Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Don't Just Vote!

In the last week, I've received emails from several young people I know and each one includes a link to an online viral video called "Don't Vote." If you can stand a bit of swearing and silliness, get on the web and check it out. This little video is a celebrity-studded, get-out-the-vote ad, which uses reverse psychology to get its pro-voting point across. Frankly, I'm proud of the various celebrities who volunteered their time to help increase the percentage of young people voting in next month's historic election. Let's send a big shout out to folks like Leonardo DiCaprio, Halle Berry, Jennifer Annison, and all the others who took part in this project.

There is a lot to like in this off-beat civics lesson. Certainly, the young folks who sent me the emails all seem to think that this five-minute video clip, which is rapidly spreading through cyberspace, will help increase the number of young people who will register and vote this year. There is absolutely no question that this is work worth doing.

My only serious complaint with the video's message to young people is that it makes one important misstep when it describes voting as "your only power." Voting is an important civic act, of course, and it is a very important way to act powerfully with others to shape the future of our communities, our nation, and our world. If you want to live in a more ecologically sustainable, socially just, spiritually fulfilling, and peaceful world, you are going to need to become a thoughtful voter.

But, should our responsibility as citizens stop at the ballot box--with just voting every few years? The lesson of history answers this question with a resounding "No!" To create positive change, we'll need a nation of active and engaged citizens, not just occasional voters. Besides thoughtful voters, we also need charitable volunteers, community organizers, citizen lobbyists, and social movement activists--all the people who time and time again have made America a more just, democratic, and equitable place to live, work, and play.

I'm proud, for example, that my youngest son is doing more than voting this fall. In addition to reading up on the issues in preparation for his first vote in a national election, he just got a low-paid field organizer job for one of the presidential candidates, and he will soon be heading out to New Mexico and Colorado to do some of the last minute grassroots organizing that is required to make an electoral campaign successful.

I'm also very proud of eight of my students at Antioch New England who have recently formed a campus student group that is part the national Power Vote campaign. Have you heard about this campaign? It is an impressive, national, non-partisan effort spearheaded by the Energy Action Coalition. It seeks to elevate the issues of climate protection, clean and safe energy, and green jobs in the 2008 election by mobilizing one million "climate voters"--with a particular focus on young people, though not limited to them. To do this, the Energy Action Coalition and its more than forty partner organizations are organizing young people, students, faculty, staff, and community people across the United States to pledge their vote "for clean and just energy." These eight students are busy studying hard this semester and gathering on-campus endorsements from Antioch's President and the Faculty Senate, tabling in the lobby during lunch hours, giving brief "class raps," collecting online pledges, and asking tough questions of candidates who visit the Keene area regardless of their party affiliation.

Power Vote also doesn't intend to stop there. They are going to encourage the one million people that sign up to vote with the Power Vote platform in mind to keep pushing all those who are elected this time round to support creative policies that will quickly move our nation toward a clean energy future that will also create millions of new green jobs, reduce poverty, improve our health, and avoid future resource wars like the war in Iraq. I am proud to serve as a faculty advisor to these talented and engaged students. They clearly see active citizenship as meaning much more than just voting every few years--as important as voting is.

In their video, Leo DiCaprio and the others jokingly say, "Don't vote." I'm quite serious when I say, "Don't just vote!"

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