Opinion: Your right to complain

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

Today, Alabama will be among the 15 American states and one U.S. territory that will hold their primaries or caucuses in what we have come to call “Super Tuesday.” While not a general election, in a one-party-dominant state like ours it will be the deciding day for who will go on to hold a great many of our elected offices.

With those elections looming large, the time has once again come for all of us to dust off the aged, and somewhat tattered, mantle of civic responsibility. Yes, we’re talking about voting—again—that quintessential act that defines the contours of our American democratic republic that we are intermittently reminded of.

Before I dive into a star-spangled patriotic fever dream of describing how grand and great it is that we have an ability, and the freedom, to cast a ballot, I’d first like to address what the day, and every other election in our state and country also represents.

I’d like to acknowledge that other time-honored American pastime that is represented when we make our choice, tick a box and cast in our slip of paper. I want to talk about the activity that is as tried-and-true and red-white-and-blue as apple pie and fireworks on the Fourth of July. I am, of course, referring to the quintessential and all-encompassing American activity of complaining.

Yes, we love complaining about the problems facing the state and country. We love complaining about the issues and about the candidates, about the ads and the finances—about the stances, the views, the ideologies and the potential demagogues. We all love complaining, whether it’s about the left or the right, or the up and the down. The only thing that is certain after each and every election day is that there will be an unceasing wave of complaints and a sizeable collection of grievances—all of which are only matched by the droves of people bursting at the seams to voice them.

Now, to some, that may seem like a pessimist’s way of viewing the nature of a democracy, but I couldn’t disagree more. I love complaining, and I love having the right to do so. Being able to complain is what this nation was birthed on and we are right to practice that inalienable right.

I say that with a large caveat of course. That being that if you plan on complaining, you better have been at a polling station on election day.

Despite what many will tell you and in the face of the common consensus, in the grand theater of American politics, your vote is less a solitary drop in an endless ocean and more a crucial fiber in the grand tapestry of our nation’s future. Alone, a singular fiber may seem inconsequential, but woven together, they can create a vibrant representation of the public will.

Even in a state like Alabama, one voice can be the difference maker in this sometimes chaotic and always eventful public arena.

But, the crucial question is this: If you don’t take the effort to place that thread into the loom—if you don’t honor your protected right to vote—do you really have the right to critique the tapestry’s pattern? Is it really ever fair to critique the group’s work when you’ve done nothing to contribute?

Complaining about the country when you haven’t fulfilled your end of the social contract is a bit like refusing to contribute to the office potluck before then complaining about the lack of vegan options.

Sure, it’s always your right to abstain, but if you choose to do so—I’m willing to say—dining on the buffet of dissatisfaction shouldn’t be on the menu for you. You can’t stay in your room and order room service in a republic, you have to take part and you have to show up.

The act of voting is at times seen as less thrilling than watching paint dry or grass grow. Yet, this seemingly mundane task is the bedrock upon which our rights to congregate, complain and create endless and awkwardly silent Thanksgiving dinners, are built. Without casting a ballot, your standing to critique governmental decisions is on par with lamenting the outcome of a game in which you chose not to play.

Remember, in a republic as vibrant and varied as ours, every vote is a voice. Saying that your vote doesn’t count is like saying your voice doesn’t matter in a chorus. Sure, you might not be the soloist, but without your voice, the harmony is weaker and the melody always less rich.

As the Alabama primary approaches, consider this: voting is less about the immediate gratification of seeing your candidate win and more about affirming your stake in the republic. It’s about having the right, the privilege, and yes, the sheer, unabashed audacity to stand up after the fact and say, “I contributed to this conversation.”

This March 5th, and every election day, let’s all be sure to get our license to complain.


Donald Mottern is a staff writer for the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reach at 669-3131 ext. 523 or by email at donald.mottern@shelbycountyreporter.com