Sunday, May 1, 2011

Impossible Choices

My daughter invented a new holiday a few years ago: Birthday Eve. Like Christmas Eve, Birthday Eve is characterized chiefly by excitement about the next day, but occasionally a present or two can be opened the night before.

Tonight does not feel like Birthday Eve.

Tomorrow we will vote. (Oh, please tell me you will vote. Think of the people who have died around the world, in the last six months, for precisely the right you are willing to throw away. I don't think any of them were expecting a perfect candidate before they would exercise their franchise. Please, please vote.)

I am torn in this election though. Deeply torn. I live in what's called a "swing riding." In the last election, the incumbent lost by 17 votes. In that election, I voted with my conscience. Afterwards, when I saw who actually won and what it contributed to, I realized that my conscience would have been fairly happy voting with the incumbent. I knew a good dozen other people who felt the same way.

So, fast-forward to this spring. And here is my choice: do I vote tomorrow for what I want or vote against what I don't want? If I vote against what I don't want -- "holding my nose" as I've been hearing people say -- how am I different from the thing I don't want, the leader who has moved from principle to what I see as complete corruption on the basis of expediency?

And yet, it came down to 17 votes the last time and the polls say it will be this close tomorrow night again.

The books I'm reading counsel me. I read a biography of Bonhoeffer a few months back, and I've had to consider what the German pastor who was instrumental in a plot to kill Hitler, would do in this situation.

When I think about casting my vote according to my conscience, I am of mixed minds too. I feel like a fool - but maybe a holy fool, a Shakespearean fool, rather than a complete idiot.

Here my reading of the memoir of Christian Peacemaker Team kidnap victim, James Loney speaks into the situation. He writes, "Do we choose the power of threat, ultimatum and consequence, gun and bomb, or the power of love, solidarity and compassion, patience and reconciliation? Is it the power of domination and subjugation or the power of nurturing and collaboration? Is it the power to destroy or the power to heal, to take life or give life?"

In the moments when I have been quiet and still, at peace with myself, I lean this way. This is more me. It is better to choose love rather than fear. The cross looked like failure even more than casting a lone, useless vote for a party that cannot win. And yet.

I went into the headquarters of the party of my choice a few weeks back and volunteered for them for a half an hour or so. The one thing I wouldn't do, I said, was to canvass because I could not fault those who had decided to vote against what I too do not want.

Over and over again, this process reminds me of vaccination: the people who decide not to have their children vaccinated depend on the majority deciding otherwise. If we all refrained, our kids would die of smallpox and other eradicated diseases.

Here the problem is not the individuals so much as the system. In a proportional representation system, no one would be urging me to choose the fearful response, and we would all be free to vote according to our consciences and our visions of the world.

But that is not the world we live in. My task tomorrow - and yours too - is to sort out what it means to live with hope and idealism in a very real world. And to vote.


  1. Restrained, well said. This will be the hardest election I've participated in...I hate having to coolly stratigize. I am overwhelmed by the strong feelings of friends, those particularly who feel led to speak out, write even, about their convictions and decision. These are people who never talk 'politics' openly. This birthday 'eve' is - butterflies in the stomach.

  2. I'm in the same boat. I've always prided myself on voting for the candidate particular if he/she promises to vote their conscience rather than blindly following the party line. However I'm a former card carrying NDPer - my riding in Toronto elected Dan Heap and is now Olivia (Layton) Chow's riding. This election I'll vote strategically for Karen Redman even though I'm impressed with Thurley. Fortunately I don't have to hold my nose as Karen is head and shoulder better than Woodworth and has more experience than Thurley. My suggestion to you is to do what James and Erin are doing: vote pair with someone in another riding. Anyone but Harper!

  3. I held my nose and voted last weekend, and since then I've prayed, "your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!"

  4. I have attempted a vote pair but alas - no match.