Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been

Today began early voting in North Carolina. I’ll be voting on Monday, but that’s besides the point: What matter today is that you can now take your voice and make it heard–locally and nationally.

I’ve been debating a long time with myself if I want to “go political” or not. It’s a part of me, and I can’t deny that, and it’s certainly been a part of this blog–none of us can deny that. However, I’ve worried about alienating readers, offending people or making erroneous claims that will hurt me in the end.

I’ve decided today that all of that? It’s stupid. It’s our obligation–yours as much as mine–to “go political,” and given the start of early voting, there’s no better time than now to do it.

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. That goes against the intent of our Constitution and it goes against my own personal beliefs: Voting is an exercise of our right to speak our own voice–and to let anyone tell you who or what to vote for is giving up that right.

I’m also not going to try to persuade you–although I will share my own opinions and if persuasion happens, it happens. With more information, it’s only natural for our views and visions to change. If you read my post yesterday, that would already be clear.

And through all of this, where I want to begin is here: Potential. And the easiest way to talk about potential is to talk about gravitational potential. If anyone’s ever thrown a ball (or perhaps even better, if you’ve ever been hit by a thrown ball) it’s pretty obvious to observe the energy the ball carried while it was falling. This energy of motion is kinetic energy, and although it’s only one of many kinds of energy we experience in our daily lives, it is among the most important kinds.

Before the ball is thrown, when it’s lying on the floor or a table, it has no kinetic energy. Instead, this stationary ball has potential energy–gravitational potential energy, to be precise. This means the ball has an inner reserve of energy, provided by the force of gravity, to move–except the table or the floor is preventing the ball from moving, so this energy is inactive, in a matter of speaking.

When we lift the ball to throw it, or even if we roll the ball off the table’s edge, that potential energy is activated and the ball falls–the force of gravity converts potential energy into kinetic energy and pulls the ball until an equal or greater force (thanks to Newton) stops it–such as the ground or maybe your head. The ball didn’t change–only it’s energy changed. And not even its energy changed–since energy is conserved, only its state of energy changed.

We’re a lot like that ball: We have potential energy–and I’d argue we have more potential energy even than a massive ball held atop the tallest building you can imagine. Our challenge is merely a matter of converting that potential energy into action. Now, I’m not saying we should throw each other off buildings to realize our potential–but we do need a force to help us along the way.

This force has many forms and many origins–and for many people, not every force can effect a change great enough in our potential to make us politically active. In fact, for many, I assume just saying “politically active” leaves a sour taste on your tongue–we despise politics except those who want to be politicians, but it’s a fact that politics affects all of us, whether we like it or not.

For some, this force is a matter of education: Once you have knowledge, once you are aware of the issues, you feel compelled to do something to change them–this, indeed, was the motivation America Ferrera had for many of the amazing things she has done. For others, this force is a matter of personal struggle: Through undergoing and overcoming insurmountable challenges, they are moved to make a difference in their community. For me, this was a matter of social responsibility: I have seen the inequality in the world and in my own community, and I want to do what I can to change that–and this desire to learn and enable myself to make a difference is what has lead me so deeply into the realm of politics.

The list of forces capable of converting our potential into action is endless–and I’m almost certain no one force can be prescribed to help you take the step from inactive to active, from passive citizen to proactive citizen. That is a discovery you must find for yourself–I can only help lead you along the way.

The only way I can do that is reassert what everyone else has already said: If you don’t vote, you’re giving your power and influence in our country to someone else. You wouldn’t let someone else choose your college or your car; you wouldn’t let someone else choose your major or career; you wouldn’t let someone else choose the person you’ll marry or the names for your children–so why would you let someone else choose your senators and representatives, your governors, your president?

Ponder that.

And then ponder it some more.

When you give up your right to vote, you are screaming to the world, “I DO NOT MATTER!” When you say you’re just going to move to Canada, you’re shouting, “NO ONE ELSE IN THIS COUNTRY MATTERS!” And if you wouldn’t stand up in a crowd of people you love and say these very statements, why would you refuse to vote?

You might say it’s a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils–and many times, I would agree with you. However, when your parents said mow the lawn or take out the trash, I’m certain you still chose one of them–and you had the chance to choose the option you found better and more beneficial. Now I’m not saying Governor Romney and the President are comparable to lawn mowing and taking out the trash, but the analogy stands: Sometimes you have to choose the best possible option, even if the options aren’t that great.

There is no excuse for not voting–unless you’re excused from voting for various reasons that prevent you from being eligible to vote. I know I’ve skipped a trip to the polls to attend class–and I regret not making the effort to vote. But I wasn’t as informed then as I am now, and I didn’t realize how important and critical my vote was–and if anything, in this election, it’s even more important for us to vote and each individual vote is more critical than ever before.

My political theory professor has drilled into us that this election is a paramount affair that will forever change the direction of our country. The parties and their candidates are divided on all issues–economic, judicial, international, and even cultural. The winners will steer our country down a path we will follow for decades to come–a path that will affect the rest of your life and the lives of your friends, family, and children. Do you really want to stand idly by given these stakes?

When I began writing, I had figured I might spend most of my time talking about my preferred candidate, but this article has gone on long enough. You’re reading this–you had the skills needed to find a small blog and the desire necessary to read twelve hundred words so far about an issue that maybe you’re not entirely passionate about–and that is enough to let me know you have everything you need to find out the issues, find where you stand on them, and then find out who’s running that you should support–in all levels of government, from the most local to the highest office of the land.

You don’t need me to tell you how to vote, and although it’s probably obvious with the general content of this blog who I’ll vote for, it doesn’t matter who I’m voting–what matters it that you vote for the candidates you support, for the leaders you believe will steer us right, for the principles you stand by and support. And if you choose your leaders even on just one or two issues that are especially important to you, that’s alright, too–just know what you’re voting for and make sure you actually vote. Potential is nothing until it’s turned into action–and you don’t want to lose your voice to inaction.

When I began planning this post more than a week ago, I felt inspired to title it “Where are we going, where have we been” for two reasons. The first was that I had intended to tie it into my own personal journey at the moment and take time to reflect on what has led me where I am and where I want to be tomorrow–but this I can do another time.

My second reason is more important, especially with early voting starting today: It’s easy to look back and see where we have been, personally and nationally, but it’s not as easy to look forward and see where we’re going. Individually, we might have dreams for ourselves and dreams for our futures–but collectively, our vision is not wholly united, and some might say it never will be. However, we each hold the power to make a difference, the power and the potential to change our direction forever–but without exercising that power through voting, all of our potential is lost forever.

Don’t give up your potential to change the world.

Learn the issues. Know the candidates. Go vote.

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