With early voting in full sway and my name on the ballot in Midland for the first time, I sit here in the quiet morning, thinking back to evidence of an election I witnessed one year ago.
This time last year, I had the privilege of visiting Bangladesh with some dear friends. We went to see the work being done among the Rohingya people who have been exiled from their homes in Myanmar. As we drove out from the city of Cox’s Bazaar, along the shore of the Bay of Bengal, we happened across a village center which was covered with the political fliers and signs of candidates.
Men filled the streets and yelled wildly to one another, presumably endorsing their candidate or discrediting the candidate they opposed. Even inside the relative safety of our dilapidated van, I could tell it would not have been safe for us to stop in the midst of this political gathering to ask questions. And so I took pictures through the grimy windows and did my best to etch the memory permanently in my brain.
The differences between Midland, Texas and Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh are too numerous to recount here. It truly is about as far from home as I could have gone.
Even in the middle of the strangeness of such a foreign place, I remember the fervor with which some of the men were yelling…and the apathy with which some were sitting to the side, looking carelessly into the melee. Why do elections bring out such passion in some, while reducing others to such deep apathy?
I have learned so much as a candidate for Midland City Council District 4. And it remains to be seen if I will win or if I will lose. But regardless of the outcome of this election, I am deeply persuaded that the wisest among us are those who are temperate and watchful, informed and engaged. Those who shout the loudest are rarely the sort of leaders I want to follow but those who are unwilling to engage at all are perhaps the most frightening of all.
We have heard “if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!” Oh, if only that were true. We know so many eligible voters in our country who will forgo their opportunity to vote and then spend most of their time griping until the next round of elections, when they will again refuse to engage in the process.
This is the day when you must vote. This is the day when you must step forward and engage yourself in the full process of leading in your own context and community and space.
You don’t have to run for political office to engage. But PLEASE do the work to become informed about the truth of the issues, to meet the people who are seeking to lead you, to shake the hand of the one you oppose. Then do what it takes to vote. Our process only works well when everyone participates.
Great change-makers in history, no matter their nationality or origin, are those who manage to sit in the fray, to engage the difficult questions and to look into the eyes of the opposition. Those who seek respectful disagreement and understanding in the midst of holding fast to convictions. Understanding is not the same thing as agreement but understanding can bring us to unity, even when we disagree.
This morning, perhaps you don’t feel like a leader, as you wipe one more nose or clean one more floor or complete one more mundane task. Perhaps you feel subjugated and entirely outside the fray. Take a moment and remember that you live in a country where we want to know your vote. We want to see you step forward to lead in strength.
Let us not waver from the truth of our convictions. But let us always and only use our voices to elevate the conversation, to build one another up and to seek decisions for the benefit of all the people within our care.