By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.”-Henry Ford
“If you believe you can do a thing, you can.”-Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro), 70 BC Roman poet
“If you believe you cannot do a thing, you cannot”-John Dryden, 17th century English poet
It would be shocking to see the apathy if it had not been so prevalent for so long. We hold elections every two years on the Qualla Boundary. Every year, somewhere around half of the eligible voters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, or less, take the government up on the invitation to exercise our right, our privilege, to vote.
It is not due to a lack of information or enticing by the government. They publish and promote voter registration. They show up at events and sit at tables to register voters. They draft legislation to make it easier for voters to participate in the voting process. But like fish with a bellyful, we say no thanks.
The message that the government perceives from this apathy is that the constituency is happy. If they aren’t complaining and there is low voter turnout, then those community members are just as joyful as they can be with leadership and feel secure in their futures.
For decades, citizen groups and government appointed committees have attempted to put forth a constitution for the Tribe to consider. And for years the government has resisted, and the communities have yawned at the concept. They look at the Charter like they do an old favorite shirt. Yes, it is worn and holey, and sometimes it leaves me cold and unfulfilled, but overall, it still works.
One of the famous sayings spewed when talking about Charter versus the Constitution is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My translation is “I don’t know what I’m missing, and I am okay with that.”
Another commonly heard reason that our community members give for not participating is that “they are going to do what they want to do anyway, so why bother?” I am not sure if I agree that they are “doing what they want to do”, but there is one thing for sure. If I don’t participate and challenge the status quo, then it is assured that if they want to do anything, there are no voices to challenge, oppose, or stop them.
Your voice, your vote, is a protection for both politicians and for the community. Being active in community activities, events, and campaigns is how change occurs or how you keep good people and policies in working order. Voter apathy stagnates both politician and voter, locking in governance that strays very little from a certain life philosophy. If only a few community voices are shouting at a representative, the representative gets a skewed perception of what the community wants or needs. If they are hearing nothing from you, they listen to the ones who speak loudly. And sometimes those who speak loudly do not necessarily speak for the majority.
You and I are in this together. Together, we decide who gets us to the future. If you were driving a car, every movement of your hands and feet would determine the movement of the car, the direction you are going, whether the car stays on the road, and how fast we get to where we are going. What happens to the car and you, depends on what you do with your hands and feet. Your hands on the wheel will guide you to your desired destination or unwanted disaster. You are in control of your own safety and whether you safely arrive at your destination. It is literally in your hands. Now, if you make the choice to take your hands off the wheel, the car may stay on the road for a while, but eventually, your car is going to run off the road, going where you didn’t necessarily intend and likely will have injuries or fatal results.
This is just common-sense thinking, right? You would think that almost everyone would agree with the logic and would commit to never take their hands off the wheel. And, further, they would never ride with someone who had a reputation for taking their hands off the wheel.
It’s just as clear that choosing not to vote is just like taking your hands off the wheel while driving a moving vehicle. Every day the leaders of our government are making life-changing decisions. They basically are the vehicles for getting us to our future. They need our constant input and guidance to get us to our destination-the future. Without that guidance, we may end of in a place we didn’t want to be, or worse.
I just don’t want us to be a constituency that takes its hands off the wheel. And I especially don’t want us to be that way because we think that the status quo is all we will get or deserve. And I don’t want us to buy in to the mentality that “this is the way it has always been” or “they are going to do what they want to do anyway”. That is commonly called a “defeatist” mentality and it doesn’t fit anywhere in the Cherokee culture and history.
Our people were and are intelligent, strong, and always in control of their destiny. Our Tribe was never known for taking the easy way out and were never ones to take our hands off the wheel.
Especially to the young men and women of the Tribe, you have the ability to control your future and that of our community. You never have the option of taking your hands off the wheel and announcing, “it is not my fault, the car went where it wanted to”. The future of the Tribe is in your hands. You decide whether to push for the future you want. You decide whether programs or buildings are built. And you decide who sits in the seats of power.
We have entered another election season on the Qualla Boundary. You will soon get your first look at the initial candidate pool for all the Tribal Council seats. There will be incumbents and new candidates vying for the opportunity to hold those seats.
Think about who you believe will affect the future in the way you want it to go. No one candidate will be perfect. And you may have to dig to find the differences that help you make your choice. Your support or lack of support for a candidate shouldn’t be by accident. You need to be intentional in your support.
Change doesn’t have to mean changing the person in a seat. It can mean that you lead the person in that seat to new revelations.
If you allow the pessimist to convince you that nothing will change, you may be assured that it will not. But if you choose to stand up and take action, you may be assured that you will make a change. Whether you believe you can do it or not, you will be right.