Bob Schwartz

Category: Voting

Lessons from the Election: Vote Even If You’re Not Fired Up or Feeling It

Many Americans are not happy with the results of this presidential election. And many of those  people did not vote, or are not even registered.

People have a lot of reasons for why they don’t vote. None of them are good.

You don’t have to be fired up and feeling it to vote.

Millions of Americans go to work every day not feeling it. They may not put a smile on their faces. They may curse their bosses and torture their coworkers at every opportunity. But they show up.

Millions of Americans have sex with their spouses or partners not feeling it. Sometimes, of course, this is because of coercion or aggression, which is a bad, bad thing. But sometimes it is to help the relationship and because they care.

The next election, don’t wait until you’re fired up or feeling it. Vote because you will win the right to legitimately complain (which non-voters don’t have this time around). Vote because something good might happen or something bad might be prevented. Vote because you care.

Four Freedoms Passover

Four Freedoms - Norman Rockwell

Passover is coming. The first seder meal will be held on the evening of Friday, April 22. Even for non-observant Jews, this holiday is frequently a time for participation. One estimate says that 80% of Jews attend some sort of seder.

This year I suggest we go way back for a Passover theme. Back to FDR’s Four Freedoms from 1941.

The overall order of the seder (“seder” actually means order) has been standardized for centuries—the blessings, the rituals, the symbolic food and drink, the songs, and most of all, the recitation of the events of the exodus from Egypt. But the text and the form and the meaning have been subject to remixing, some of it pretty adventurous.

In the modern era, the freedom embedded in Passover has been extended to all sorts of concerns. During the time of the civil rights movement, the obvious connection was made between ancient and modern oppression, and the struggle to end that oppression.

In 1969 Rabbi Arthur Waskow created a Freedom Seder, making this connection more direct. He explains:

One of my earliest and warmest memories is that of my father reciting the Dayenu, the chant of rebellion, liberation, travail, and the creation of a new law that is the story of Passover. One of my latest and warmest memories is that of working with my wife and children to make of our own Passover Seder something that would speak to our deep concerns about our selves and our world.

Our efforts became sharper and more urgent in 1968, when the Passover came one bare week after the murder of Martin Luther King, the April uprising of black Washington against the blank-eyed pyramid-builders of our own time, and the military occupation of our city. Who in
those days could forget that the prophet King had remembered Moses?– had spoken of how he had been to the mountain-top, had seen the promised land, but might never enter. … And then we realized that in 1969, the third night of Passover, April 4, would be the first anniversary of King’s death.

Since then, Passover has become the platform for seders centered around all kinds of affliction, oppression, aspiration and freedom. Women. LGBT. Poverty. Peace. The Earth. And so on.

One example of this concerns a new tradition that is widely practiced. The seder plate contains a number of foods symbolizing the story of the Egyptian captivity and the fight for freedom. Susannah Heschel conceived of one more thing to add:

So how was it that the orange found its place on the seder plate as a Passover symbol of feminism and women’s rights?

Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel and a scholar in her own right, says that at the height of the Jewish feminist movement of the 1980s, she was inspired by the abundant new customs expressing women’s viewpoints and experiences and started placing an orange on the seder plate.

At an early point in the seder, she asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community. She encouraged each guest to spit out the seeds in their orange segment to reject homophobia and hatred. The orange suggests the fruitfulness for all Jews when everyone in our community is a contributing and active member of Jewish life. (From The Wandering Is Over Haggadah,

On January 6, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered an historic State of the Union Address. The world was increasingly gripped by brutal tyranny. On top of that, America was still recovering from the effects of the Great Depression. And it seemed almost impossible for the U.S. to stay out of the global fight for freedom.

In the address, FDR summarized what freedom meant—and why we would fight for it, here and abroad. That statement became known as the Four Freedoms–Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Some will point out the hypocrisies and ironies of the statement. At that point in American history, millions were not free and were under attack because of their race, religion, and economic circumstances. Maybe the biggest irony of all is that the final call for disarmament and the final phrase “crash of a bomb” ultimately faced the reality of a horrific war and an unthinkable bomb to end it.

But as a goal and aspiration, the Four Freedoms still ring out. Maybe we can ring them this Passover.

