My formal apologies to readers in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa etc... for running this column on the late side for you. I used to live on the NH/MA border, and my assumption is that anyone who gets to vote early has to work hard not to be a tremendously educated voter - the candidates basically stand in your yard yelling at you until you agree ;-). But as most of the nation heads to the polls for super-Tuesday, it is worth thinking a little about voting.
I know a lot of discontented people who feel crappy and powerless, disheartened and angry at a system that regularly disempowers them and seems to be heading towards fascism. And I know a lot of people who accept the "participate by not participating" notion. But unfortunately, not voting doesn't operate like boycotting commercial products - that is, there's no evidence at all that I can find that not participating makes us more powerful. And while it is absolutely reasonable to be angry about our crappy choices, that doesn't mean that we can say "oh, I don't want to vote for the lesser of two evils" - we have only to look at the last eight years to know that the difference between "kind of evil" and "Gets drunk regularly with Satan" is pretty huge.
Your vote won't make a legitimate third or fourth party in the US. It won't get you a candidate who will enact radical environmental changes, in likelihood - although it will certainly get you something better than what we have unless you vote for Romney or Guiliani ;-). If you live in my state and vote democrat, already sold to Hillary Clinton, your chance of getting, say, Oprah elected in a write in campaign are ridiculously low.
But there is something you can do if you vote that makes an enormous difference. Tell people how you make your choice and what issues matter most to you. I got polled last week, and when I told the pollster that my first concern wasn't even on her list - it was climate change and energy policy she said, "Oh, I've started getting that. I think they may even make that a choice on the next poll." And the impact *there* is potentially greater than we think. Take a look at this post of Greenpa's:http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2007/11/iceberg-moves-again-and.html discussing the changes in public perception of global warming issues. Obviously, they are slow and too slow - but they are coming. And the hope of the next president, whoever he or she is, doing anything about it depend on the perception that we care, that we're willing to do what's necessary.
If you have a candidate you care about, that's a great reason to vote - I hope you do. If you don't have one you care about, vote for the lesser of two evils. And if you are struggling somehow to figure out what that is, vote anyway, and hang around after and get polled, or talk to the news people. Answer the phone when those polling places call. Write it on your blog - you can still say "the process sucks" while saying "and I'm trying to make a difference anyway."
Recently someone argued with me that none of the little things we do make a very big difference. That is, someone hanging their laundry or composting their scraps is just a tiny drop in a very big bucket. For some of us (some of us live in swing states), voting is like composting, a little drop in the bucket - but the net effect of each drop, and moving others to understand what we are doing, is filling the bucket, however slowly.