It was our state election on Saturday. There were no real surprises in the results, and I knew it was probably going to go that way before I voted. But I walked down to the local primary school and stood in line anyway, youngest child strapped to my front.
An older woman stepped into the line behind me. I was busy people-watching and didn’t pay her much attention until I heard someone say, ‘You won’t be able to take that into the voting area. It’s considered electoral material.’
I turned around to see the young volunteer for the Greens talking to the woman behind me, who was also wearing a vivid green t-shirt with ‘The Greens’ printed on the front.
‘You’ll have to change your shirt,’ the younger woman said, not unkindly.
The older woman looked confused.
‘Or maybe cover it up, somehow?’ suggested the young volunteer as the other shrugged and held up her hands.
‘Aha. You need one of these!’ I joked to them, pointing at the baby on my front.
Both women laughed.
‘I can probably use my bag,’ the older woman offered.
It was agreed between them that that would likely be acceptable. The line moved forward.
I spent the next few minutes looking over the political posters on the walls and feeling a little cynical about the whole situation. Voting in Australian state and federal elections is compulsory; you are fined if you don’t show up to have your name marked off the list. I’ve always thought that this was a kind of enforced democracy, and I can never decide if Australians’ lack of enthusiasm for politics was due to an innate apathy or simply because they didn’t need to even bother thinking about showing up. When it came to decision-making, at least the decision whether or not to vote was taken out of our hands?
As I pondered my electoral freedoms, the baby began to smile and coo at the woman behind me, who responded in kind, and I turned around to make small talk with her. Usually, it’s a little weird to talk to other voters, while waiting in line, because you never know if they’re going to be completely opposed to your political perspective. However, I knew her persuasion already, so we chatted a bit about the election, and the weather, and she mentioned that she was going to volunteer at another Polling Place after she had voted.
‘Last election,’ she told me, ‘when I was volunteering, a man from Iraq came up to me, and said, ‘Are you the party for peace?’ And I just smiled and said, ‘Yes.’’
I wondered about this as The Handsome Sidekick and I drove with the children to a park by the beach later that morning. I tried to imagine what it must be like to come to Australia from a place like Iraq. The infrastructure, the health and legal and education systems — coming from a nation which has seen so much conflict, especially in recent years, they must find it ridiculous, how much we take for granted.
Whenever there is an election on the horizon, all sorts of issues come out of the woodwork. This or that interest group pays for ads to sway the public in one direction or another; there are complaints about how the government doesn’t do enough for roads, or hasn’t been tough on crime or drugs, or isn’t paying teachers/nurses/police officers enough.
It’s not that these issues are invalid or unimportant. We *should* be concerned that our government is listening to us, and they should be ensuring that our roads and communities are safe, and that those who serve us are getting paid fairly. Politicians should be accountable to us — we are electing them on that premise and we pay their salaries. It’s just that we should also ask where they stand in the big picture. What is their party doing to prevent hunger and homelessness? Where do they stand on climate change? How are they promoting peace?
We have so much here, that we can afford to busy ourselves with the daily minutiae. So we should also take some time to remember that it’s not just good luck, but good management, which keeps something like peace as a constant backdrop. It probably rates a mention, now and then. Especially around election time.