The book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is nothing new under the sun. Well, I say Ecclesiastes was wrong. Recently, I heard about a notion that is not only new under our sun, but frankly, new under any star or planet: a standstill parade.
Yes, my friends, tucked away in Whalan, Minn., is the famous standstill parade, held annually in May, in which the floats, bands, Shriners, and politicians all park along the side of the road. The parade is stationary — it’s the crowd who marches up and down the street. In short, the bystanders become the active participants.
After giving my brain synapses a moment to reset, I realized it is a fabulous idea — not only for a parade, but in life. So often, we as human beings have a tendency to be stationary, to sit passively by. The worst example? The parade to the voting booth.
In 2012, only 53.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the general election. The Washington Post reported that the top excuse for those who didn’t vote in 2014: they were “too busy.” And according to an August 2016 Pew Research Report, the U.S. lags behind most developed countries in voter turnout, landing 31st among the 35 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Embarrassingly, our turnout rate has not surpassed 65 percent since at least 1948.
Let me share two powerful, yet contrasting images with you. The first comes from an appearance I recently made in immigration court on behalf of a friend who was applying for citizenship. As we waited for our case to be called, we surveyed the parade of diverse faces standing in that courtroom petitioning for citizenship. These were people who had waited and worked for years to get the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen, people who yearned for the right to vote (something many of them had never been able to do in their home countries), people who desperately wanted to become active participants in the American dream.
After our hearing, we left the courthouse and, standing on the subway platform, overheard the following conversation between two young women:
Friend 1: “OMG. I’m so not voting.”
Friend 2: “Right? Seriously. Such a waste of time.”
Friend 1: “They’re both just so not what I want.”
Friend 2: “Puh-lease”
Friend 1: “There is no WAY I’m standing in those voting lines for that!”
Friend 2: “Totally.”
To hear that conversation on the heels of watching the candidates in immigration court made my blood boil. Here were our own citizens tossing aside a right so many were waiting, longing, and sacrificing to have. How tragic, given that our nation was built on the coveted promise that each person has a voice in how we construct, staff and run our government. And it is doubly tragic for the many groups who battled for years to earn that right.
I wonder, for example, what Susan B. Anthony would say to those two young women on the subway platform. What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who fought to pass the Voting Rights Act, say to those who opt not to vote because they don’t feel like their votes matter? What would Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Bill of Rights, say to any citizen of this country who chooses to passively watch the election parade march by because they felt they were simply “choosing between two evils?” I think they would be horrified — horrified and furious, that we think so little of our right to vote in an election in which so much is at stake. America is facing crushing issues of poverty, hunger, racism, unemployment, homelessness, immigration, health care, public safety and terrorism. We have candidates that are starkly differently, scarily different, in how they approach these issues.
It’s time to stop wasting our voices.
It’s time to step up and start participating.
It’s time for a “standstill parade” — where we move out from under our excuses and passivity and into an active, full involvement in the future of this country. If we care anything about what we leave to our children and our children’s children, then we must exercise our civic power and vote. As a plaque in the Holocaust museum in Washington warns, “Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”