Sunday, February 26, 2017

An Open Letter to the Apolitical

During the Super Bowl this year, Budweiser caused controversy with an advertisement telling the story of a German immigrant who overcomes hardship to come to America to meet a man named Anheuser, forming Anheuser-Busch with a cultural collision and a handshake. It didn't take long for the backlash and Budweiser boycotts to start, the overriding message being: keep your politics out of my beer. First of all, good luck avoiding Budweiser parent company ABInbev/SABMiller's approximately 400 brands and 28% market share: many of the people "boycotting" Budweiser will be turning from one of their products to another. Let them chug in ignorance. 

Regardless of the reasoning behind it, I support everyone's right to boycott any company they want. It amounts to non-violent protest, which is intrinsically democratic. What I can't support is the people with their heads in the sand, just because politics makes them bored or uncomfortable or cynical.

With that said, I would like to respond to the plea to keep politics out of your pint glass, or anything else for that matter:


We just experienced an election in which nearly half the country didn't vote. Let me say that again: almost half of the people in our country either weren't eligible or didn't care enough to cast a ballot in our 2016 primary election. I have sympathy for people working multiple jobs to support their families in a system set up to make them fail: political obfuscation and archaic voting rules have made it hard for many to vote. There are too many politicians that don't want you filling out a ballot. But with the option of early voting, the majority of non-voters don't have a valid excuse. Voter turnout in 2016 reached a 20-year low, and it's not OK.

I have a friend who didn't vote because he thinks of himself as a "conscientious objector," citing our fucked up and self-serving political system and lack of attractive political pundits. I understand the cynicism. I do. But I think his excuse for not voting is a fragile soap box, constructed out of idealism and privilege, and one that will crumple under the weight of reality. Besides the fact that there is more on the ballot than the president, the point needs to be made again and again: your vote does still count for something, and the president does indeed hold a lot of power in our system. Just look at the current president's onslaught of executive orders.

Whether you want to see it or not, your decision to abstain from voting directly influences your life, and the lives of millions of other people. And this is crucial: while your sex and skin color and economic opportunities may allow you to carry on with your day-to-day activities regardless of who holds office, that is not the case for millions of less privileged Americans who are marginalized and threatened by a political system whose current stance toward their existence ranges from apathy to overt aggression. Consider the words of Desmond Tutu: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Not everyone that supports the current administration is a racist, sexist xenophobe. But the president and his closest advisors are just that - and that can cause just as much damage. Like the monseigneur from Boondock Saints says: "Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil, which we must fear most...and that is the indifference of good men."

Even if you're not one of these marginalized citizens, this affects you whether you want to admit it or not. Go take your dog for a walk or take a few hours to go fishing. These may not feel political but they are. Air and water quality are being threatened by pollution and governmental deregulation. Fish and animal habitats are falling victim to the same forces. Want to ignore the talking heads and eat your dinner in peace while watching Netflix? That dinner may be more and more expensive after a president-approved merger between two of the largest seed and chemical manufacturers on the planet. That escapist show you're watching online will cost you more and buffer longer if the FCC kills net neutrality with the administration's help. You may be sick of politics but I have some hard news for you: it's shaping your life already, and you are just hurting yourself and others by choosing to ignore it. Getting back to your plea for us to keep our politics out of your life: sorry, but the politics are already there. What are you going to do about it?

Jonathan Ross

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