In Defense of Indifference

Why I don't vote

The biggest news coming out of the 2014 midterm election has nothing to do with the actual results at the polls or the bigger questions about What It All Means. The numbers tell the story: The turnout for these midterm elections was the worst in 72 years. For those who can do both math and history, that was right in the middle of World War II.

I am one of the many who bypassed this civic duty. And I don't pretend like I'm some brave pariah for claiming this— because chances are that most people reading this are fellow members of the non-voting majority.

This is a strange column for me to write. Coming into Harvard, I was convinced that I would go into politics. But that didn't last long. My freshman advisor, upon hearing of my mid-freshman year political disillusionment crisis, simply chuckled as he acknowledged the long, proud tradition of politically ambitious students falling by the wayside in pursuit of more esoteric academic interests. After all, he had been one of them. But he probably would not have expected me to have gotten to this point.

I am aware of countless calls to exercise my "civic duty." I did not disregard these calls because I thought that the rest of my life was more important. It wasn't a matter of will. I did not vote because I couldn't bring myself to care enough about the results.

To hear pundits say it, this indifference will bring the inevitable downfall of our nation. 


Is not voting an unpardonable transgression in modern-day American politics? Is it somehow spitting in the face of the sacrifice of countless men and women who died to ensure that we have this fundamental right? If this is indeed the case, then I am of all people to be most despised.

But this false appeal to nationalism that somehow compels us to vote is thoroughly misguided. Yes, my right to vote is, in an abstract sense, a result of people making sure that this nation became and stayed free. But voting is simply a sign of something greater: An unfaltering optimism that we can take the necessary steps to ensure that this remains the land of equal opportunity.

It is not a far-fetched statement to say that the current political environment is not accomplishing this explicit goal. At this point, exercising the right to vote is about making  statement, even if no tangible change will come out of it. Once we make politics about statements, however, we are undercutting its very purpose. The purpose of politics is making people's lives better—not standing behind some grandiose, oftentimes abstract idea. It's interesting to me that we despise politicians who go to Washington simply to make a statement. But these politicians are the ones fulfilling the wishes of the general populace.

Does this mean that I do not want to make the world a better place? Of course not. What it means, though, is that putting my hope on a select group of people and hoping that they continue to make this a land of free opportunity is, not for lack of a better term, lazy. 

People who want to see the world changed will not be stopped when the candidate who most closely espouses their ideas get elected. And heaven forbid that people become complacent when the candidate with whom they do agree is elected. Government is meant to simply be another avenue through which change happens. And when it doesn't accomplish that, we have every right to hand back the ticket and say that we will make, regardless of who's in office. 

My failure to vote is not a statement. It is a clear step towards a better America—one that doesn't rely on who sits behind the mahogany desk with the name tag on which my current geographic location is imprinted, but on groups and communities who ignore the political gridlock, become indifferent to whether a donkey or an elephant controls the Senate, and make tangible changes to the world around them. You don't need the approval or support of bureaucrats to do that.

Al Fernández '17, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Eliot House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.


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