Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Voting for Change

I’ve spoken with many people about the issue of voting over the years and one of the comments I get most often is from people reasonably happy with the status quo who say that if people want change, then they need to get out there and vote. Yes, that’s true. To initiate change, you need to get out there and vote.


Here’s the problem with that assessment: both parties have vested interests in keeping the status quo as it is. Only rarely does a politician come along who wants to completely upset the cart and do things in a different way.

For example, in the previous presidential election, both parties fought like hell to keep the status quo. Republicans didn’t want Trump. Democrats didn’t want Bernie Sanders. Both parties did what they could to ensure their preferred candidates won. The Democrats succeeded; Republicans failed. Then they embraced Trump.

So what happens is that when you vote for change, you’re voting for a candidate who is working within the system, and if that candidate wins, he or she is now butting heads against a machine that cannot be easily overthrown. Lobbyists and elected officials from both parties have certain expectations.

A newcomer has limited options. Seniority counts for a lot in politics. Pay your dues and be a good soldier and maybe a few years down the road you’ll get to wield real power. So it doesn’t matter that your constituents voted for change because the people you have to work with don’t want that. They want things the way they’ve always been. And if you fight them too much, you become irrelevant, and even despised by your own party.

So people vote for change, expecting (or at least hoping for) it to come this time even though it never really has for the past four or eight or twelve elections. After a number of failures, they give up and decide that voting doesn’t really matter.

They voted for change in the last six elections and either their candidate lost (the most likely outcome) or their candidate won and wasn’t able to instigate change. Sometimes the change candidate tried to make a difference and failed, and sometimes the change candidate got into office and changed into a traditional politician.

The bottom line is that change didn’t happen. How do you motivate those people who have not done well under the status quo to keep on voting, election after election, when every promise of change is broken.

Of course the people who are doing well will vote. They’ve done well by the system. Why wouldn’t they keep voting? But those left behind do not have unlimited patience. They hear the hollow promises and sometimes they believe them, like Charlie Brown and his football, always yanked away by Lucy at the last second.

Eventually they decide to stop playing the game. And who can blame them?

So yes, we should all get out there and vote, but we need to be aware that even if we win in our efforts to seek change, we’re still unlikely to get it, at least not for a long time. Real change takes years, sometimes decades, sometimes even revolution. The entrenched interests that run this country cede ground slowly, fighting to retain every last yard.

Your vote is a teaspoon of dirt, but it’s not nothing.


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