The posters above are by Norman Rockwell. Maybe more famous than FDR’s speech are the propaganda posters that Rockwell painted based on the Four Freedoms. As with the speech, some complain that Rockwell’s America was over-idealized and far too white. Probably so, and the images themselves may look quaint and, from today’s perspective, backward looking.

To counter that, following are a couple of works from Ben Shahn, an illustrator who was contemporary with Rockwell, artistically his equal, culturally his opposite:

Ben Shahn was born in Kovno, Russia on September 12, 1898 to Joshua Hessel and Gittel (Lieberman) Shahn and died on March 14, 1969. A Jewish-born artist, muralist, social activist, photographer and teacher, he is best known for his works of Social realism…From May to June of 1933, Shahn served as an assistant to Diego Rivera while the artist executed the infamous Rockefeller Center mural. By circulating a petition among the workers to keep the mural on display, Shahn played an important role in fanning the controversy.

Among his many famous works, in 1930 Shahn created a series of watercolor drawings for a Passover Haggadah. In 1965 these drawings were incorporated into a complete haggadah. Here, in an illustration called The Bread of Affliction, the hand of God leads the people out Egypt:

Bread of Affliction 2 - Ben Shahn

And here is a bit of Shahn’s later work, part of a series of union posters urging people to register and vote:

M25958-1 001
Happy Passover! Let freedom ring!

Jim Wallis: Evangelical Voters Have Some Explaining To Do

Embarrasing to Be an Evangelical

Jim Wallis says that some Evangelical voters should be embarrassed.

Wallis is President and Founder of the Christian social justice organization Sojourners. It is impossible in short form to explain what treasures Jim Wallis and Sojourners are. So please visit the links to read the descriptions.

Wallis is a stubborn reminder of what he believes Jesus would expect from American Christians, in the face of some of their shortcomings, hypocrisy and grandstanding. No matter what your own faith preference, he is admirable as a brave and insistent conscience for America.

Please read today’s piece, “It’s Embarrassing to Be an Evangelical This Election:
The So-Called ‘Evangelical Vote’ Has Some Explaining to Do.

U.S. voter turnout is very low. But what if something is happening here?


U.S. Voter Turnout

Pew Research reports that “U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries.” But what if something is happening here?

What if U.S. voter turnout was more like Belgium (89% of voting age population)? Or Australia (82%)? Or Israel (76%)? To name just a few of the countries where people vote in great numbers.

Instead, U.S. voter turnout is mired at 54% of voting age population, just a few places from the bottom.

There are about 235 million Americans of voting age. If turnout increased to the top of the list (89%), that would increase the number of voters by 35% (89%-54%). Thirty-five percent of 235 million is about 82 million more voters.

82 million more voters. To put that in perspective, the winner of the last presidential election received about 66 million votes.

82 million more votes. Many young. Many not white. Many open to new ideas and proposals, as the old ones don’t seem to work so well. Many not committed to maintaining the status quo, which has not been all that good to and for them.

This is what should worry all the established political parties and politicians. And the establishments that depend on them and on predictable stability rather than change, radical or even incremental.

Except that the parties, politicians and establishments don’t seem, at least publicly, to be worried. They appear to believe that non-voting Americans won’t suddenly show up at the polls in great numbers to vote their own views and interests. And just in case, some of those establishments are ready to deploy tools to help keep those numbers down.

Sometimes history is a bending arc. Sometimes it’s a runaway train. Votes are the fuel. That train may already be rolling slowly. Getting ready to speed up.

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man

Suit and Tie: The Sad and Silly Syrian Election

Syrian President Assad Votes

It is reported that President Bashar al-Assad wore a dark suit and light blue tie for voting in today’s Syrian election. Good reporting. He looked good. So did his wife Asma.

Assad actually had opponents, the first time Syria has had a contested presidential election in fifty years. No one could think that this opposition meant anything. The other candidates could not think so. And yet there were supporters and voters at the polls, maybe out of fear, maybe out of hope, maybe just wanting to pretend things are normal. Some new normal, so that with one more term, a few more years added to his enlightened regime, there would be no more deaths after the 160,000, no more displaced and refugees after the millions.

