I Didn't Vote

On November 4th, 2008, I rode my bike to Voting Precinct 006 at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church and School in Waterford Township, Michigan. I stood in line, I presented the proper credentials, I was issued one voting ballot, and I filled it out. I did not vote.

I had come to my polling-place intending to cast my vote for Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates that had not made it onto the Michigan ballot: Gloria La Riva for President and Eugene Puryear for Vice President. These are the candidates of The Party for Socialism and Liberation. As a small, mostly-marginalized political party, the names of these candidates were not listed among the options before me. So, when I approached the voting booth - ballot in hand - I meant to write-in these candidates’ names; whom I felt best represented my interests and desires for the nation at large.

In these politically nepotistic and insular times it seems that a majority of the populace cannot understand why anyone would vote off-ticket. These unnamed, third-party candidates have no real chance of being elected, after all. So why not choose one of the mainstream candidates who, at least, represent the better of the options we are presented with?

There are two main reasons that I decided to vote for Gloria La Riva. First, I wanted to encourage the party she represents. It is supremely important - in a Democracy - that we support those groups which rise to champion our beliefs on the national stage. If I cast my vote for some other party, Gloria La Riva and The Party for Socialism and Liberation would never know that I support them. They would never know that I am grateful for their efforts and wish them to continue doing the hard work of carrying my hopes and aspirations into the public limelight.

Second, I want it on the record! I want the state to recognize, even if only by a meaningless act of bureaucracy, that the options I have been presented with by this system do not represent me; that I, and those sharing my beliefs, have been marginalized by a system that drawls on endlessly about “democracy” and “freedom,” but falls short when presenting us with meaningful options.

For these reasons I stood in that voting booth looking at my ballot, wondering how to fill it out. The Presidential and Vice Presidential seats were presented to me as a unified ticket. In other words, if I wanted to vote Obama for President, I had no choice but to vote Biden for VP. The two distinct offices were represented by a single choice: “Obama / Biden.” The problem for my write-in candidates was that I couldn’t possibly fit both of their names into the empty write-in block provided on the ballot.

Unsure how to proceed, I finished filling out the rest of my choices and I approached the man supervising the tallying machine. I began to say, “I think I need a new ballot. I’m trying to write-in my choice for presidential candidate.” He interrupted me.

“You can’t write-in a Presidential choice. You have to pick from what’s listed.”

I stared at him with what must have been a supremely dumbfounded expression. After a long silence I reeled in my hanging jaw and managed to squeeze out a sarcastic, “Democracy, huh?”

He started to fumble out an excuse: “Well, if your candidates really wanted to be on the ticket then they needed to register with the state in advance. They’ve had all this time to register…”

“And that would cost them several thousands of dollars per state they registered in, right?” I fired this comment angrily toward the lanky, unsympathetic man before me.

He shrugged his shoulders and I told him I needed a few minutes to decide what I was going to do.

I had read up on Michigan’s election procedures in the days approaching November 4th, anticipating that there would be some oddities voting off-ticket. In retrospect, I’m sure I read something, somewhere that told me I couldn’t write-in candidates who weren’t pre-registered with the state. I must have just filtered it out in disbelief. I suppose I couldn’t accept - until confronted with it face to face - that my state and my nation would deny me the right of making my own voice heard until or unless they’d collected a pound of flesh from a specific candidate.

Dumbfounded as ever I stood there leaned against the wall as other voters passed happily by turning in their ballots; gleefully participating in Democracy. What was I going to do? I could, of course, just request a new ballot and only vote for the other positions and proposals that I had intended to. Or I could take a moment and choose a President from one of those “lesser of two evils” I’ve heard so much about. But there was another option wrestling with these seemingly more sensible choices deep inside my head: Don’t vote.

Here I stood, disenfranchised by a system that only allows the people to exercise any real authority over the make up and function of their government once every two years. They hadn’t allowed me to vote for the candidate I wanted. They had removed me of the option to separate my Presidential choice from my Vice Presidential choice. And as a supporter of run-off voting, campaign finance reform, and “none of the above” ballot options, I had walked in to this voting precinct carrying a ten-pound bag full of reasons to find this whole process illegitimate from the get-go.

