I think voting in the presidential election is the least impactful thing you can do to effect change. Casting your vote does not make our country great, regardless of your vote. I’m not saying I don’t think everyone who can should vote, because I do. But let me explain.
First, I did not vote for Donald Trump. I can spell out myriad reasons behind this, but let me use his verbal assault on Muslims and immigrants in general to help paint my example. When President Trump initiated the controversial “travel ban,” I reacted like many Americans across the country. I was pissed off. I was upset. I felt like our country was gravitating towards a position of complete apathy towards those people suffering in the Muslim-majority nations, viewed by the administration as possible terror threats. Granted, I did not know a whole lot about the ban in terms of background. My knowledge of the conditions of these countries was limited to a number of high-profile photographs of children in Aleppo, stranded in a sea of rubble, and often wounded. Nonetheless, my heart poured out for these citizens who were to be denied access to the United States. The only vindication came after thousands of noble Americans swarmed U.S. airports in protest and a federal judge blocked the ban.
A bullet dodged. Still, my blood boiled with anger over the merciless acts of the United States government. How, I thought, can we turn our backs while people are greatly suffering, in the name of protecting our own people? Was America not built on the principles of welcoming and compassion towards others? This act of aggression perplexed me. But I knew I was not alone. Days after the travel ban order passed, I watched television coverage of thousands of protestors speaking against the ban across the country.
And then I had a thought.
The seven war-torn countries that made up the ban list all had something in common. They were viewed as threats because of terror attacks, both domestically and abroad, committed against countless innocent civilians. Moreover, these countries suffered government corruption, extreme poverty, internal warring, and tremendously poor living conditions. Naturally, it felt right to feel sympathy towards the citizens of these tormented countries. But then it hit me. These conditions did not begin yesterday.
Nor did they begin last week, last month, or last year. These are countries which have been facing extreme conditions for a long time. For me to take notice only when a president I don’t care for blocks refugees is absurd. Was this about my love for refugees or my disdain towards the president?
I dug through bank statements. Clothing, drinks, dinner, groceries, more drinks, more dinners. Not one penny to a global relief organization. UNICEF, the Red Cross, and other relief agencies did not even have my name or information in their databases. I thought back to my interaction with others. Not once did I think to stop by a refugee center to help. Not once did I reach out to see how I can help those struggling in our community, refugee or not. I had even quoted Scripture on my Facebook page, from Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” I beamed with pride; it was a subtle criticism of the current administration (and its supporters), and a reminder of my love for all these “brothers and sisters.” But I read and re-read the passage from a different angle; I looked at Trump’s actions versus my own. How did I show my love for human dignity abroad? Moreover, how did I show love for human dignity in the United States? In my own Central Pennsylvania community?
My answers were consistent across the board: resounding inaction. I was so caught up in the Trump administration’s hatred that I had forgotten about my own potential for greatness. I treated the least of my brothers and sisters exactly the way Trump treated refugees in dire need: with blatant ignorance. I walked around with my head down or on my phone, poring over the injustices of the world. In doing so, I bypassed the homeless man who was down on his luck, the family in need of a meal, and the community organization seeking financial assistance.
Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change his or her own community. I can’t help but think that if every protestor, if every voter, if every human being with means reached out a hand to help someone else, we would be so much stronger as a nation. I’ll be the first to call myself a hypocrite. But I hope this epiphany leads me to move to make a difference. It can be tough, it can be uncomfortable, but it is an absolute necessity. Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” We can all be great, but we need to divorce ourselves from the comfort of our computer screens. Maybe we can’t reverse a presidential decision, maybe we can’t end world hunger. But we can start. We can help our neighbor. We can lift up our brothers and sisters in our community. And we, you and I, can start making a real change in the world. It can be uncomfortable. It can be incremental. But it can be great. And the beautiful thing is, it doesn’t need to wait until the next local, state, or presidential election. It can start today.