Why do I vote?
I vote because I can.
I know it sounds trite, but it’s my truth. And it’s taken me a long time—and a little bit of yoga—to really understand it.
I vote because the act itself is meaningful. And because it gives me the legitimacy to later challenge the actions of those I voted for (or those I voted against). I can’t complain if I don’t participate.
We simply cannot rely on others to vote for us and we can’t step out of the process because we believe our vote doesn’t “count” or won’t matter. And we can’t expect one candidate to align squarely with our views or represent our interests perfectly–there would have to be millions of people on the ballot. We have to start somewhere.
But I also vote because others can’t.
In American presidential elections, we talk a lot about whose votes count and whose don’t. In other countries, many people’s votes really don’t count, because they have been coerced, elections have been rigged or set up just for show. In some places, people who care deeply about participating don’t vote because the system is driven by bribes and coercion or because they face the threat of outright violence if they go to the polls.
Even in this country, citizens who want to vote can’t. Serving as an election protection volunteer several years ago, I watched a long line of voters who had come to cast their ballots, some for the first time. Voters were turned away or nearly so for various reasons. A woman who spoke very poor English and whose non-American name was misspelled on the voting roll. A man who was not just in the wrong polling place, but in the wrong county—he thought he could vote here because he worked nearby.
Voting times, locations, absentee balloting processes and voter identification requirements don’t seem particularly onerous to those of us who are privileged, educated, regular voters. I remember accompanying my parents to vote before I was even tall enough to see the screen on the voting machine. It never seemed hard.
But for many people, voting procedures can make casting a ballot simply impossible. New voter ID laws in several states could prevent hundreds of thousands of voters—mostly young people, the poor and minorities who don’t have the necessary forms of identification—from casting a vote.
Our system is not perfect, and yes, money plays a huge and frankly shameful role in American elections. I can tell you from my own experience that the political process is frustrating and slow. Politicians debate what seem like the most insignificant details of policy that will never affect my life and ignore the huge problems, as if they were only concerned with pruning the flowers in the front yard while the house is on fire.
But the fact that I can observe the debate and have some say in the landscape design–by contacting or visiting my representatives in Congress and telling them I voted for them (or not)—is pretty powerful.
Our system is a democracy, one of the best in the world. And those of us can vote have the opportunity to show up and stand for all those who can’t. If we want the system to change, bowing out and staying home is simply not an option.
So what does voting have to do with yoga (or what does yoga have to do with voting)? Yoga, like the political process, is not a perfect system. It’s a practice, and not always a pretty one.
Some days we come to our yoga mat and it feels like a challenge just to take a deep breath. The practice is to be where we are in the moment, and to just show up.
If we wait until our bodies are perfect, until we have worked out all of our “issues,” until we have enough time for the yoga practice we want to do every single day, we will never make it to our mats and reap the benefits of even that single deep breath. Sometimes we can only worry about the flowers and leave the burning house until we’ve gotten grounded enough to step into the inferno.
We are privileged to have the opportunity to come to our yoga mats, over and over again, and engage in this practice that is truly a luxury. And by doing so, we become more mindful, more connected with ourselves and more grounded. So that we can step off of our mats and bring the yoga with us, in a way representing yoga for all those who don’t have the time, money, safety or security to experience yoga. We practice for them.
Many of us (although certainly not all) who live in the United States have the privilege of stepping into a voting booth and casting a ballot for the candidate we choose, without the threat of violence and with the knowledge that our vote will be counted.
How dare we stay home because the process, the system, the candidates or ourselves are not perfect? Showing up is the most essential step in the process, whether it’s yoga or voting. Start there and see what happens.
“Practice and all is coming.”
~ K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga Master
Kristin Adair is a yoga instructor with a lifelong passion for activism. An attorney by training, she spent six years as a lobbyist and legal counsel for non-profit organizations in Washington, DC, and has also worked on Capitol Hill and with the national staff for a presidential campaign. Today, she pursues her commitment to service both in and out of the yoga studio, including extensive work with the non-profit Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM). In 2011, she raised over $20,000 for Haitian NGOs through OTM’s Global Seva Challenge and traveled to Haiti to help put these funds to work on the ground. In addition to teaching yoga classes in studios around the DC area, Kristin offers yoga to underserved and at-risk youth and has collaborated to design and teach a yoga and art curriculum for incarcerated teens at a juvenile detention facility in Northern Virginia. Visit her website Live Awake Yoga.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta