Can we think of the voting place as an altar where we hole-punch a prayer to the honored dead?
This past Sunday, Barbara Adinger wrote a beautiful blog entitled “November, a Silent Month?” While welcoming the November darkness and a “delicious melancholy composed of silence and rest” settling over her home, Adinger reminds us that: no, we are not silent.
As human beings protesting invisibility and the erasure of the history of the marginalized, we are not silent. Given special command(ment)s to be silent in far too many patriarchal and kyriarchal religions, we cannot silently accept the violence, abuse and invisibility forced upon us or upon those whose struggle is different than our own.
At times, silence is a survival strategy. But this year and last, I am striving to thrive instead.
At times, silence is an important place of meditation: a spiritual necessity, an oasis and praxis in the creation of peace. But, today, my meditations lead me to speak.
When first reading “a silent month,” in the title above, I thought to myself: “I hope not.” I am glad that Barbara agrees. Today—November 4th, aka, “voting day”—those of us living with the privilege of citizenship in the United States have a responsibility to speak. As a woman, I also have a responsibility to my feminist sisters and brothers who won me this right—an inheritance that has become increasingly important to me.
I have not always voted, particularly at midterm elections. I live in California, a pretty solidly blue state as far as presidential campaigns are concerned. We are not a “swing state.” But during presidential elections there is often a flurry of excitement and a sense of importance that accompanies the physically awkward act of standing in a plastic box and punching holes in a card. It is easy to want to vote, to vote with conscience or at least, intentionality, during the presidential elections. Midterm elections can seem boring or unimportant by comparison; and according to a report I heard on NPR this past week—many women, single women in particular, seem to agree and stay at home on non-presidential elections years.
I have been through many phases in my attitudes towards voting. I have voted hopefully. I have voted irregularly, and then, regularly. I have studied the issues; and at times, I voted without educating myself before hand, choosing women candidates based solely upon the idea that I thought we should have more women in office from a particular political party. I have voted and not voted cynically and resigned to my own powerlessness, feeling my vote really did not really make a difference after all. I think this last attitude has often been the hardest for me to shake. It is easy to feel we do not have a say. Reading online articles when preparing to write this blog, I came upon a piece that basically told me what was going to happen during the midterm elections. Discouraging. I hadn’t even voted yet and I already felt doomed.
BUT—that’s where I want to catch myself. I-felt-doomed: I believed what this article was telling me. I took it on faith, just like I took my own worthlessness and brokenness on faith when practicing patriarchal religion.
“You’re broken now, Sara, but the more you give over to God, the more whole you will feel.”
“You don’t think that the way you feel is how you should feel, Sara. You thought you did everything you were supposed to do—I mean, felt everything you were supposed to feel. Search yourself for what more of yourself you should give.”
These messages are warning signs to me now, telling me that I am participating in my own silence. I would rather be struggling halfway as myself, than full of someone else’s story of my life, my feelings and my identity. The article I read online tonight may be correct, prophesizing the future. But I also refuse to accept this prophecy’s authority over me.
Too often I conceive of my power to vote in terms of the difference it will make in the existent kyriarchal system. My vote may or may not impact this system: sometimes I am sure that it does, and sometimes, I am equally sure that it does not. However, this year I am starting to think differently about how my vote “makes a difference.”
I think my vote makes a difference to my feminist mothers. This past weekend Los Angeles (among many other communities) celebrated Dia de los Muertos: a day when one celebrates the departed with us, and honors their ongoing presence in our lives and communities. I do not usually celebrate this holiday, but I am inspired by it to act in reverence. Can we think of the voting place as an altar where we hole-punch a prayer to the honored dead?
My vote makes a difference to my growing sense of indignation and protest. I watched and read and dialogued with anger this year, witnessing the Hobby Lobby’s victory while tasting the bitterness of this defeat—the further commodification of my human rights and dignity.
I read a conservative article celebrating the failure of Planned Parenthood’s challenge of recently passed “pro-life” laws in Texas. The article said the law was ‘saving women,’ from ‘back-ally-type abortions,’ and from receiving the abortion pill, ‘that’s not good for women’s health.’ I was sickened by the pejorative attitude of the article, and wanted to scream: stop ‘protecting’ me from my own rights!
Worse still is the way in which Voter ID laws are increasingly preventing people from even accessing their right to vote under the guise of protecting “us” from voter fraud. Maintaining the right to vote and the means to for people to access their right to vote is crucially important to justice-making work within the United States.
Finally, I think my vote makes a difference in my ongoing commitment to social justice and ethical praxis. The more I educate myself, and the more I take part, the more I realize that it is not enough to only vote. Voting is one important act.
There are other acts, (to echo Barbara’s blog one more time here) “for we have found our words of power.” And like a name, my own name—the ability to name myself—there is a special kind of magic in these words.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.