Friday, November 7, 2014

Pay Attention, Show Up, and Vote

In President Obama's post-shellacking news conference Wednesday, he looked into the camera and told the voters that he heard what we were saying. If only he had stopped there. He followed up by saying to the majority of people who didn't vote, he hears them too. The remainder of the 80-minute news conference revealed that our president has no intention to change course. Presumably the resounding voices of the majority who didn't vote were urging him to stay the course.

I heard one pundit cynically snort that he wondered how he could hear the silent voices of those who did not vote. I snorted along with him in the moment, but then realized that President Obama was likely certain that he could hear those voices. He has the results of extensive and reasonably-precise research, he has advocates lobbying on behalf of the masses, and he has experts interpreting it all and feeding it to him daily (even moment by moment). These are the tools of marketing.

The thing is… we don’t ask our leaders to lead via the tools of marketing; we demand that our leaders govern. And we don’t govern via market research, polls, the voices of advocates, or the interpretations of experts. We vote. And voting matters.

We don’t govern by taking random samples of those passively being governed (polls), asking them what they want and who they want in power. We govern according to those who show up and vote.

I fear that our President truly believes that his interpretations of the desires of the non-voters really matter… matter even more than the voice of the voters. I know liberal pundits think so; they have broadcast such things the past few days. They say that low turnout was to blame… that if only people had voted, things would have turned out differently. It is as if they want us to pretend that everyone voted, and also pretend that we know how they would have voted.

(Warning… right-wing rant coming.)

Liberals do this all the time. If they get the vote they want they call it a mandate; if they don’t, they call it some sort of mistake and determine that they know better. Two years ago, I recall conservative pundits observing low turnout in the election that resulted in our President’s reelection. But I don’t recall anyone turning that into a rationale that we should govern pretending we knew what the non-voters wanted. Conservatives put the responsibility of low turnout on themselves and those who stayed home; we didn’t factor the imagined desires of the non-voters into the governance equation.

Voting matters. Paying attention and showing up matters. The system does not, and should not, govern according to the imagined voices of the unengaged, uninterested non-voters. Our government is certainly responsible for their well-being and safety, but their imagined voice is irrelevant and should certainly not be “heard” like the real voice of the voters. 

(Thus endeth the rant.)

These are lessons that extend beyond opportunities like this week’s election.

I am, and have been, part of a number of membership organizations. Most adults are. For me it has included student organizations, academic societies, churches, ecclesiastical bodies, and even my homeowners association. I’ve observed that active participation in such membership organizations is becoming less and less important to folks. We don’t bother paying attention or even showing up, thinking that voting on such things doesn’t matter.

And voting often doesn’t matter… until it really does.

I’m thinking of a few organizations that I’ve been a part of, and a few others that I’ve intently observed, in which the membership displayed (by their inattentiveness) that they didn’t want to bother with governing. So in order to keep the organization moving forward, the governance moved from the membership to the administration. What once required the vote of the body moved to a decision made by a committee. What once required action by a committee moved to a decision by the administration. What once required agreement among officers moved to a decision by the CEO.

All that resulted in greater efficiency, and even prosperity and happiness… until there was a problem. Then, when faced with a problem that only the membership could/should handle, the membership’s governance muscles had atrophied and the organization’s governance model was ineffective. Those who should have been paying attention, showing up, and active all along attempt to reinsert themselves, and there is friction. In some cases the friction only results in a season of discomfort for the organization, in other cases the organization doesn’t survive.

Paying attention, showing up, and voting matters. We can’t expect that our voices will matter if we have not been paying attention and showing up. Voting matters all the time, not just when there is a problem or challenge… maybe especially when there is not a problem or challenge.

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