In the Kevin Costner movie Swing Vote, the outcome of a presidential election comes down to the vote of just one man. That man is Kevin Costner. What does this Kevin Costner movie tell us about the power of the vote, about how every vote counts, about how every voter makes a difference? I don’t know. It’s not 1992. I don’t watch Kevin Costner movies any more.
In real life, the outcome of a presidential election once came down to the votes of just 537 people. I forget who won, who invaded where, and how many people were tortured as a result, but the lesson here is even if you’re not a very talented actor you can still make movies by trading on the goodwill from that time you played Robin Hood and snogged Whitney Houston back when she was clean.
As you’ll recall from one of my many epiphanies, back in my hardcore cynicism days I didn’t bother voting, thinking I was sticking it to the man. I’m past that but I get why other people aren’t. Both sides of the for-and-against are pretty convincing. On the pro-vote side you’ve got “every vote counts” and “people fought for yer basic suffrage” and “people died for yer basic democracy”. On the anti-vote side you’ve got “I’m just one person” and “politics blows”. The problem here is both sides are right. Politics is corrupt and cynical and grubby and grasping but it’s also not. Politics has brought us scandal and outrage. It brought us Watergate and Iran-Contra and cash for questions and corporate lobbying and MPs’ expenses and Donald Fucking Trump. But it’s also brought us great things that have helped millions of people. It brought free healthcare to most thinking countries. It brought marriage equality to most of the west. It emancipated some proclamations. Politics has done some great and terrible things. Much like Kevin Costner.
If both sides are right, how do you vote without cynicism about the whole process, the promises, the candidates, the parties, the electoral colleges and the grubbiness of the whole thing? How do you take part in a lousy system without feeling like you’re propping it up, like you’re rewarding it for being how it is? The unfortunate answer is… you don’t. But you should vote anyway, and take a shower afterwards. Because Donald Trump taught us the cost of not voting is higher than we can bear.
That can be sore for people who want only to do unambiguous, uncompromising good. But for me, now, voting isn’t only about idealism or the perversion of idealism. It’s not a search for the perfect candidate or the party that will solve all our problems in one go. What it can be, if we do it right, is a solid bit of activism. In one act we can move a bunch of stuff forward, even if other stuff stalls. We put a cross in a box and one day a country gets invaded or not. One day gay people can get married or not. One day we cut CO2 emissions or not. Get what you want on those issues, that’s a whole bunch of petitions you won’t have to sign, a whole load of marches you won’t have to set out on. And that frees us up to campaign on whatever else got left behind. So we vote for healthcare, we march for the minimum wage.
Voting works. At its most basic the maths works. Every corrupt politician, every lousy and lazy representative was voted in because not enough people voted for a better one. Every assault on LGBT people, every backtrack on reproductive rights, every human-hurting bit of corporate deregulation, every planet-hurting environmental rollback happened because more people voted for the baddies than the goodies. And without us the baddies will keep winning.
Voting is the ultimate Butterfly. It’s the ultimate example of individual action adding up to global change. These massive changes that shape generations just take a little bit of box ticking, a little bit of optimism and belief, a little bit of cynicism and vigilance. And you. Get on it.
Some stuff will get better
And we won't stop there!
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Like most of you, when I first saw WALL-E I assumed it was a documentary and was relieved to find we had at last discovered a solution to the madness of short-term landfillery. However, on attempting to contact and marry EVA, Pixar security guards informed me not just that I would be charged with breach of the peace but also that the film was a work of speculative fiction.
Devoted as you are to yer man The Zero, and as closely as you monitor my good works, you’ll be aware I do the odd bit of fundraising in spite of hating it almost completely. The past few years I’ve been meddling with Yaknak Projects, a small charity set up by a few friends to run two children’s home in Nepal. They need £16,000 a year to keep the homes running, a delightful spot of constant pressure that cheers them greatly.
As you’d expect from a man in my position, I have literally thousands of children. The groupies that gather at the foot of Zero Towers are as fertile as they are up for it, and the rise of my master race is progressing nicely. Sadly, due to the sheer size of my collective progeny, all of whom are disabled rad-fems, I am unable to support any of them financially or emotionally, thus creating twice as many social problems as I was hoping to solve.
So there I was a few weekends back, minding me own business, spending a reasonably pleasant day in the company of friends, or at least people paid to be friendly towards me on account of how my fame prevents anyone getting too close, when I witnessed what can only be described as a road traffic accident, being as how it was an accident involving traffic that took place on a road. I won’t lie to you: it was full on proper scary.
With the Olympics all done with and the Paralympics prepping itself for interest considerably less feigned than usual, it’s time to reflect on the heroes at whom we marvel, the champions who capture our hearts, the icons who inspire a generation. Jessica Ennis. Usain Bolt. Me.
That whooshing sound round the back of your head was February going past us and past me and past this blog in particular. Being as how I’m spending my days chained to the desk writing essays and my nights chained to the desk drooling on them, the old do-gooding has taken a back seat of late. Unless you count the social work. Which no one does. Tell people you want to be a social worker, they make like you’ve offered them a glass of cancer flavoured piss.
The problem with this social work lark is although I’m getting stuck in to solid gold do-gooding on a daily basis, the confidential nature of it all means it ain’t worth shit for blogging. I go out, I do good, I come home, I write essays, I use every drop of energy and I’ve got on non-blogging activities and meanwhile this place gets neglected and cobwebbed and dusty and forgotten, going all potty and Miss Havisham and playing bridge with Buster Keaton.
You’ll recall how last year I finally worked up enough balls to give up a safe job in the middle of recession and go back to uni. And how I’m now training as a social worker, taking my meddler status from amateur to professional. You’ll recall all of this because you are, in the act of reading this blog, engaging in the last legal form of stalking. You’re watching me from afar, waiting for the right moment to ask for an autograph, tell me you’re my biggest fan, or take me to your underground den of torture and have me as your bride.
They say the word ‘hero’ is overused these days, applied to anyone who kicks a ball into a net or resists the metric system or rescues orphans from a burning paedophile ring. But I’d argue in some cases the word ‘hero’ is not used enough. I’m thinking particularly here in the case of me.