My first encounter with the Rock The Vote organization was during the 2004 presidential election. MTV had replaced Nickelodeon as my primary TV channel, so in between TRL, Room Raiders, Real World/Road Rules, and Viva La Bam, I watched as celebrities across a spectrum of relevance lectured on the total necessity of voting. At the same time, Sean “
Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Brother Love, B. Love,” Combs’s organization Citizen Change spoofed Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die,” political cartoon and created “Vote or Die.” While the two organizations weren’t directly linked, they both employed nearly identical methods of using just about every means of incentivizing younger voter participation except for just explaining public policy and why citizenship is essential for a strong republic.
Similarly, between 2010-2012, outliers within the GOP rebranded themselves as the Tea Party, a faction within the larger Republican system. Their message was a harken to America’s founding. They encouraged voting through spite, creating a narration that one’s vote was the means by which one could revolt against unpopular politicians. Founding slogans and totems were taken up for the cause to be used to incite what they felt was an underlying dissatisfaction within citizens toward the federal government.
Now, for the third time in my life, semi-relevant individuals are once again championing the necessity of voting as a personal matter of life and death. One political party urges its base to channel their manufactured rage to the ballot, to use their vote as a Molotov cocktail straight through the window of the political other they seek to defeat. The other party stokes its voter participation numbers through freneticism created by fear mongering an idea if they don’t vote, the other side will take back power and steal the very existence of their opponents.
I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the very serious, very essential, very grave action of voting being trivialized by those who turn elections into profiteering opportunities. Are we to believe any of these organizations sincerely merely wishes for higher voter turnout? Of course not. In fact, they’re all better off if citizens do everything just short of voting. They’d much prefer people donate, volunteer, and propagandize their hearts out and then stay home on Election Day. That way when the next cycle comes around they can wave the unchanged participation numbers in our faces and let us know that even for all our effort we still have to do more this go around. If their campaigns actually worked and people did show up to vote what would they do when the results weren’t what they promised? They’d respond precisely how they’re responding now, by riling their base supporters into a frenzy through portraying their ideological others as enemy combatants, as oppositional forces to be defeated.
There’s an episode of King of the Hill that really brings this point home nicely. When Bobby becomes a contemporary Christian, participating in Christian rock concerts and engaging his faith through alternative rites and rituals, Hank worries Bobby’s devotion will wane as soon as the trendiness of his newfound worship channels subsides. The same is true for me and voting. If it takes a celebrity du jour sexualizing the importance of voting in order to get you to the booth, just stay home. If some entertainment centric ad campaign is what woke you up to the idea of participating in your own government system, I don’t want you anywhere a ballot. I also don’t want you anywhere near a ballot if you’re voting because you’re playing Thomas Paine and you think checking the box of the guy handing out Molon Labe bumper stickers will rescind federalism.
Voting is important. It’s essential to the proper function of our republic. I say republic because that’s what we have, a republic. We’re not a democracy, as much as people (Barack Obama) would have you believe. We’re a republic, with representation at every possible level of government that demands our attention and oversight to ensure it remains truly representative of the citizenry and not small maniacal outlying zealous political factions who are manipulating and taking advantage of the system for their own benefit. Demeaning the need for participation with gimmicks distracts people from the real reason for why they’re needed at the ballot. High voter turnout is the ultimate check on government run awry. Citizens stay informed and protected from political interest groups seeking to manipulate public opinion and voter participation for personal gain. Vote, but don’t do it because Emily Ratajkowski posted a selfie with “I voted,” pasties on Instagram, or because a talk radio personality has convinced you the other party is going to starve you to death if they win. Do it because you’re trying to make the world you live in better.