First Time at the Ballot Box -- Was This the Real Thing?
I brought my own Bic pen to the polling place because I didn't want to come across as an unprepared first-time voter. How was I to know I wouldn't need one?The very act of voting went against nearly everything I believe in. For years, I dismissed democracy as it has evolved in this country as a pacifier, a clever tool used by the powers that be to keep the ignorant masses complacent. By convincing the American people they have a say, elected puppets and their corporate puppeteers keep our voices stifled and further postpone the revolution.This time around, however, I had been working actively on a number of propositions on the ballot. I thought it would be a bit hypocritical not to vote myself.Most of my work involved speaking publicly to condemn Proposition 21, the initiative for stiffer punishment for juvenile offenders as a way to criminalize youth and add fuel to California's blazing prison industrial complex.I also resented Prop. 22's attempt to deny basic rights to a group of people based solely on their sexual preference. And I fell instantly in love with the notion of "none of the above" as an option when electing puppets (Prop. 25).Conveniently, the measures appeared neatly in a row on the ballot. I thought I could waltz into my neighborhood polling place, check three boxes and tango out. I was wrong.I tip-toed in to what could have been a funeral parlor, given the solemn and sober looks on everyone's faces. I signed in, snatched my non-partisan ballot card and headed to the cubicle which would be my home for the next hour.I was glad I had done my homework. Everything was phrased to confuse the hell out of the average American. Prop 21 sounded like it was going to end gang violence and plant flowers in my backyard.To get to the measures I felt passionately about, I had to wade through a sludge of jargon and lists of names of people I'd never heard of. Clocks ticked loudly, my mind wandered and people who arrived after me were leaving. It was beginning to feel like one of those standardized tests from middle school. I used the process of elimination. I even considered peeking into other voters' booths to get a clue.Eventually I was done and I walked briskly to the corner store to purchase a celebratory cream soda and box of Junior Mints. There I waited in line for what felt like days while three people in front of me eagerly purchased lotto tickets.The wheels in my head started to creak. The lottery--another convenient pacifier. Convince people that they can become rich overnight and they'll quietly work menial jobs for the rest of their life. Convince them their vote means something, and they will cast a ballot for the "people's candidate" on election day.The three lottery customers huddled around a television screen, only to be disappointed and shuffle back to their homes.At the corner, I was halted by an electronically generated red hand. Fellow pedestrians anxiously pushed a button which promised them an opportunity to cross. Nothing happened. I became convinced that the button was only there to give people the impression that they had some control over when the light would change. Eventually, the red hand turned in to a white man indicating we could legally cross an empty street.I was starting to feel like a sucker. Only minutes before, I had pressed the "walk" button of democracy, naively believing that I was making a difference. . . . But maybe I could. I mean if more people with my beliefs voted, we would become a section of the population that would have to be addressed. Politicians would recognize the large numbers of young, disillusioned voters who need more than what the current system has to offer.And then the cloud I was floating on disintegrated. It dawned on me that thousands of people with ideas like mine walked around with signs and burned draft cards more than 30 years ago. Now they drive Volvos and think Al Gore is the answer. It's kind of a bleak outlook.So I shrugged. And then I walked back to the liquor store and used my Bic pen to fill out a lotto ticket. Maybe if I get rich overnight, I'll lobby for change.Russell Morse is a writer for Youth Outlook (YO!), a youth-focused project of Pacific News Service.