The Common Good

Civic Duty: What Can I Do Now?

This starts as a question: What can I do now, as a citizen?

On Nov. 6, the answer was clear. Vote. Vote. Vote.

Well and done. Four years ago, too, I voted in November on Election Day, with a box of Fruity Cheerios under one arm.

In the weeks leading up to the election, my civic heart was tuned well. Watch the debates. Discuss. Then vote, because, actually, the pressure is quite enormous. Vote or Die. The Facebook news feed can crush you, flatten you into voting, which is all well and good. I can be for that. Civic pressure.

But come Nov. 7, the pressure released. The civic duty was fulfilled. And my question remains, sincerely. What can I do now?

I ask the question; one, because I do not know the answer; two, because I have an entirely different answer. So first, the question stands: What can I do now, as a citizen?

Now, my entirely different answer: Vote on Nov. 7. Vote on Nov. 8. Vote the next day, and again the next. Vote every day, because voting is not just a civic duty relegated to the polls; voting is an output of our consumer activity. It is a dollar vote, and the polls are everywhere. To be sure, it is a wicked hard vote, where savings, budgets, and disposable income meet. The dollar vote is extremely personal — my money is mine, I’ve earned it — but it is also, always, interpersonal. Like a stone thrown into water, our dollar vote ripples. Just as my vote in the booth is a vote cast in support, so too, my dollar vote supports. 

Today, my dollar votes: at Alon gas station in Waco, Texas, I cast 20 votes in support of how Alon conducts its business; at Starbucks, I cast two dollar votes in support for the process — bean to cup — in my tall Pike Place; at the store, I cast another dollar vote in support of how my Fruit ‘N Nut granola bar is made. 

I couldn’t tell you one thing about any of them. Not one.

As a college graduate and as a thoughtful and conscientious man, I would never cast my Election Day ballot without clarity of whom I was supporting. I would not dream of it. I’d rather abstain.

But my consumption is a daily duty, delegated to me, not by my government, but by my physiology. I cannot resist. I cannot abstain, and because I do it every day, I’m not really thinking.

Consumerism is in my bones. Some days, I consume less. Today, a bit more. I will quit when I am dead. Till then, conscientiousness! Jesus told us at the Last Supper, “Take. Eat. Take. Drink. And remember me.” As if to say, Consume! But know that it is me you are taking-in.

We consume far more than just food and drink, but it is my work on an all-natural farm in China Spring, just outside of Waco, that has changed me. The individually wrapped, homogenous seedless cucumbers, two for $3 at the store, now stand side-by-side in my head with the farm reality: every-such size Fortune cucumbers that I bent over and weeded for two weeks in the 90-degree heat of August,

… and then bent over and harvested for three weeks every single morning of September,

… and then bent over and tore up in still sunny-hot October and piled by the trash for burning — the plants, a victim of an outbreak of powdery mildew.

Just as I voted thoughtfully in the election on Nov. 6, I intend to dollar-vote faithfully on Nov. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 23, Dec. 28, March 16. I remember what it takes to grow even one healthy cucumber. It is burned in my brain.

Food and coffee are my greatest daily consumptions. That’s where it begins for me: the awkward task of asking a Starbucks barista where and how their beans are grown; who are they buying from; is it equal exchange? And at the market, attempting my best to buy local, which means in-season, which means I will be tomato-less for a few more months.

So my question stands: What can I do now, as a citizen? My civic duty. Seriously. I’m asking.

And my challenge, what I know we can do every day: consume well. Take. Eat. And remember.

Charlie Walter is a writer (B.A. in Creative Writing at Hope College in Holland, Mich.), a certified nursing assistant, a farmer, adventure seeker, and storyteller. He currently lives in Waco, Texas and cheers for the Dallas Cowboys when they aren't playing the Detroit Lions. 

Photo: Grocery shopping, Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

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