It took me a good couple of minutes to settle on a choice and my heart pounded fast and heavy in my chest as I did. But in the end I summoned myself against the fear and intimidation I felt from these smugly self assured state-pollsters and turned again to the lanky man who placed himself between me and democracy. And before the line of waiting voters, loudly and clearly I spoke.

“I think I’ve decided not to participate in a system that doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.”

And I tore my ballot in half.

If you can believe it, the lanky man, along with another voting official, rushed to my sides, grabbed me by each arm, and attempted to restrain me from tearing up the smaller voter-registration form that is submitted with the ballot. I managed nonetheless to destroy it; my captors being quite elderly gentlemen.

These men who had volunteered their time in order to enable the functions of a democratic state, actually tried to physically deny me even of the right to protest my own disenfranchisement. In the process of attempting to cast my vote I was technically assaulted by election officials.

I didn’t report these crimes as I have no desire to see two elderly volunteers, who were simply flustered and unsure of what to do, brought before charges for the failures of Michigan’s Oakland County election organizers, who did not properly instruct or prepare them.

Nonetheless, I truly feel violated. Before November 4th 2008 I couldn’t have imagined that this would be my voting experience. I couldn’t have dreamed that I would count myself among those who have been meaningfully removed of their rights to vote, and to vote for whom they wish. In the land of the free and the home of the brave I find that I have been denied my liberty by an institution too timid to let sound my voice.

Here’s hoping your voting experience did not mimic mine.

A Call to Christians: Ye that Work Iniquity

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, [...] For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Jesus wasn't preaching just to hear the echoes of his own voice, nor certainly to benefit his health. He didn't teach the rejection of the 'goods and sundries' world as a metaphor for something else. He wanted you to cast off your corporeal roots; to grow beyond the boundaries of the seed in which your spirit rests and learn to live a life of greater things.

'You cannot serve both God and Mammon,' Jesus tells us. (Mammon is the love of money.) But how do you resolve these teachings of the man you hail as Lord with the way you have lived your lives. How can you be called Christians while employed by men whose agendas bow in service to that same evil, Mammon. Don't these men require you to shed at least a bit of your humanity in order to generate their profit? Don't they measure you in terms of assets and of liabilities? Don't you have to think more often of money than you do of man, and man more often than you do of God? How can you serve Mammon’s servants and still heed the teachings of your Lord?

In the gospels Jesus is asked of a wealthy young man, 'I have kept the commandments - what more shall I do to be right in the eyes of the Lord?’ And Jesus replies, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."

No one takes that literally anymore, do they? They mostly don’t even bother to take it figuratively. They rationalize it. They turn it into a message meant only for a certain person or a certain class of person; a message for the rich - and even then, only for the super-rich. So few ever recognize how much they have; after all, there’s always someone who has more. They blind themselves to the disparities between the quality, comforts, and conveniences of their own lives and the lives of the poor and marginalized among us.

Two thousand years later no one sees fit to live as Jesus, John the Baptist, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Thomas, Paul, Simon, Philip, and even Judas did. No one takes seriously those teachings which require them to abandon their life-long collections of soul-less inanimate objects. No, at the end of the story of the rich young man he turns his back on Jesus' words and walks away…

Just as you have, "Christians."

Despite Jesus' many calls to abandon the things and mortal concerns of this world, today I look across what claims to be an eighty-percent Christian nation, and what do I find parked in your driveways? New-lease vehicles, motorcycles, ATVs, RVs, boats, jet-ski's, and riding lawn-mowers; In-console navigation, in-headrest video display, satellite radio, remote starters, leather-upholstered seat warmers, sub-woofers, and drink-cooling center-console cup holders. I see in-ground swimming pools, pool tables, golf clubs, ski boots, barbeques, antiques, souvenirs, beanie babies, coin collections, and porcelain figurines. I see savings accounts and savings bonds, 401k's and IRAs, nest-eggs and stock portfolios... For a people who talk about charity you sure have buried a lot of your master’s ‘talents’ in the sand. I see car insurance, life insurance, home insurance, dental insurance, disaster insurance... For a people who talk about 'faith' you sure have a lot of insurance, backing you up. I see two-story homes, finished basements, central air conditioning, sofas and recliners, feather-top mattresses, and microwave ovens; Hi-def flat-screen televisions, DVD, Blu-Ray, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound… Cell phones, home computers, laser printers, high speed internet, digital cable, satellite television, iPods, iPhones, and hand-held, voice activated, video game consoles. I swear, if you people put any treasure up in heaven at all it's only 'cause you ran out of space down here!

