were all right. If they were loyal long enough, the alderman himself might even know our name. That never happened.
In the mid-'60s I took the test for the Post Office and passed. I stayed on the list for months, until Mr. Williamson, a neighbor with a little clout, put a word in with the precinct captain. Two weeks later, I was called to work. That was why my parents voted, so we could get a break when we needed one. If you were so fortunate as to work for the city of Chicago, you had to vote, unless you were dead, and sometimes even then. My parents were staunch, straight-ticket Democrats, because it was the only game in town. When I started noticing city politics in the ‘60s, there was one Republican on the City Council. That was some caucus.
The only successful presidential candidate I’ve personally voted for is Jimmy Carter, obviously a long time ago and only once. All the rest of my presidential candidates lost, from the Greens to Leonard Peltier. And now I’m through with guilty voting. Voting is mostly a way to keep much from changing. Very seldom does voting make a big difference in the way of the world. It’s happened in Vietnam, Chile. It happened not long ago in Venezuela. It happened briefly in Haiti more than once.
I’ve heard that if voting could actually change anything important here, it would be illegal. You can do nearly anything but change how things work. That’s sedition—conspiracy to change too much.
On the few occasions when I didn’t vote, usually in a primary, I felt badly, like I’d done something unsavory. How dumb was that? But this time when I didn’t vote in the special election, I didn’t feel bad at all. I felt free, relieved of an old delusion. Now the combination of the unbelievably goofy electoral college and electronic voting have made presidential voting entirely irrelevant. The winners are never radical enough for me anyway, and it doesn’t matter who actually gets the most votes.
Governments continually expand, inevitably. One thing all governments have in common is a bunch of people making up new rules for us to follow and another bunch looking to kill us if we don’t. From now on, as a way to influence the world I perceive, which is all I seem to have, I’m sticking to meditation. Feeling good is all that really counts, anyway. Voting is for patriots.