Journalists and other nations are sworn by a sense of fairness and professionalism and diplomacy and sovereignty to pretend that this is an election, even if they have some quibbles. They might, if they had a better sense of irony or humor, treat it like Halloween or Mardi Gras. An occasion on which one dresses up to play the part of something you are not, say, a democratically elected leader in dark suit and light blue tie.

The U.S. also had an election during a civil war. Lincoln did have opposition and he did win. Whatever he wore when he voted, he certainly didn’t look as slick as Assad, nor was Mary Todd as socialite beautiful as Asma. By that point Lincoln was deeply tired and sick of the horrible conflict and would do anything he could to finally end it. The good news is that there would be only a few more months of war. The not so good news is that even with the good that came, it would take decades for the wounds to begin healing. The worst news, for Lincoln and the country, is that he would soon be assassinated.

Lincoln and the civil war were sad but never silly. Assad, in his dark suit and light blue tie, within this hollow semblance of an election, is sad and morbidly silly. Unlike Lincoln, he may be around for years, continuing to rack up votes and deaths. But looking real good.

The Most Significant Shutdown Front Pages

El Diario

Republicans should pay close attention to the front pages of America’s newspapers this morning, the first day of the government shutdown prompted by their obsessive opposition to Obamacare.

Most papers carry some version of “shutdown” or “gridlock,” with photos of John Boehner and Harry Reid, or John Boehner and Barack Obama (it’s all about John Boehner).

But the big story on two front pages is the opening of the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges. These two papers just happen to be two of the largest Spanish-language dailies—El Diario in New York (above) and La Opinion in Los Angeles (below).

La Opinion

Why is this significant for Republicans? Because they claim (but in their heart of hearts still may not believe) that here in the second decade of the 21st century, they can’t become an American national party without broad Latino support. That is true, but the fact is that a large part of that constituency is uninsured and is deeply interested in the benefits of Obamacare. This is reflected in those front pages. But the Republicans are sworn enemies of Obamacare, so committed that they are willing to put people out of work to do it. How can the Republicans be a party attractive to Latinos under that circumstance?

The answer is that they can’t. It is a circle Republicans cannot square. And no matter how much lip service they pay to underserved populations, everything they do says something else. Actions, like front pages, speak louder than words.

Moral Mondays

Moral Mondays

Today, Monday, June 3, is another Moral Monday in North Carolina. A Mega Moral Monday. Small and local right now, Moral Mondays have the potential to be the kind of broad movement that in recent years progressives have wanted but so far been unable to achieve.

In May, the North Carolina NAACP began peaceful protests each Monday at the General Assembly. The civil disobedience is meant to bring attention to legislative curbs on Medicaid expansion, workers’ rights and voting rights, and to the lack of legislative progress on gun control and public education funding. There have been an increasing number of arrests of activists, 153 so far. This week, the protests are expanding across the state.

All movements are more likely to fall flat than catch fire. The Occupy movement reflected real dissatisfaction and outrage, but never sufficiently articulated the underlying principles that would galvanize people to commit and to connect with each other in big numbers.

Moral Monday is built on a foundation that is at the heart of what bothers so many Americans. As is apparent from many of our political controversies, some of those who claim the moral high ground sometimes seem to ignore possible moral shortcomings in their policies, e.g., a Christian imperative to lift the poor and heal the damaged may be at odds with extreme cuts in government support and programs. (In this regard, see questions about Ayn Rand that arose in the most recent election.)

Moral Monday simplifies what is admittedly a set of very complex issues to a very basic baseline: If you claim, by the light of faith or by a sense of enlightened humanity, to believe in moral action, then your idea of morality must be your primary guide. You are free to choose that morality; no constitution, no set of laws, nothing can or should move it. But once you have chosen, and especially after you say it loudly every Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, or on whatever days you proclaim your core beliefs, your duty is to act on it. If you don’t act morally, or if you try to rationalize around that morality for some supposed greater cause, you are only human, but should investigate and consider your action, and even your possible hypocrisy.

Moral Mondays may not make it beyond North Carolina. But it is possible that in a little while, all around the country, more and more people will start the week by taking a stand and, if necessary, getting arrested for it. There is a global and historic tradition for this sort of action, and great change has been made.

Thank you North Carolina NAACP. Mondays will never be the same.

Political Speeches As Mass Shout-Outs

Some political audiences still get fired up by pandering platitudes and principles, even if the words are not backed up by any substantive proposals, or by any proposals at all.

