Tuesday mornings I try to go to the local farmers’ market. Almost all the vendors are Asian or Latino, so there are lots of interesting herbs and vegetables to try along with the onions and apples.
One vendor offers an ever-changing array of tree fruit from his farm in the San Joaquin Valley. He is a great favorite of market-goers, both for the quality of his produce and for his charm. He’s a tall, handsome, well-spoken guy in his mid-forties who likes to make conversation. Imagine a Mexican-American Rock Hudson in one of his mid-career agrarian roles. Over time, I’ve met his wife and kids, who sometimes help out during school breaks. He’s given me tips on the best variety of apricot and plum for jam and occasionally, I bring him a jar of the finished product. I’ll call him Rey.
Today, as I picked out my apples, Rey noticed the “I voted” sticker I wore on my jacket. I asked if he’d voted. He said it was too early when he left home, the polls hadn’t yet opened.
“You’re the perfect candidate for a permanent absentee ballot,” I told him. “Then you can vote by mail.”
“I’ll tell you the truth,” he said, leaning in, confiding in a whisper. “I’ve been able to vote for about twenty-five years now, and I’ve never felt the need to get involved.”
“But voting isn’t just for you,” I told him, eager as always to instruct my fellow citizens. “What about voting for things that will benefit people who can’t take care of themselves, like kids?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I guess I just wasn’t brought up to it. My parents never got involved in that stuff and I never saw the need. I come up here to the Bay Area and all the people who talk to me–doctors and dentists and teachers–they tell me how you have to think that way. They’re all Democrats, and what they say sounds pretty good to me.
“Then I go back home,” he continued, “and I talk to the same kinds of people, professionals. My own dentist,” he said, pointing to his teeth. “They’re all Republicans and they tell me all their reasons and they sound pretty convincing too.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” Rey said, “The way I look at it, politics is all about money and favors and greed and stuff I don’t want to deal with. I have enough pressure with the seasons and deadlines and my family life. So far, no matter how the elections come out, life is good.”
“May life always be good for you,” I said. “I agree about getting the money and greed out of politics. One of the things I want to do is vote for the policies that will change that.”
“Me too!” he exclaimed, his eyes growing wider.
“But you can’t,” I said, shrugging sadly. “You aren’t registered.”
This story is my personal gift to the Democratic Party. People are sick unto death of the corruption of national politics. In the absence of a credible alternative, they are choking on cynicism. If anything gets Rey to register and vote, it will be a crystal-clear message that voting Democratic means voting to get the money out of politics. It would be impossible to convey this message convincingly with both hands in corporate pockets, so I suggest cleaning up your act first. If you can’t do what’s needed to convince Rey to vote, we might as well pack it in and kiss democracy good-bye.