So tell me, who have you been living for? What godly ends have you pursued by racking up these purchases; by collecting all these wordly delights; by stacking up this tower of bills and debt? How many homeless could’ve been sheltered… How many naked, clothed… How many sick, cared for… How many hungry, fed with the means you have collectively squandered in defiance of the man you profess to be your savior?

Didn't Jesus - the son of man - promise you, on his Father's honor, that your needs would be provided? Didn't he tell you not to worry for what you shall eat, what you shall drink, or wherewithal you shall be clothed? Didn’t he say, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” If you truly had this faith, we would not find you in midst a forty hour work week; we would not find you contracted and salaried, and doing the bidding of other men: Other men for whom you have no love whose work means nothing to you; whose work doth oft repulse you.

I hear your excuses. “I've got to put food on the table,” “I've got to put a roof over our heads.” But your God has told you otherwise. Didn't Jesus teach you to take no thought even for your very life. Didn't he say “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

But you seek not this kingdom. Certainly you do not seek it “first.” You do not seek it in the manner advised by Jesus, as though it were the most - the only - important thing. No, first you seek a cup of coffee to wake you; and first you seek a traffic report to guide you; and first you seek a newspaper to tell you all the musings of the world. First you seek an education; and first you seek a profession; and first you seek a paycheck; and first you seek a mate; and first you seek a home; and first you seek a child.

First you seek a combo meal; and first you seek a text message; and first you seek a TV show, and first you seek a beer, and first you seek a thousand other tiny comforts of the flesh -- all the needless, spiritually devoid trappings of this kingdom - not God’s - but man’s kingdom. And then, when all these have been acquired; when every day’s expenditure is tallied and accounted for; when every earthly appetite has sated - then may you permit yourself to seek God’s kingdom. …for an hour or two some Sunday morning before returning to another week’s ritual hunt of all things worldly.

It seems you’re just not willing to risk it; willing to risk letting go the stranglehold you’ve placed on your own life; willing to risk truly placing your trust in God to guide you. After all, ‘better to keep one foot in the door,’ isn’t it, just in case the divine creator of the heavens and the Earth can’t make good on His word? And so it is you’ve come to serve two masters. So it is you hold to the Earth and despise the Lord.

“But I’ve got children! I’ve got to provide for my family!” you bellow. And Jesus Christ answers you, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”

Oh ye hypocrites; Ye faithless and perverse generation. You have turned Christianity into a shelter for your guilty consciences; into a support group for functioning addicts - none of whom bear any intent of curbing their abuse. You have nailed Jesus to the cross once more, but this time you've tried to pin his message up as well.

You don't want a relationship with God, you want someone to justify your lack of a relationship with God. You want someone to tell you that praying before you eat, going to church once a week, and voting against stem-cell research runs the full gambit of communion with the Lord. You need a way to feel okay with your debauched lives of earthly compromise; a means with which to justify those two-thirds of the Earth's populace – your brothers and sisters in God – who suffer economic enslavement and die before their time whilst you drape yourself in the decadence of a culture that never fails to remind you how much more remains to be bought; to be possessed. You don't want Christ's teachings. You want a religion that will absolve and forgive you the sin of knowing better while doing worse. And to that end you have stolen the name of Christianity. You have made it a shallow thing: a place to come in times of drought, to be ignored in plenty.

And it is despite yourselves that you speak to us of devils, anti-christs, and the end of days. You warn us of the prophecies of Daniel and John; of the false prophets foretold who, in the name of the Lord, will speak heresies - leading men out of the light and into places of darkness and destruction (and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.) You speak as if these times are already upon us; as though these forces move amongst us even now. But I have heard your warnings all too well and I heed them now by asking, ‘Just who are you, Christian?’

Who are you, who in the name of Jesus Christ lead men to settle for a paycheck and a prayer? Who are you who, in the Lord’s name, live lives of slothful excess as your brothers toil and die. Who and what are you, if not the anti-christ of whom you warn we must be wary?

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:22-23