Now I can only speak as an American, but one that has been immersed in the seedy underbelly of New Jersey politics. Add to that a stint as a political coordinator for a major NYC labor union (during the last mayoral primaries), and you can start to imagine the things I’ve seen and heard. My approach to any work environment always comes with an anthropological lens. I not only seek to understand my role and responsibilities, but also assess the broader paradigm that supports and resist my efforts as a citizen for social justice, equity, and political transparency and accountability. Beyond New Jersey’s façade of being a stereotypical East Coast, supposed “blue state,” lie some scary statistics about state poverty, inequality, the environment, job growth, and overall economic health.
Unfortunately, due to the rock-solid two-party system in New Jersey, I remain a registered Democrat. But like many NJ residents, I’m not pleased with the state of our political leadership. It’s a problem that permeates both parties on the federal, state, county, and municipal levels. And based on a statewide turnout just shy of 21% in the November 2015 elections, it seems that most of us feel the same way.
The thing is, I’m in that 21%. But, who are the almost 4/5ths of NJ eligible voters who didn’t or couldn’t show up to the polls? Given that it was overwhelming majority, it would suggest the inclusion of all racial, income, and education demographics. This is a North, Central, and South Jersey problem. So, who do these abysmal turnout numbers serve? To put it simply, it serves the status quo. It’s keeps the rich getting rich, and keeps the poor in ongoing state of poverty. Special interests and corporate influence have drowned out the voice of the people. In addition, the vast majority of NJ students graduate high school lacking a basic understanding of their government.
Further, what does this turnout reflect in the voter participation among public employees, college students, and homeowners, who all have so much at stake in the ongoing political crises in New Jersey? When voters are disillusioned and disengaged, the result is a political environment ripe for complacency, incompetence, and corruption. This makes it easy for politicians to disregard the concerns of their constituents, absolving their responsibilities as public servants, and instead becoming tools for corporate interests and a puppet to party bosses. Meanwhile, they are still compensated with taxpayer dollars, while exhibiting a disregard for the conditions of peoples’ lives. Business as usual is allowed to flourish and the vast majority of politicians continue to get re-elected with the support of some fraction of 21% eligible voters.
What American history teaches us is that suffragists were tortured and jailed, then civil rights leaders faced dogs and were lynched fighting for their right to vote, and that it is something to be cherished. Recent rollbacks in voting rights continue to reassure me of this truth. The fact that so many states are going through so much trouble to make it harder for people to vote, tells that my vote is something to be protected. The reality is that not voting only serves to advance those who are already comfortable with the way things are. It is essential that we vote, stay engaged as best we can, in whatever way we can contribute to insist on the prioritization of the welfare of the many over the few.
In 2016, America will elect another president, and in 2017, NJ elects a new governor. There’s too much at stake to sit on the sidelines of any election, especially at the municipal, county, and state levels. Elections have consequences, and substantial impacts on the lives of the most marginalized especially. New Jersey’s presidential primary is Tuesday, June 7th, and the general election is on Tues., Nov. 8th. Please mark it on your calendar and remind everyone you know. And if for any reason you lack the motivation to show up to the polls for yourself, find a person or a cause to dedicate your vote to. Our collective future is literally at stake.
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