In many ways my grandparents played a large hand in formulating the person I am today. Whether it is genetic heritage, or the fact I spent a lot of time around them, so some confluence of the aforementioned, I took on a lot of their ideas while young. They’re both still alive today, in their late 70s, but slowing down physically, though less so mentally (my grandfather is teaching himself Photoshop slowly but surely). They came of age in a time I imagine to be America’s golden period of optimism and civic engagement, perhaps it’s an idealization, but watching the news with my grandfather as a boy, he took to schooling me on what one’s duty meant and how to face life. He fought in Korea and Vietnam, a tough proposition for a guy of Asian descent at the time, yet he held nothing against anyone and came back with no emotional or physical scars and only funny stories of rickshaw races and eating snakes on the front line. He visited Vietnam recently as part of a combat photographers reunion with both the Americans and Vietnamese in attendance. His stoicism and positive nature did not pass to me, though I did inherit his temper and love of tobacco and black coffee.
In anycase, I ramble. Duty. That’s what I’m talking about.
My grandfather was the son of first generation Filipino-Chinese Mestizos, yet he did not take their tongue and mastered proper English when the colloquial at the time was pidgen English. Since he came of age, he’s voted in every election. It’s one’s civic duty, same as paying taxes and serving time in the military if asked. He said to me every election cycle “If you don’t vote, then you’ve got no right to complain about what they do.”
Since then, since I’ve come of age, I’ve voted in every election cycle, usually for third parties, as I could not stand the left right divide even then (my grandparents were Catholic working-class Dems, though they felt I should come to my own political conclusions). This election cycle is the first one I will not vote in. It wasn’t an easy decision, because I’ve always felt that burden of responsibility as a citizen. I know I would disappoint if I told them of my choice (though my grandfather would be more upset about my smoking, he became an anti-smoker with as much gusto as he previously smoked, though with good reason). In a ways, I had a dialogue in my head as I drifted off to sleep one night about how I would justify my choice to my grandfather, who prided himself on having raised all his kids to go to college and become contributing citizens, even if a couple of them did go hippie for awhile.
“Hey Papa, who are you voting for this time round?”
“It’s a tough one for me to call. I like ’em both as people, and either of them would do better than Bush. McCain’s got the guts to do what it takes on those terrorists without being a lazy sloppy dumbass like Bush was, but I don’t think Obama would be as soft as some people are saying. Plus what with the economy and all, it seems like Obama knows more about that kind of stuff than McCain, especially since McCain picked that lady who don’t know her head from a bucket about anything. So, who are you voting for? Going to throw your vote away on some kook again?”
“Actually, I’m not going to vote this time around.”
“Why not? This one is really important, and everyone needs to think and decide what’s the right way to go with their leaders. I know you’re not lazy, and you always try to know the score about these things, so what’s the reason?”
“Well, you always raised me to have faith in the things that the country stands for, right? Part of that is having your say in the election, but another part of that is supporting the idea of ‘e pluribus unum’ we all are one floating in a big boat even if we disagree or value different things. Thing is, Papa, I don’t think our politicians believe in that anymore. Even worse, I don’t think that the people believe in that anymore.”
“Boy, you always overreact about things. So long as I can remember we’ve always had sleazy politicians and people saying the other side is out to ruin the nation. Hell, I remember the whole thing with McCarthy. This isn’t any different, and there’s real things at stake now.”
“But maybe the only way I feel I can stay true to the core values is by saying that I’m refusing to take a side now. That I think that a Southern person who hunts deer and is a Holy Roller is as much a citizen as a gay dancer from San Francisco and vice versa. That we deserve to be listened to without anyone saying we’re a fool or a degenerate. That beyond it all, we value the ideals and dreams of the nation and civilization and no one thinks that their voice is more genuine than anyone else’s in the process. That all the finger-pointing and patronization stops.”
“That’s a damn good goal, but tell me how shirking on your vote does anything about that? It’s taking all your marbles home and pretending that everyone else is going to stop playing because you ain’t there. Life goes on, no matter how you feel about it all. Besides, weren’t you already doing something like that with your third party thing?”
“Yeah, I suppose I was. But now it’s different. It’s not about the people I put into the government, it’s about saying to everyone I know ‘I put my trust in the ideals set up in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and not what some political interpretation of it is.’ Until I feel that there’s a politician who’s willing to not play sheep and goats with Americans, I’m not going to do something harmful to the greater good in the long run.”
“It’s good to know you got principles and reasons for that. I don’t agree with them and think you’re being irresponsible and spoiled, but it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into it. Really, you got to be more mature about these things. You hold your nose sometimes and vote. It’s what you gotta do. Things will never be perfect and you get by. It’s no reason to be a baby or be stupid.
“I know, Papa. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry? Better you think than just agree with me for no reason. You’re a grown man now. Buck up and stand by your opinions. Don’t apologize for them. Now are we done? The flick is starting again and I don’t wanna miss the gunfight.
“Yeah, I think so. Anyways I do my best. Didn’t waste all my money on grad school so I couldn’t think!”