Why didn’t we do more when we could?

by DG Martin

What is America’s most important holiday?

Here are a few hints.

• Your workplace or school will not close for the day.

• Most Americans will not observe it this year.

• It is close at hand. In fact, it is on Tuesday.

Answer: Election Day.

You may point out that Election Day is not an official holiday.

The first Monday after the first Tuesday in November is American democracy’s “holy day” and our most important public day. It is Thanksgiving, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King’s birthday and Veterans’ Day all wrapped up into a day of public decision and action.

It is what the pilgrims came here for, what Washington, Lincoln and other presidents stood for, and what our armed forces and Dr. King fought for.

The privilege of participating on Election Day is their legacy to us.

How will most North Carolinians show their gratitude on Tuesday?

Most of them will pass by the opportunity to visit the polls. They will not make the tough and imperfect choices that the election ballot presents. They will take the privilege for granted and pass by the opportunity to do their small part.

Not you, of course. If you are reading this column, I know you care enough about our country, our state, and your community to take time to vote on Tuesday.

So, am I just “preaching to the choir” of conscientious citizens?

No. I am getting ready to preach to them – including you and me.

Voting is important, but it is not enough. Just studying the list of candidates, driving to the polls, walking through the gauntlet of poll workers, perhaps even standing in line for a few minutes and casting your ballot – all these things are just a small part of what we could be doing to participate fully in this day’s celebration of American democracy.

Here is an easy additional activity for you to do on Tuesday. If there are poll workers trying to get your attention as you make your way into the polling places, don’t rush past them rudely saying, “Don’t bother, I’ve already made up my mind.”

Instead, take a minute or two with each one of them. Thank them for the time and interest they are showing in the election process. Ask them why they feel so strongly about their candidates or issues. They probably won’t change your mind, but you might learn something you did not know. Maybe you will learn something you did not know before. Then thank them for acting on their beliefs, even if you do not agree with them.

Listening to – and respecting – different views is not something we do best. In fact, a recent article in The Washington Post reports that we are usually drawn to people who think the same way they do.

“Sociologists call this phenomenon homophily, a somewhat grand word to describe the idea that birds of a feather flock together.”

The article quotes Duke University Professor Lynn Smith-Lovin, who says about election conversations, “I often hear people say with absolute certainty that whoever they are in favor of is obviously going to do well because they haven’t talked to anyone who supports the other person.”

On Election Day our differences are out in the open. We ought to celebrate them.

On the other hand, perhaps we ought to be working harder for the candidates and ideas in which we really believe.

Instead of just talking to the poll workers, maybe we should consider joining them or taking up some other task that improves our candidates’ chances of winning – even if what we do is only a little help.

Doug Marlette’s second novel, Magic Time, a story about the Civil Rights Movement, is set in Mississippi in the 1960s and 1990s. The lead character, a white southerner like Marlette, agonizes about why he did not do more in that cause. He wonders why it was his black friends, not his white ones, who were the heroes of those times. And he seems to ask for many of us, “Why didn’t we do more when we could?”

And, if all we do this Tuesday is vote, we could be asking ourselves the same question on Wednesday.