Yesterday, I am loath to admit, I voted strategically for the first time in my life. I didn't feel good about it. My brother, who lives in the same riding, voted with his conscience, but he didn't feel good about that either. I figure we cancelled each other out, and both felt lousy about what we'd done. Three cheers for democracy!
I'm not pleased with how I voted, and I can guarantee I won't do it again. Voting with conviction is much more empowering, even when you live in a riding where there is little hope that your vote will make a dent, or a difference. Democracy is not about avoiding what you don't like; it is about confidently supporting what you believe in.
No doubt my fear of the extreme right overrode my natural inclination to support the left, or centre left. I was, like many other Albertans, terrified of the Wildrose party, and the potential for political time travel a few decades into the past. For weeks I was baffled by the polling results predicting a Wildrose majority, and wondered who could possibly support such a backwards-leaning ideology.
In the final two weeks of the campaign, I'm thankful that enough layers were peeled back to expose the radical views held by many Wildrose candidates. I'm particularly relieved that those true colours led to a dramatic shift away from the party, not towards it. These views were well contained early on, but in my mind, purposely vague answers on contentious social issues are really code for, "Yes, we are anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-climate change but we wouldn't dare admit it because then no one will vote for us." Exactly.
I get annoyed when Albertans are painted with a giant stroke from the same wide brush, when it is assumed that we are all extreme right-wing radical rednecks. When I travel outside of Alberta I am often questioned about why on earth I live here. My reason for moving to Alberta was purely pragmatic -- it's the only place in the country with an indoor speed skating oval. Politics are irrelevant when chasing Olympic dreams.
For whatever reason, a lot of people seem to have a passive aggressive disdain for Calgary, and Alberta, even though most of them have never spent any measurable amount of time here. It's true that it is not perfect, but you will find fault with nearly every spot on the planet, if you look for it. Just because it leans farther right than I do doesn't mean it's a terrible place to live. There are plenty of examples, big and small, of progressive change happening here. I prefer to focus on the positive, and do my part to work on improving the negative.
Which is precisely why I feel like I let myself down. At the exact moment it mattered most, I bailed on my own values and gave into the fear.
Up until that last moment, I honestly didn't know whom I would vote for. My brain said "go strategic;" my heart said "go with your heart." I went with my brain, and my heart regrets it. The lesson for me here is one that applies to every aspect of our lives as human beings: The heart knows what it knows.
I can educate myself, and get the information I need to make an intelligent, informed decision, and in the end the right choice is the one that best aligns with your values, and who you are. Going against what you truly believe is a slight to the principles of democracy.
We all get one vote. In a world where, in so many countries, democracy still struggles to take root, it is a shame to waste that vote on foundations of fear, rather than using it to celebrate the privilege of using your voice. The beauty of a democracy is that we are free, and encouraged, to choose the people we feel best represent ourselves. When they win, we are happy to be heard, when they lose we know they will do their best to uphold, and defend our beliefs through the power of spirited debate and discourse.
I know this all sounds pretty, and ideological. Forgive me my naïveté. But I learned a valuable lesson this time around. I gave in to the cynicism of fear rather than trusting the strength of my individual voice. That is not the way I live my life, and it should not be the way I vote. I won't make that mistake again.