The 2008 election season has been both inspiring and enlightening for many of the writers I’ve talked with in the last several months. Most have acknowledged that this year has and will continue to affect their writing on a much larger scale than elections of the past. Is that because of the historical significance of the presidential race (both in the primaries and in the general election), the weight of the crises that have overshadowed the whole season, the divisiveness of state and national campaigns to average Americans, or the highly controversial social issues on so many state ballots? I think it’s all of these things, and I don’t think the election is the end of this emotional roller coaster we’ve found ourselves riding. While it may seem like it’s time to unfasten our seat restraints and step onto the platform, ready to head home with a bag of cotton candy and a caramel apple, we’ve actually just come around the first turn. Now more than ever, it is time for writers and poets to break out their pen and paper (or word processors) and write toward a future of mutual understanding and acceptance.
If I was never aware of how pluralistic our society actually is-or how divided the citizens actually are-this election erased all doubt. I watched lifelong Republicans switch parties, as well as lifelong Democrats, and a few of each voting for independent presidential candidates for the first time. I saw independent swing voters (myself among them) suddenly self-identify with a particular political ideology. In my neighborhood, I witnessed a large number of people in different age groups voting for the very first time. I watched teenagers talking politics as they walked down the street and people with full time jobs and a host of other responsibilities carving out time to volunteer for campaigns, voter registration parties, get-out-the-vote efforts, and watch parties the night of the election. I’ve heard similar experiences from all over the country and the final poll numbers certainly seem to indicate that a huge number of formerly uninvolved and/or apathetic citizens suddenly became aware not only that they had a voice, but that their voice matters, despite tremendous efforts to suppress and/or discourage them.
This is great news for democracy! But how to keep up the momentum and become a permanent society of civic engagement? We hope that every election isn’t hounded by financial catastrophes and war. We certainly can’t rely on the presence of two completely different candidates bringing out the passion people have for particular subjects. And I doubt that I will see another candidate as empowering and inspirational (his candidacy inspired not only millions of voters to show up to vote for him, but likely tens of thousands of voters to show up to vote against him) as Barack Obama in my lifetime.
And yet, some very real issues remain unresolved. If nothing else, our nation is suddenly hyperaware of its own plurality-everything from ethnic diversity to religious diversity to socioeconomic discrepancies-and this has made many people even more aware of major social issues that we tend to forget about outside of the election season. There hasn’t been a time so ripe for activist literature since the 60’s and 70’s, and while our approach to these issues will likely take a very different form, there can be no doubt that it is time to confront them head on. Write, read, learn, and above all, remember that politics don’t end just because the campaigning has. Neither should our interest or our passion.
Cross-posted at The Externalist Blog.