I graduated from high school in June of 1989, and watched on TV as my peers in China were killed in the Tienanmen Square protests asking for the right to democratic self-governance. I remember graphic descriptions of what it sounds like for someone to be run over by a tank. I remember a mock-up of the Statue of Liberty and a Chinese student saying that he wasn’t sure what it was like to live in a democracy, but that he wanted to be free. I remember courage.
You and I don’t have to stand in front of a line of tanks; we just have to vote.
Photo by Jeff Widener (The Associated Press)
I get being frustrated, wanting a better democracy than the one we have. I’ve been experiencing it up close and personal for eighteen months now.
Very very late on Saturday, November 7, 2009, I sat in the House gallery watching while the members debated Bart Stupak’s amendment to the health care bill, which would have banned coverage of medically necessary abortions from any health insurance plan purchased through the exchanges. I take the issue rather personally: I have in two different pregnancies been faced with catastrophic complications in which I had to make some very, very tough calls. The notion that some politician would think that they have the right to make those decisions for me is deeply, deeply offensive. I was in agony watching the vote take place, and I had no capacity to celebrate the fact that a few minutes later the House passed a health care bill that included the public option I’d been fighting for.
On Monday, back at work, I walked with my staff over to the Sewall-Belmont House a few blocks from our office. It was the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, the place from which Alice Paul fought for the right of women to vote. During her fight she was arrested and tortured, held at Occoquan Workhouse, went on a hunger strike and was forcefed raw eggs through a tube. Her friend Inez Milholland Bossevain died during the fight for the right of women to vote. So I walked over there for inspiration – to remind myself that the fights worth having don’t come easy. Alice Paul gave her whole life to the idea that I should be entitled to equal democratic participation.
And all I have to do is show up and vote.
We have been given something for which people have fought and died over the entire history of humankind. Handed it, gift-wrapped with a bow, to use as we see fit, the enduring trust of generations in our hands. We’ve been given the right to self-governance, founded on the idea that justice can exist only where government serves the people, rather than people being subservient to the government.
The currency of this realm is your vote. Treasure it. Understand its value. It is the manifestation of your share of the power – and the obligation – in our democracy.
People have given their lives for the right to self-governance. Government of, by, and for the people is the most radical notion on earth.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
I’ve walked by the U.S. Capitol hundreds of times, see its dome at every hour of the day, been inside, sat in the galleries, visited folks in the warrens of offices and: the sight of the place still gives me a little boost of joy – every flippin’ time. I should be nicely jaded by now, but I’m not. I’m still excited by that manifestation of democracy, of all it represents for humankind.
I walked by it again today going to and from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, holding my son’s hand, and got the same thrill as always.
We rule ourselves here.
It is your right – and it is your obligation. You owe it to the people who have fought and died to give it to you. You owe it to the people who serve you now, who serve as your voices in this government. You owe it to yourself, so that those who govern will take you seriously as they must if, and only if, you exercise your right to hire and fire them. You owe it to my son, who deserves an America that lives up to its deeply progressive ideals.
Oh, and I’m not voting on Tuesday because I’ve already voted. I got my absentee ballot from Washington and sat down with Henry last week to fill it out. We talked about each office and what the people did in that office; we talked about each initiative and what it meant. After I filled it out and sealed it up, he and I walked over to the blue mailbox near our house and mailed it. He understands how important the right of the people to rule themselves is, and how significant is the obligation of each citizen to exercise that right.
Here's my primary motivation to vote, happy at Starbucks after the rally.
Now that my voting is out of the way, I'm headed down to VA-05 for some canvassing. Perhaps I can convince a few folks in Danville to vote, too...