Letter From Paris: Shame on Anyone Who Doesn't Vote!

So what's happened to this generation? Have our schools so utterly failed in teaching how important the right to vote is in a democracy?
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I spent part of the last week in the Republic of Georgia, where I had been invited to attend their second ever Fashion Week. This showcase is a way forward-thinking Georgians are trying to regenerate their country and support young Georgian designers, who don't know how to make their way into the larger world. Situated at the dividing line of Western Asia and Eastern Europe -- and on the old Silk Route -- Georgia is still quite isolated. Georgians benefit from outsiders bringing in breaths of fresh air, making connections with them, and getting feedback. And I don't just mean business speculators swooping in to make a killing on a country trying to build itself back up.

Does anyone know where Georgia is on a map? Most people probably don't, and so imagine individuals who were repressed and oppressed by the former Soviet Union trying to find a national identity in this fast-lane global environment, much less an individual one. When fashion was outlawed and art was stomped out -- the ways that we humans express our deepest feelings and our reactions to the culture around us -- everyone suffers. Their souls felt the smothering of human spirit, and this was registered in the collective unconscious that affects us all.

Fortunately, Georgia has a rich history to draw upon.

From Wikipedia:

... Georgian culture enjoyed a golden age and renaissance of classical literature, arts, philosophy, architecture and science in the 11th century.

... Georgian culture was influenced by Classical Greece, the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, and later by the Russian Empire which contributed to the European elements of Georgian culture.

... Georgia is well known for its rich folklore, unique traditional music, theatre, cinema, and art. Georgians are renowned for their love of music, dance, theatre and cinema...

Iconic ballet choreographer George Balanchine was Georgian. That says a lot.

By the way, I had a lovely time in this country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, and Georgians were generous hosts and appreciative of our time spent with them.


While I was there, I was watching my favorite news channel, BBC World News, and a segment came on featuring Counterparts, a University of Pennsylvania jazz and pop a capella group, a real life Glee Club. BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan was "gauging opinion across America -- by speaking to some of the real life versions of well known TV characters." Hm...

I was appalled by some of what the privileged students said, both by its arrogance and naivete. From one young man, "I'm not entirely sure if I'm going to be voting in the mid-term elections... " From a young woman, "... I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. I think that during his campaign he was a political rock star, and that really appealed to a lot of young voters. But I think that now during his presidency his policy really hasn't connected in the same way. I think, in many ways, what he said during his campaign was pretty hollow." Another 20-year-old man said he still had faith in Obama, and he understood that policies had moved slower than a lot of young people would like. But he understood that sometimes things took a while.

It's great to hear that some of America's brightest and best don't think it's worth their time to go to the polls and vote. Or that when Obama seemed more like a rock star (which he certainly was) she and her friends were happier, but when it came to the day-to-day reality of governing our nation, he couldn't snap his fingers and make all our enormous problems disappear.

I know this is a worry nationwide. But do these young men and women know absolutely nothing about our history, politics, and the way their government and Congress work in Washington, D.C.? What are their parents paying $50,000 a semester for?

My friends and I must have been in the first batch of 18 year olds who were allowed to cast our ballots in the United States of America. We couldn't wait to go to the polls and try to vote Richard Nixon out. We wanted nothing more than to have our voices heard, and we understood that this was a right as well as a privilege, and our forefathers and foremothers had fought like hell to get it.

Wake up, young women! Your great-grandmothers might have gotten their heads bashed in so you could vote!

So what's happened to this generation? Have our schools so utterly failed in teaching how important the right to vote is in a democracy? Are their parents not modeling any personal involvement in the issues, politics, and elections of their own communities, states, and nation?

I am sorry to say that some progressives have fanned the media flames about Obama not measuring up to some impossible ideal of fixing everything overnight. Anyone with political experience ought to know how Capitol Hill works. The best example of trying to walk into Washington and try to change things overnight was Jimmy Carter, and look what happened to him. Everyone now talks about what a bad president he was -- and what he tried to do was circumvent business-as-usual in Washington -- which is what these naysayers are promoting with Obama. These progressives have shot us all in the head and have helped open the door to the Democrats losing Congress to a bunch of conservative hate-mongers.

I suspect at least part of this incredible voting apathy is the result of these children growing up in a culture where George W. Bush and his cronies (and more recently John McCain and Sarah Palin) made the American political system and governance look like an arena for clowns and do-badders. Where our Constitution was spat upon by our leaders who were supposed to uphold it, and lying, cheating, and stealing -- anything to dupe the American people and win -- was rewarded, not only as A-OK but as good morality and high values. The crucible of Republican political operative Lee Atwater was ignored and his slimy tactics have been enshrined as The Republican Golden Rule -- or F**k Your Buddy or Neighbor or Brother.

And nutty and vicious talking heads like Glenn Beck or candidates like Sharron Angle have been selling meanness and hate as a political as well as a commercial commodity. And I'm sorry, they're pulling the wool over the eyes of people who the Republicans will never ever help, even in their most vulnerable moments. These people will repeatedly vote against their own best interest, because they've been taken in.


So I looked at this beautiful country of Georgia that is working hard to regenerate itself. To help its people feel confident again, so they will feel themselves and experience the validation that they have been seen and heard. And then I watched that Glee-like segment again.

Are you voting on Tuesday?

Anyone in these United States who doesn't vote ought to be ashamed of themselves. We truly are a nation of spoiled Americans. How many people in a multitude of other countries would give an arm to be in your place?

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com.

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