On Citizenship

Normally, I won’t get too political on this blog. I do have opinions, but I can’t see how airing them here is going to positively impact my career as a writer. There are writers who are very active in their political commentary on blogs, and that works for them because they are already doing quite well. They are willing to put up with all the tom-foolery that happens when an honest political discussion goes bad. But even they get tired of the hijinks from time to time. Read John Scalzi’s take on how he wields his mallet of loving correction. Managing a blog with active discussions is a lot of work, and it gets a little discouraging, even for him.

This post, however, isn’t about politics. It’s about citizenship. Last week, for the first time in fifteen years, I voted. That sounds horrible, but it’s really not that bad. You see, until earlier this year, I was not a US Citizen; I was a permanent resident. It takes a lot of years and a lot of paperwork to obtain permanent residence, and then you have to wait a few more years before you can become a citizen. Before this, I was (and still am to some degree) Canadian. But I hadn’t voted in Canadian elections since the early 1990’s. The first few years was laziness and general apathy towards the Canadian political system. Then, once I became more interested in voting, I didn’t want to vote in an election for a country I no longer called home. It would be unfair of me to not have to live with the consequences of my vote.

For a long time, I waffled between becoming a US Citizen or remaining a permanent resident. I came from a country where I wasn’t persecuted or unfairly treated. I wasn’t fleeing environmental catastrophe or war. I’m proud of Canada and it’s history. I came for work, and I stayed for my career, and then I got married. I’m also not that big on patriotism for patriotism’s sake. Wrapping yourself in a flag of any nation is an easy way to let mob mentality take over your common sense. As Bruce Springsteen once said, “Blind faith in anything will get you killed.”

While I wasn’t voting, I also understood that because I was not active in the governing process, I had no right to comment on the politics of where I was living, nor would it be very gracious of me as a guest. Sure there were things that incensed me, and things that made me want to cry. I vented from time to time within my own close set of family, friends and co-workers, but I rarely tried to influence people’s votes. It wasn’t my place. I paid my taxes and grumbled, but I wasn’t active in the process of making sure they were spent where and how I wanted them to be spent.

But over the last few years, it has gotten more and more difficult to stand on the outside of the process and to not have my voice heard. My children will have to live with the decisions being made by our leaders today, and to stand idly by and to not at least vote, went from being comfortable to unconscionable. It was that thought, as much as any other, that convinced me to file for citizenship early this year. I was sworn in a couple of months ago.

Last week I voted.

It wasn’t a very major election: 1 city council position, 1 fire commissioner position, and a renewal of a tax to fund EMS service in our area.  I read through the voter pamphlet, and read through the instructions on the ballot, filled in my answers and sent in the completed ballot. It all took about 45 minutes of my time, if not less.

Is voting all a citizen has to do? No. There are rallies to attend. Letters that should be written to stay active in the process, even outside of the never-ending election cycle.  Citizenship is a privilege and a responsibility. It’s work, and it’s not always easy.

Voting is the first step in citizenship, and it’s one I am now proud to be able to do.