Accountability and the Ballot Box

“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.’ ” – – from Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay The American President.

Companies have cultures…and the best companies have cultures by design, cultures that are consciously created, and defended by the people who work within the organization. I do not often talk about this, but it is equally true that countries have cultures.

As an American, I am lucky enough to live in a country whose culture is one that has been consciously designed. Our culture is one in which we hold as self-evident the truth that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is the culture we aspire to. That is America. But as Aaron Sorkin points out in the passage I quoted at the top of this post, America is not easy. This designed culture of ours, beautiful as it looks when written down on a sheet of paper, isn’t something we can just read passively and assume will exist for us without effort. We have to live it. And we have to defend it.

As Americans, we need to ask ourselves: How do we best defend our consciously designed culture, the culture of democracy, the culture of a government by the people, of the people, and for the people? Here is my answer: By voting.

I do not care about whom you vote for, but I do care about whether you vote. I believe that, for people who are blessed to live in a democracy, voting is the truest fulfillment of the accountability commitment that I call “It’s All of Us.”  Democracy is a collaborative undertaking. We do it together. That means if you fail, I fail. If you succeed, I succeed. The act of voting defines our democracy; choosing not to vote weakens our democracy. This is why I tell people that, when it comes to defending the designed culture in which we live, we are each obliged to exercise the right to participate in local, state, and federal elections by casting a ballot. Commitments are non-negotiable. Our commitment as adult citizens to the nation in which we live, our commitment to “It’s All of Us,” must be defended by the act of voting. Period.

That means overcoming any excuses we may tell ourselves and try to sell to others about why we shouldn’t participate at the ballot box: that voting doesn’t matter, that the democratic process is somehow flawed or unworthy of us, or even, as Sorkin’s words suggest, that people with whom we disagree may end up winning attention and influence. None of that matters. What matters is that we defend the culture.

America is not easy. America constantly challenges us to defend its core principles, to rise above our excuses, and to participate directly in the realities of a democratic society. The very best way for each of us to do that, and to fulfill our personal commitment to “It’s All of Us,” is by casting our vote. As it is in our country it is also in our organizations. We must work for accountability. It’s never easy.

If you have not yet registered to vote this November 3, please defend the culture of democracy right now by going to vote.gov.

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