Yeah. You. In front of the computer. I'm talking to you. Writing-- whatever. Settle down.
Look, we need to talk. Can we talk? Relax. We're not breaking up.
Are you busy next week? Because there's this thing - you should know this by now - Tuesday? Right? Election Day. No, no. It's sort of like a holiday, except you have to skive off of work to celebrate. Like Flag Day.
Here's the thing, though. Go vote. Seriously. It's important. I know, you hear that kind of thing all the time. But it's really true. Can I tell you a story?
This summer, a very good friend of mine became an American citizen. I flew out to San Francisco to watch her naturalization ceremony. I've never been to one. Weird experience. The naturalization test involves learning a bunch of American history and a bunch of interesting civic information, and then you get randomly tested on something like a random 10% of it, and if you get 60% or better on that 10% (we set a high bar), you can become a citizen.... eventually. I think there's a dance involved. There was a lot of singing. Like church, but with eagles.
Since she had her naturalization "textbook" with her, I grabbed it and started looking at it. I've never actually taken a course in American History and I was wondering how I would do if I got a pop citizenship quiz on the street. One question in particular struck me:
What is your most important right as an American citizen?
Surely, I thought, the freedom of speech. It is the basis of freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. I know I redress every morning. First Amendment for the win! Circle gets the square!
I was wrong. But what else could it be?
Second Amendment - the right to bear arms? Nada.
The third hardly applies anymore (protection from quartering of troops).
The fourth, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, is big, but hardly seems like the most important.
Fifth! Due process, and no self-incrimination! The amendment I will always associate with Oliver North! Not it.
Sixth kinda goes hand-in-hand with the fifth - right to a speedy trial, trial by jury, etc. That didn't seem right while I was in the land of O.J. Simpson, and number seven is just a civil re-hash of six, and eight is in regards to excessive bail. You can tell the Constitution was written by criminals.
So it had to be the Ninth or Tenth. Tenth is state's rights, so that's not your most important right as an American, so it had to be good ol' Number Nine.
Nine: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Nine is the gay marriage amendment! Hell, it's the EVERYTHING amendment. It says, "YOU! American! You are a person of free will! You may do as you please! (Please don't hurt people; we cover that elsewhere.)"
But I was still wrong.
There it was, a single line tucked in the answer key in the back of the book: The right to vote.
It didn't really sit well with me at the time. Isn't your right to vote covered in the First Amendment? Clearly not, if they had to amend the Constitution to let people vote regardless of race (#15), and later to let people vote regardless of gender (#19), and yet again to let people vote regardless of taxable status (#24), and even one more time to set the legal voting age (#26)! Now that I've had a few months to think about it, the book was right.
Your most important right as an American is the right to vote. In fact, as a free person in this country, it may well be your obligation. Some countries have mandatory voting, but that's not the case here. We are free to vote or not vote as we please, and for that very reason, you should.
Why? Because voting is the very thing that protects those ten amendments that I listed up there, what we know as the Bill of Rights, as well as seventeen amendments that follow it, and all the text prior to them that make up our Constitution and, thereby, our individuality as a country. Because as an American you have the ability to cast your vote for the leader(s) that you feel will best uphold that Constitution - your rights and freedoms - and, just as importantly, against the people you feel did a poor job. Because our freedom is defined by our votes.
Without your voice in the polls, you risk the possibility of somebody getting into office who does not respect your rights and freedoms, who is not willing to uphold the Constitution in the manner that you see fit. Sometimes the person you want to win won't win - but you know what? They have a much better chance of winning if you go vote.
What's more? You are not just voting for President. You are voting for your local issues and offices. You are voting on the school board, sidewalks, and local justices. You are actively determining the future course of your neighborhood, your town or city, your state, and your country. Almost every aspect of your daily life will be affected by something that you personally have a say about inside that voting booth.
This is what they were trying to get across in that naturalization workbook. I will bet that every single one of those people who took the oath of citizenship that day - all those new Americans - will be out exercising the most important right they have next week. I know my friend is proud to be voting in her first election this year.
So.. you busy next Tuesday? What? Work? Tell your boss you've got a civic duty to perform, and so do they. It doesn't take that long; maybe you can go together. Because, quite seriously, your fellow Americans need you.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.27.08 @ 12:43a
Not only am I going to go vote, I'm going to babysit for my friend so she can go vote. And I don't care if it takes all day for the two of us to get our votes cast--they WILL be cast.
10.27.08 @ 8:29a
Myself, I think I'm going to go vote tomorrow. You know what they say: vote early, vote often!
10.27.08 @ 8:51a
10.27.08 @ 2:40p
Tomorrow? Sounds good to me.
I wish more employers saw it as their responsibility to make sure their employees had adequate time in the day to vote.
10.27.08 @ 2:54p
I actually feel very strongly that Election Day should be a federal holiday.
10.27.08 @ 3:13p
Honestly, I think, most importantly, you're voting for court nominations.
Wait - aren't you Canadian?
10.27.08 @ 7:40p
I need to apply for my dual citizenship. I'm an American citizen.
10.28.08 @ 7:50a
This is a terrific column, and one more people should read. Every two years, so they can stay involved in their communities, too.
Did Eloise earn citizenship?
10.28.08 @ 8:54a
She did, indeed. An excellent addition, I'd say.
10.28.08 @ 10:56a
I'm going to vote... and then ring in my bday. In our office there's a sign listing that employees are entitled to two hours off to vote if they don't have 4 consecutive hours in the day to go vote. Underneath that, there's an oh-so-subtle reminder that polls are actually open 6am - 9 pm in NYC.
10.28.08 @ 12:55p
Every two weeks a bright, wonderful woman from El Salvador cleans our house. Her hope iand goal s to one day own her own housekeeping business in which she is the boss and others work for her. (She already owns her own home--a difficult thing in the SoCal housing market.) However, her crowning achievement occurred earlier this year when she became a US citizen. Since then, she's talked frequently of her first opportunity to vote in a presidential election. If only others I know, most of them US citizens by birth, took this important responsibility so seriously!