All bartenders know there are three things you don’t ask patrons about: their age, religion, and politics.
Every election cycle, when discourse inevitably increases around politics, there is a vocal chorus that reaffirms their silence. “I’m not political,” they’ll say, or “politics don’t really interest me.” They’ll use that line to shut down the conversation, which often works. And their cousin at the dinner table, their coworker at the water cooler, will respect that response and switch instead to commiserating about the latest episode of Game of Thrones or the donuts at the office yesterday.
It’s perfectly understandable all around. The person who changes the topic is acting on their native instinct to keep the peace. They have to break bread with their cousin every Sunday; they have to collaborate with that colleague every day. And the person who shut the conversation down feels frustrated by the dog and pony show that is politics, and by a history of feeling disconnected from, and perhaps disenfranchised by the political elite.
Claims of not needing to pay attention to or participate in the political process have become a reflexive non-action that is widely accepted in our culture. More than 40% of registered voters didn’t turn out to vote in the last two presidential elections. Many people don’t know who their representatives are or how the electorate process works. Some will wear this ignorance as a badge of honor. They proclaim their expertise in baseball or pop culture or auto mechanics, as if politics were a fluffy elective or extraneous hobby that can be plucked from a buffet of topics and discarded without consequence.
What these so-called “apolitical people” don’t realize is that political life does not exist in a vacuum. Political decisions dictate every aspect of our lives, from the bills we pay each month, to the education our kids get, to the very air we breathe.
To say that you’re removing yourself from the discussion is admitting that you don’t understand that there is no way to disentangle politics from your life simply because the political IS your life. What you’re really saying is that you don’t want to have a say in the decisions that get made about your life. You might think you have control when you get to choose what to eat for dinner or what to watch on TV, but even those choices are guided by politics (Google: FCC deregulation and FDA policymaking). In truth, you can’t separate yourself from politics any more than you can separate your organs from your body. You can choose to ignore caring for your body, but that doesn’t make it go away, and it may lead to heart disease.
Who you vote for has an impact not only on the immediate future, but on policies for generations to come. Whether you care about tax breaks and profit margins, or making sure no child starves and that they don’t survive only to die from rising sea levels or gun violence (or both), you have reason to invest in learning about the political process. Even if you only care about girls and cool t-shirts, you have good reason to care as well (Google: Abstinence programs and outsourcing policies on clothing manufacturing). If you care about your mother getting decent care in her old age, or your wife and baby surviving childbirth, then you care about politics. Because the people we elect make life and death decisions about our health and well-being.
No one can blame you for not wanting to watch the news cycles battle it out for most egregious breaking news updates on what candidates in this election cycle have spewed.
This year seems to be the most obnoxious yet. I have a hard time tuning in to follow the he said/she said and the endless pundit chatter. But I know that I must give a rat’s anus about what decisions get made in my name and do my part to help steer them in the right direction. And my acknowledgement that politics is embedded into every fiber of my existence is a big part of that. Voting is another.
So please, the next time someone engages you in conversation about something political in nature, don’t default to that line about how you don’t really care or pay attention, or how you’d rather talk about something that matters more to your everyday life. Listen and learn, and maybe even raise a topic you care about and teach someone else a thing or two about how politics guides what matters most to you.