Fifteen years ago, my little girl came home from school and asked in a glum voice, “How come the girl who won didn’t keep her promise?”
I didn’t understand and asked her to elaborate.
“The girl who won vice president of the school. She didn’t give us candy.”
“What do you mean she didn’t give you candy?”
“She promised us if we voted for her she would give us candy.”
“Did you vote for her?” She innocently nodded her head.
“Maybe she just hasn’t gotten around to it yet, maybe next week.” Next week came and went and the promised candy never came. As promised.
A neighbor child shared the same experience. While visiting, she told us about the boy who ran for fourth grade class representative. He won because he promised everyone footballs and jump ropes. But, “We never got a football or a jump rope!”
It is that time of year again, when campaign posters are as common as “House For Sale” signs in the spring. Our responses are probably as varied as the houses for sale. I have two friends who study the issues, discuss them on their early morning walks and make an informed vote. An elderly acquaintance who lives in New York, votes a straight democratic ticket regardless of the issues. Many people respond to politics the same way they respond to the question, “How are you?”—with an unthinking, reactionary, “I’m fine.”
Yet, there are those who don’t take for granted their right to vote. I am patriotically stirred when I see an aerial photo of a line in South Africa that goes for miles. They are people who waited in line to vote for Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid.
The percentages of people who actually get to the booth are sending a clear message: Apathy is rampant. It brings to mind the unoriginal question, which came first—apathy or broken campaign promises? Yet, I still believe that most politicians are good people who want to serve.
Maybe the lessons start in elementary school when the stakes aren’t high and the promises are only candy. Perhaps our early disappointment have us overlooking the real stakes. In the same way that life skills are built upon the critical basics of addition, subtraction and reading, the political skills we learn in elementary school may be the foundation for honorable politicians and faith in our political system. Maybe the cynicism of the twentieth-first century is bred in the innocence of a ten year-old’s pie-crust promises.
In the words of my political-savvy, attorney friend, "People have known these two candidates for decades; they know their failings, their scandals, and they still gave them the party nominations. The problem is that only 9% of the population voted."
“There can be no democracy unless it is a dynamic democracy. When our people cease to participate—to have a place in the sun—then all of us will wither in the darkness of decadence. All of us will become mute, demoralized, lost souls.” Saul D.. Alinsky