I had a particularly eloquent and inspiring sociology professor in college who said once, “You get the governance you deserve.” He mentioned this after a presidential election that had had a particularly sobering result–at least, from the perspective of many of his students. His comment really stumped me.
It wasn’t until many years later, standing in a voting booth, that I began to see some wisdom in his words. I perused an endless list of state and local propositions about which I knew next to nothing, and realized the ignorance and power I held simultaneously. People like me should not be making decisions, I realized, and it was time to do something about it.
I voted on the few issues and offices with which I was actually familiar, and turned my voting sheets in to a friendly volunteer. He started to chase me down the sidewalk. “You forgot a couple of pages,” he called out. “Wouldn’t you like to finish?” I was ridiculously embarrassed, but assured him that I had meant to leave it incomplete. I guess that’s what happens when you vote in a neighbor’s garage.
The following year, the voting salon was born. I may have hosted it first, but credit goes to dear friends who tweaked it, and now, organize and host it. The structure is simple: One person hosts, one person divvies up the ballot measures amongst the attendees several days in advance, and everyone with kids leaves them at home. Each person researches the two or three assigned propositions, and comes prepared to explain them, as well as the arguments for and against.
Discussion and friendly heckling ensue, aided by whatever supporting materials we have brought: fliers, articles, interviews, or laptops to research more during discussion. We are always interested to find out who got the proposition on the ballot, and who is funding the arguments for and against, but rarely do we have the time to figure it all out until we are piled in a living room together. Sometimes it is only during discussion that I realize a ballot measure with good intentions may be too sloppy or misguided to have the desired impact, or worse, a measure designed to read a particular way may have the opposite intent.
Our specialties range from art to business to public housing to teaching to health policy to law to digital media, and though we don’t always agree, discussion has remained civilized over the years. Perhaps that is due to the tasty snacks, a little levity, and moderate use of adult beverages. In any event, I always leave much better prepared for election day to roll around, and thankful for the chance to gather and talk about local issues that we have the power and responsibility to address.