Going to the Gym Once Won’t Make You Buff, So Why Think Voting Once Every Four Years Makes You Politically Engaged?

Writer and organizer Shamako Noble, who has been traveling the country speaking to communities about their political futures during this election season, describes a new framework for what he calls, "political health."

The question I hear more frequently as election day approaches is, “Does my vote matter?” Others make the statement, “They are gonna do what they are gonna do anyway. So why should I vote.” That got me thinking, why are Americans, at least the ones I know, under the impression that political activity, electoral or otherwise, is a one time practice? The conclusion that I came to is that we have been taught to view our political engagement from a fast food perspective. Meaning, we don’t view our political health and engagement as something to be regularly maintained. In many ways, we manage it on a crisis basis, much like our health.

Physical health is a matter of individual will. Political health is a matter of collective will.

The challenge in going to the gym is making your body physically move towards the gym even when it does not want to. The challenge in political engagement is making yourself deal with other people. Especially when you do not want to. However, the reward of healthy political community, much like a healthy body and mind could be well worth the effort.

Whether they are voting or not, many people I know have been discussing what it would really take to transition our society into an economically, socially and politically sustainable model on various levels. For me, that means a society that operates on the value of love. Love is best expressed in terms of health, because without health our love can become toxic. This, in many ways, connects greatly to the rapidly popularizing metaphor about people’s relationship to the Democratic Party. That metaphor, is that people have an unhealthy or an abusive relationship to the Democratic Party.

Viewed from this perspective, political engagement is not a matter of morals, or a choice of right or wrong. Rather it’s a simple matter of regular practice to increase the possibility for healthy individuals and collective lives. Voting would simply be one form of an expression of political and social health. And as with other forms of health, you cannot do it once a year, or one every two years, or once every four years and expect to be healthy. Rather, it can be a practice that is engaged on a regular basis. This could be spending 30 minutes a day keeping up on local, state or national issues, working with community organizations that are dealing with front line struggles on a daily basis, or study of past and current political events.

Viewing from a health paradigm also allows for a recognition of diversity of tactics and strategies leading towards a single, holistic goal. Historically speaking, the political left in America has often allowed itself to get caught up in tactical arguments that literally result in splits in organizations, movements and political parties. However, when viewed through a health paradigm, we can begin to recognize that that there is space in a diversity of tactics when seeking political health. Some people lift weights, some people do yoga, some people practice arts and some people play sports. Some people utilize a smoothie diet, some are Vegans or Vegetarians, some use Weight Watchers and some use Visalus. There is a spectrum of options for political engagement as well.

And the health link between politics and well-being is more then an analogy. The American obesity epidemic has specific causes and other expressions. One of them could be viewed as political apathy. Physical apathy stems from and results in a lack of physical health. Political apathy stems from and results in a lack of political health. Moving forward, let us begin engaging politics from a healthy place, with the intention of getting to a healthy place.

About Shamako Noble

Shamako Noble is an organizer, political commentator, and MC. He is the co-founder of Hip Hop Congress.

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A large part of whats at issue here is that there is no culture of political (in the deep, long term sense that you mean) engagement. We do not recognize ourselves as political beings. We see, and have been trained (read: brainwashed, stupified) to see, ourselves as consumers. This is the way our lives unfold, through purchases. Whether its in everyday life where, rather than grow food or create shelter for ourselves, we spend our labor working to create accumulated capital for a every smaller ruling class, and to get paid so we can buy the things our labor could have went directly to in the beginning (read: spectacle; or through the way our public services (whats left of them that is) are sold back those of us that remain employed and deserving; we find that our very reality is in fact a transactional one.

What is not clear: why in this type of economic/ethical (and right now the two are interchangeable, you need only look to non-profits or the green movement to see this) reality would any of us 'choose' to participate in any other way than a one time, usually false choice between two products (one slightly less bitter to swallow to our personal social ethics than the other)? How does one change the economic paradigm, and truly it is no longer just a system of interactions at this point, but the entirety of a belief system.

What other worlds can we imagine, and make no mistake that is where we are; at the point of art, and fiction being our most likely tools of liberation.

In solidarity,


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