Next Tuesday is Election Day in Mississippi. If voting trends hold true, fewer than 40 percent of those eligible to vote will actually cast ballots. It also means that progressives probably won't see many victories over conservative candidates.
Disengagement from politics is easy when no one candidate takes a progressive stance on all issues. In Mississippi, it pays to be conservative or moderately conservative. Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood is gung-ho on the death penalty, for example, and every Democrat on the ballot wants you to believe he or she supports the Personhood Initiative. If nothing else, it's politically expedient to take such stances here.
And, yet, sitting on the sidelines—and sitting out the vote—is exactly the wrong tactic to initiate a change in the system. No one has ever said challenging the status quo is easy, but if there is one thing we can count on, it is that everything can and does eventually change. How it changes is up to us.
If progressive voters in Mississippi become cozy in their defeatist mantles and don't vote, nothing will ever change politically. Because here's the thing: Not voting is voting. Every vote not cast—out of frustration or disgust or a belief that it doesn't matter anyway—is actually a vote for the opposition. Not voting is casting your lot for the way things already are and have always been.
Democracy simply does not work without citizen participation. Lack of engagement in our political system has resulted in a Congress with the lowest approval rating in the history of congressional approval ratings: A mere 9 percent of those polled last month approve of the job Congress is doing. Almost no one in America is happy with what our politicians are up to in Washington, yet we're the ones who put them there.
In spite of what might look like impossible odds, this is exactly not the time to give up. Now is the time to seize the initiative and make things happen.
First, go and vote on Tuesday. Regardless of whether you need to hold your nose to do it, participate in your democracy and make your voice heard.
Second, get engaged in the process. Start by talking about issues with friends and family. While it may not be polite to discuss politics, would you rather be polite or affect change? If you're up for a bigger role, participate in organizing for the next election, whether that's knocking on doors or fielding new candidates.
Third, tell your party what you want and expect from it. Especially if you're young or have good, innovative ideas to share, your energy and enthusiasm can bring new vigor to a party mired in pessimism and the status quo.
It's up to all of us to do something to move politics forward. If not now, progressives, when?