Friday, August 29, 2008

You Matter

My father was one of the world’s greatest hypocrites. He brought me up to believe that every purchase we make is a decision to support one supplier versus another, giving our business to a particular store, a particular manufacturer, and a particular product. We would get in the car on the weekends and drive from our Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago, all the way to Lincolnwood to fill his gas tank up because gas was a few pennies cheaper there. Without regret, he admitted it probably didn’t save him any money when he considered how far the drive in weekend traffic was, but his belief was that it was more important to give his business to that gas station because their prices were the best, if only by 2¢. My parents did the same thing when grocery shopping. We would often go to two or three grocery stores to get all of our food for the week, chasing sale prices around the city, not to save the money, but to reward the stores with the best sales with our business. Perhaps it’s naïve to assume that a can of Del Monte corn bought for 5¢ less at Jewel could actually give Jewel the motivation to keep their sales kicking everyone else’s ass because they sold so many cans of corn at this price. Perhaps. My father believed that if he made conscientious purchases, he could actually impact the economy.

There are times when I think this is incredibly foolish, given the very contradictory way our economy runs and how faith-based everything is, but there was something hopeful in the way he shopped and the value he put on his spending habits. No matter how hard I try to be efficient and not let myself get carried away with buying into my dad’s philosophies, I find myself doing the exact same things he did, driving to the Wisconsin border to buy gas, shopping at four different grocery stores, and “rewarding” worthy businesses with my purchases.

Yet, despite how passionately my father felt about his power over the economy, he refused to register to vote. This was a point of contention between us for most of my life, and I never did get him to understand that he’d always been voting for things with each calculated purchase he made, but he wouldn’t vote for people who could actually make a bigger difference in our world. He refused to believe that voting mattered, and we would argue about it on the long drives we took to places he felt worthy of giving his business to. It drove me completely nuts. How could someone be so blind to all the voting we do every day, yet refuse to vote for people and issues that govern our lives?

Given that I’m a voter registrar through my job, it’s something I feel very strongly about, and I’m adding something very important to my sidebar for anyone who visits this blog. Rock the Vote offers an online voter registration process, where you can register for the first time, or reregister a change of address or a change of name, and you never even have to leave your house. (Except to mail the form.) It’s awesome! I give you the widget of your future!

Register to Vote: Rock the Vote, powered by Credo Mobile

I know that many of my readers vote, and perhaps one or two of you may register to vote this year because of the national election, and maybe this will be the first time for someone, too. If so, fabulous! I just hope as many people as possible get out and make their opinions count.

Once I accomplish that, perhaps we can work out carpools for people who do what I do, which is to buy my usual stuff at a co-op, my pasture-fed meats at Sunset Foods, my organic foods at Trader Joe’s, my produce and other locally grown items from farmers’ markets, and sale items at any grocery store kind enough to reduce their costs. My motivation is not always sales and best prices, clearly. It’s about quality goods, keeping my money fueling the local economy instead of sending the profits across the country or across the world, and trying to provide a steady stream of business to people and businesses that believe in higher standards. My free-range, omega-3 eggs are expensive, but I prefer knowing the chickens live better lives, eat a more natural diet, and provide me with a better product. That’s how I vote. It’s what my father taught me. It’s how I convince myself that I matter in this world.

I hope you feel like you matter too. Even if you don’t make an effort to vote with your dollars, vote with your head and make your opinion matter in the upcoming election.

< /soapbox speech >


Dances With Books said...

How I wish it was that simple. Yea, I am aware about the decisions we make when we purchase (or not things) and so on. The voting thing. A few years ago, I would have agreed with you without even batting an eye. These days, I am not sure and for the first time in my not so long life I even find myself questioning if I even want to bother voting. Now before you get back your soapbox, hear me out:

1. I live in an extremely red state. The only thing that would get someone other than a Republican elected here would be a literal act of God (or the deity of your choice), and even then I think people would find a way to defy and counter the deity before allowing it to happen. In plain English, my vote here would be worth spit.

2. The last 8 years. While the 2000 election was shameful in the way it was stolen, ok, I was willing to let bygones be bygones. It's only 4 years. How much damage could the new guy do? Well, plenty it was clear. And what did the dumbasses in this country do? They elected the same moron to office again. You see, after a while, you have to stop blaming the politicians (self interested asshats that they are) and look at the people who keep putting them in office. I simply have no faith that people in this country will ever wise up and "vote the bums" out of office.

Do I want to believe? You bet. I would give anything to be proven wrong. And I have done my homework. I have looked at the candidates beyond the superficial coverage they get and the talking heads. But at the end of the day, I am not that worried about the candidates. I know who butters their bread, so to speak, and it ain't "the people." It's "the people" I worry about.

Sorry, I did not mean to make this so long. But I am looking for answers, and I just don't see them, and another "rah rah register to vote" thing is not quite doing it for me. And it used to.

Happy Villain said...

I'm with you on all of that. I have no idea what it's like to live in a red state and be a blue voter, but that has to be defeating, and the entire electoral college pisses me off and I wish it would be abolished.

My point of this post wasn't to preach as much as get people to see that you can make more of a difference if you try than if you don't. People who vote in this country are predominantly white, upper class folks, with degrees and advanced degrees, who are over 55. And those are the people who put Bush in office twice. The problem is, the rest of us outnumber them, but we don't do anything about it. I probably have a little more faith in The People than you, but that's partly because I deal a lot with a really low income community predominantly minorities in their 30s, who are at poverty level, and don't feel like they matter. Imagine the impact if they all voted. Of the eligible Hispanics who can register, only something like 30% do, as opposed to 90% of the 60-year-olds who have houses paid off and make $200K/year. It's staggering! My post was aimed at the people who can make a difference in droves if they tried.

I'm very sorry if you feel, at your young age, that you can't make a difference. That breaks my heart a little. Yesterday I registered a new immigrant to vote, and when I finished he stood up, put his fist in the air and shouted, "My vote matters!" which is what spurred this post. I just wanted to kiss him. Maybe my involvement with hopeful people who want a better country keeps me from being disenfranchised like many Americans. I don't want to be preachy, but I see so many people who could change the world in ways I cannot do alone, and I desperately want that change.