This is sometimes punctuated by the occasional mention of a target interest group, just to show that the politico is paying attention to them. Once again, this might not be attached to anything concrete, but it often does the trick.

It is time for this to be taken to the next level.

A really bold and innovative politician could skip the platitudes, principles and proposals. Instead, entire speeches could be built out of the names of places, organization and people. If this sounds too much like reading an atlas, almanac or phone book out loud, without context, that is precisely the idea.

Depending on the crowd, this would be a string of guaranteed cheer and applause phrases. Las Vegas. Wichita. National Rifle Association. Veterans of Foreign Wars. Latinos. Blacks. Women.

This is far from an uncreative exercise. In fact, it is a sort of minimalist poetry, idea and intention reduced to the smallest possible expression. Obviously, there are a few pitfalls, so care must be taken. Saying the word “Nazi” out of context can be trouble; saying it in relation to saying “Jews” may be more or less trouble, without the benefit of further explanation.

All in all, this would be an exciting and enlightening direction for our politics to take. We can stop wondering and fretting about speeches filled with air and little more. The pretense would be gone; speeches could once again be rooted in reality, or at least in one political reality. That reality, which lives alongside the genuine value of getting things done, is the value of getting elected or getting someone else defeated. And then there is the value, if just for a moment, of giving a little harmless recognition to folks who are waiting, maybe quixotically, for much more.

Citizens United Lives: Money Will Still Buy Elections

Thomas Nast
In the aftermath of the election, a certain joyous complacency has set in regarding Citizens United and the impact of Big Money on the electoral process. A derisive attitude of “epic fail” has attached to Sheldon Adelson, Karl Rove and all the others who seemingly wasted their billions (or other people’s billions) on influencing the results. Some have wondered out loud about how much real good those billions would have done for a country and world in need.

In fact, the money was merely mismanaged, channeled into outdated and ineffective strategies, and thereby wasted. But that will not last. There are plenty of talented operatives and strategists out there, even now working on better ways to address electoral problems using modern means. Yes, they are outnumbered by old school consultants relying on some combination of charm, reputation and useless technique, but like the blind squirrels, even Big Money will find the acorns sometimes.

And when the billionaires do find the operatives working on the cutting edge of 21st century electoral influence, what many feared would happen in the 2012 election—but didn’t—will eventually happen. Elections will be bought, even on behalf of those candidates who appear to some as unqualified and even clownish.

It’s time to stop laughing at Karl Rove’s misfortunes and start doubling up on the efforts to neutralize the impact of Citizens United. Proposals are out there, ranging from enhanced disclosure to a constitutional amendment. Whatever the approach, pursue it now. It’s the only way to avoid the Wednesday morning in November we didn’t have, the one where we wake up shaking our heads and asking: How in the world did that happen?

Why Vote?

If you are someone who thinks that voting is pointless, that “they” (the people in power) only use it to give you the illusion of power, that “they” (those same people) are all the same, no matter what their party, you are misguided but not beyond redemption.

Today is an early voting day, and those who showed up at the county board of elections offices understand some of the reasons to vote:

It Matters

Do the math. In local elections especially, your vote may represent a fraction of a percent of a major public decision. Even in the broader-scale elections, at the state or national level, we know that elections are regularly decided by a few hundred votes. Yours could be one of them.

It’s Valuable

This is a line that seems a corny cliché, but if you think so, shame on you. Americans have died so that their countrymen and people around the world can enjoy this privilege. Things worth dying for are by definition valuable.

It’s Community

Absentee voting is effective and important, but if you vote at a polling place, you get a unique experience, especially at early voting. Precincts tend to be homogeneous in most places, in terms of class, race, etc. But entire counties tend to cut across those lines. We have precious few opportunities to stand up with the people who live nearby but not next door. Again, it may be corny, but in that polling place, it is no more or less than one person, one vote. Everything else is irrelevant.

It’s Fun

The naysayers and sophisticates may say that, sure, voting is fun, the same way that beanbag and Keystone Cops silent comedies are fun—for a bunch of really ancient and out of touch citizens. Not true. Fill in a little oval on the ballot and you can elevate the worthy and kill the evil, electorally speaking. What could be more fun than that?

You Get A Sticker