As every American seems to be painstakingly aware of, today marks 2016's momentous Election Day. What a ride it has been watching the internet explode with political opinions, memes, and Snapchat-filtered debates between presidential candidates. I can hardly remember another election that elicited such strong reactions and consistent commentary. Admittedly, I find it more difficult to name a friend or family member who hasn't publicly announced their political opinion in this election season than the opposite. One could certainly argue that this is simply because the two candidates we have this year are outrageously different from any other two we've had in the past (one a megalomaniac celebrity, the other a woman, who has already spent time living in the White House). However, I believe that the sheer number of social media outlets, and the accessibility of these outlets, also play a part.
Today, I found myself thrilled by how many "I voted" posts I saw on Instagram and Facebook--these posts each a stellar example of how social media can help promote democracy and political involvement. That said, I still know dozens of people who did not go out and vote this year--most of which partook in voicing their presidential preferences on the internet.
Just a few days ago, feeling frustrated by this, I wrote up a post on Facebook that included the following statement: "If you are eligible to vote and have a political opinion, but aren't voting, you should be ashamed of yourself." I've heard this sentence echo in my head over and over again since I wrote these words, and I want to say, I take it back. We already live in a time in which we are surrounded by shame--shame about our bodies, our careers, our finances, our genders--and I don't wish shame on anyone at all. As researcher Brené Brown puts it, "Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement." This is the polar opposite of what I was trying to touch upon when I wrote that post. What I am truly discontented about is that people aren't really speaking up.
Let me back track for a moment here. Recently, I've been devouring and dissecting episodes of the Netflix series, "Black Mirror," a show that explores technoparanoia, or, more specifically, the double edged sword that is technology. In one episode, there is a comedian who acts as the voice behind "Waldo," a cartoon bear on television (similar to Seth MacFarlane as "Ted"). Noting the animated character's popularity, the producer of Waldo's show jokingly suggests that they have Waldo run against real politicians in the upcoming election. After humiliating the most popular candidate time and time again, Waldo begins to gain real traction, and suddenly, the masses decide the cartoon bear should in fact be considered a candidate (arguably comparable to the idea that, Donald Trump, the show host of "The Apprentice", somehow ended up on the ballot this year). There comes a moment when the bear publicly slanders another candidate, and the candidate responds with the following:
"I think we have to ask ourselves "What is this for?" Why do we waste our time with animated trivialities like him? I mean why? [...] You're laughing at someone who won't engage. Who is scared to engage, who hides behind a children's cartoon. [...] It's easy, what he [the comedian] does. He mocks. And when he can't think of an authentic joke, which is actually quite often, he just swears. I think that this puppet's inclusion on this panel debases the process of debate, and smothers any meaningful discussion of the issues. So I return to my original question, is that really what this is for? He has nothing to offer, he has nothing to say. Prove me wrong. Huh? Speak, Waldo."
To this, Waldo has no meaningful rebuttal.
Needless to say, viewers of "Black Mirror" have compared Waldo's character to Donald Trump, but I see yet another parallel here. Just as this fictional comedian has an animated alter ego to hide behind, I find that many of us use our internet personas as a crutch. We hide behind our masks--our screens--as we "like" political memes or status updates that poke fun at Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, perhaps because we think one or the other is incompetent to act as the president of our country. Yet, many Americans weren't out there voting today, or didn't request an absentee ballot in time to cast their votes. These Americans had feedback and preferences. These were folks who chose to simulate engagement rather than take a stand.
Women were granted the right to vote in 1920. That was less than 100 years ago. African-Americans were granted the right to vote in 1965. I'll let you do the math. Voting is a privilege that people have died for. When your ancestors, living and dead, invite you to take a stand, go the extra mile to take off that mask. Put down your phone. Get out there and shake the world because you can. Because your voice matters. If you're not sure how to take a stand, ask. If you're not sure if you have what it takes, rest assured that you do. Do what you can with what you have. We're all just winging it, after all.
Please don't feel ashamed if you didn't vote this year. Instead, open your eyes to the world around you. The world needs you to show up, and I mean really show up, every damn day.