In Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life—one of my top five favorite movies of all time—there’s a scene I think about a lot. In the film, Brooks’ character Daniel is recently deceased, and must relive some of the most painful, petty, and cowardly moments from his life for a panel of afterlife judges to review. One of these snippets sees Daniel, fresh from a divorce, attempting to board a plane to Japan using his last bit of savings. When the ticket agent asks him if he’d like a slightly more comfortable seat for a great deal more money, he pauses for a split second before agreeing to the absurdly high fee. Even in the afterlife, he stands by his ridiculous decision. Because he knows what all of us know who have had to spend significant amounts of time at LAX: flying sucks. Taking a plane sucks. Being in an airport is horrible. But when all is said and done, it’s the only practical way we have of getting where we’re going.
I don’t know why this is what the process of voting calls to mind–maybe it’s the fact that they’re both necessary acts that place human bodies in a sharp, noxious environment of too-loud music, too-fluorescent lighting, and possibly the worst part of all: the company of others.
It seems ridiculous that every two years we find ourselves in the same place in regard to the problems of this country: begging for the side of good to prevail over what can only be called evil.
For these reasons and more, I break down crying a few hours before I go on a flight, or jury duty, or to the DMV. It feels babyish and stupid, but the tears still come, heedless of how silly I personally find them. I know there’s something horrible I have to do—it’s going to take a long time, I’m going to be uncomfortable, and I’m not going to feel remotely good for any part of it. But I have to.
Voting is one such hellish errand: I hate everything about it. It combines everything I hate: putting on clothes, leaving the house, interacting with other people, and thinking about politics. It’s depressing, it f*cks up your whole day, and I don’t know a single person—except maybe my father—who actively likes doing it. But we have to do it.
It seems ridiculous that every two years we find ourselves in the same place in regard to the problems of this country: begging for the side of good to prevail over what can only be called evil. This year is one of the worst in recent memory, perhaps outdoing even the Trump era’s military ban and Draconian immigration policies, or at the very least adding to them. We’ve lost Roe, trans kids and adults, along with their supportive cis families and doctors, are being pushed out of their home states due to exclusionary policies. We have the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and its copycats. The right’s attack has been focused on “protecting” the children from what they see as the evil influence of the left, with queer and trans people being positioned as the chief corruptors of American innocence. So vote we must. It’s the only way to get where we’re going.
I don’t think about voting in terms of actually making the change that we’ve been arguing for forever. The radical change we need seems so far removed from the world of politics and scolding figures telling you that voting is important and that if you don’t get what you want out of any given election, it’s your fault. But it’s not the fault of people who are too ill or otherwise unable to get to a polling place without help, or the people living in counties that are corrupt and hell-bent on having the votes of certain groups not be counted. It’s not anyone’s fault. The system is broken. This country has been broken since its “founding.” Anyone with a brain can see that.
The system is rigged, yes. And it’s not fair, and it’s not right. Nothing is. But voting, for right now, is all we have in a democracy.
It’s hard to vote in a country that doesn’t respect your humanity. It’s hard to get up every day in that country and face another round of crap targeting you and the people you care about. But it’s the country we have. It’s the only way to get where we’re going.