By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
We all like to be liked. Well, at least most of us do. We don’t invite conflict into our lives and, for the most part, we want our conversations to be cordial and our ideas to be accepted. And for those of us whose job it is to be catalysts for discussion in print, it can be challenging to gauge how well received our side of the conversation may be. At least it was before the advent of digital media and particularly social media.
In the old days of editorializing or commentary writing, the only way you could tell if the masses were reading was physical letters to the editor. Handwritten or typed counterpoints or agreeance with the thoughts shared in a commentary would come from maybe one in a thousand, or million, readers. This still didn’t give you any idea of how the reader population was feeling about the subject matter presented. In the old, old days, you would just wait to the end of the day when you left the office to see if you were pelted with rotten tomatoes or eggs, and check to see if your tires were slashed after the publication of a disagreeable commentary. Rarely did you see anyone spreading rose pedals in your path when they agreed with your writing. A quiet day would indicate a positive reader response.
But, that has changed dramatically with the advent of social media. While few will put pen to paper to critique or comment, literally hundreds of thoughts expressed are common when a controversial or passionate subject is addressed in commentary. From an angry faced emoji to colorful language peppered comments, once a post hits the One Feather social media pages, it is assured that you will know how people feel about what is being presented in a commentary.
So, when people are quiet about a specific post, you surmise that they are telling you that this issue is not important to them; that they either don’t have an opinion about the topic or they just don’t find the subject all that interesting or relevant in their lives.
So, why bring this up, especially since I am pretty sure a commentary on commentaries is sure to be one of the most unpopular pieces a person could write? I am writing because another low-ranking discussion in the opinion pages of the One Feather is elections and referendums. We get some of our smallest responses from issues like voter registration, “get out the vote” messages, referendum reminders, and anything regarding government change (like constitution drafting announcements).
Even in the heat of the final days of an election that will determine who sits in the most powerful seats of tribal government, and referendum questions that will determine one of the most hotly-debated issues on the Qualla Boundary, any push to get out the vote is met with a collective yawn. In cyberspace, silence speaks volumes as to the passions of the readers.
A week or so ago and with about a week of open early voting polls remaining, the Election Board reported a number of just under 200 voters had taken advantage of the early voting. That is a small fraction of the eligible voters and a poor representation of the 16,000 members of our Tribe. With weeks of opportunity and ease of access, we can’t seem to become excited about one of the most valuable functions of our government, the right to choose.
The last time the alcohol question was put to the people, the community failed to come to the polls so that the referendum didn’t even meet the criteria set to have an official “election” on the issue. With the incredibly low threshold of 30 percent of eligible voters, not even that many made it to the polls to officially express the will of the people. The turnout was so low that Tribal Council decided that it would probably be good practice and policy to only hold referendums in an election year because it was the only way, hopefully, to ensure that enough of us would come out to exercise the privilege of casting our ballots.
As we have mentioned before, because of the small voter population in our community, a seat on Tribal Council may be determined by a margin of a single vote. It’s happened. And when a vote is that close, it is cause for accusations of mishandling or corruption (whether real or perceived). Close votes in deciding elected seats or referendums are cause for doubt and division in our community. It propagates protests and lawsuits. Low and close votes bring about a lack of confidence in government by the people and for the people. How can representative government be a real thing if those in the seats heard from only less than half of the population? How can the “will of the people” be known if only 30 percent (or less) of the population make their voices heard in the only forum where it truly counts which is in tribal elections?
I voted because it matters who sits in the seats of high office in our community. It matters whether alcohol is made available in businesses throughout the Cherokee community. I voted because I take pride in being able to be a part of this community and it is important to me what it stands for and who represents it. I, my family, and my friends on the Boundary are impacted by my choice either to participate or to be apathetic during tribal elections. The rights and benefits of every tribal member, whether on the Boundary or a thousand miles away, are affected by my, and your, choice to vote, or not.
Please don’t sit by and think that it doesn’t matter if you vote because it does. By sitting at home and passing on casting a vote, you are handing the decision to someone else. You give them the right to choose for you. You let them take control of your future and rights and your benefits as a tribal member. And that should be the most unpopular thing of all.