Optimist Case Study

One Good Thing: Beyond the Vote

Welcome back to One Good Thing. Part do-gooder spotlight, part travelogue, part humor column, this series captures the journey of award-winning novelist and filmmaker Owen Egerton. You may recognize Egerton as one of the hosts of the Texas Optimism Project’s monthly podcast, The Good Newscast—an extension of what we hope to accomplish with One Good Thing.

Dear November-Owen,

This is October-Owen writing you from before the election. Remember me? I was that anxious, irritable guy who kept rage tweeting and refreshing Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. I’d love to guess the outcome of all the elections, but I’ve never been great at forecasting the future. I swore Joey Fatone would be the breakout solo act from *NSYNC. I urged my parents to invest heavily in Betamax. I’m still holding fast to my Motorola flip phone.

But, November-Owen, if I had to guess what you’re feeling after November 3rd, it would be summed up in one word: hungover. Not just from celebratory toasts or mind-numbing self-abuse depending on the outcome, but from the months of toxic rhetoric, explosive confrontations, and high-level anxiety. I imagine that you, like many Americans, are waking up in a post-election world trying to remember exactly what happened before November 3rd. The memories are blurry, but you know things got a bit out of hand, regrettable words were said, and everyone got a little crazy.

Who can blame us? Back here in October, we are riled up! Strong emotions are more than understandable and bold actions are called for. We’re campaigning, we’re waiting in lines, we’re voting our voice.  

Did everything change? Were all the problems solved? Do we even know the outcome yet?

From where I’m sitting in October, it feels like everything ends on November 3rd. But I’m guessing no matter who won and what propositions passed or failed, that people are still suffering, that the flow of justice is still clogged, and that in this incredibly wealthy nation the gap between the haves and have nots only grows.

So November-Owen, what do you do now the voting is over? How do you participate beyond the mad, thrilling, and noisy election season?

First, take a nap. Have a big glass of water. It’s been a crazy-hard year.

Then, when you’re ready, dive back in. 

The election may be over, but the work continues.

The nonpartisan nonprofit public policy organization, The Brookings Institution, has some helpful suggestions on how to do just that. They’ve compiled The Bucket List for Involved Citizens: 76 Things You Can Do to Boost Civic Engagement.

Some of the suggestions are simple: Subscribe to trustworthy new sources on both the local and national level. Purchase a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution (or more for sharing). If that reading sparks an interest, go deep with a line-by-line breakdown of our founding document at the National Constitution Center.

Other ideas from the Bucket List are more challenging: Attending community board or city council meetings, joining a parent-teacher association, or even running for office yourself. Brookings also recommends talking (civilly) with people who hold different political opinions (they suggest getting some help from Braver Angels). This can be particularly difficult, even painful, I know. But the beautiful thing about our civic system is that it is designed so we may disagree—sometimes radically—and still remain neighbors.

Some of Brookings’ suggestions had never occurred to me as civic engagement: Planting a tree, giving blood, painting a mural, visiting a nursing home, picking up litter, or perhaps most simple and profound of all, “Identify a problem in your community and work with your neighbors to fix it.” 

Are you writing this down, November-Owen? This is good stuff! Concrete steps to participate in our country’s democracy at every level. National elections are immensely important—and also really, really loud. So loud they can drown out the call for civic action at the state, local, and neighborhood level. Keep your ears open. The election may be over, but the work continues. 

You may not remember this, November-Owen (I’m a little younger than you, so my memory is sharper), but you weren’t born in the United States. You were brought here by parents who saw something brilliant not just in what America is, but what it promises to become.

As a nation we suffer from a heritage of racism, sexism, and oppression. Even as we fight for justice, we foster injustice. We have made liberty and inequality bedfellows. All too often, we fail to feed our hungry, help our neediest, protect our neighbor, or even offer equality under the law. We are not yet what we have promised to be.

But we can be.  

America is wounded, but very much alive. We heal toward our ideals. We grow toward our promise. No signed document, no political system, not even a president can guarantee our equal rights, a just system, or freedom for all. These continue to be the hard-earned fruits of participation. The participation of the protestor, the soldier, the volunteer, the journalist, the teacher, the jury member, the neighbor, those who kneel, those who stand, those who march, those who vote, and anyone at all who contributes to this messy, beautiful, evolving country of ours.

One last thing, November-Owen, I’m eating an unprecedented amount of Halloween candy right now, so don’t forget to floss.

– Owen

Illustration by Mark Conlan.

Award-winning novelist and filmmaker Owen Egerton is the author of a number of books including The Book of Harold the Illegitimate Son of GodHow Best to Avoid Dying, and the PEN Southwest Book Award winner Hollow, which was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2017. He is also the writer/director of several films including the Mercy Black (Blumhouse, Universal, Netflix), and the horror comedy Blood Fest (Rooster Teeth, Warner Media). Egerton is one of the hosts of the Texas Optimism Project’s monthly podcast, The Good Newscast. He is also one of the talents behind the Alamo Drafthouse’s long-running comedy show Master PancakeTheater and has been named Austin’s Best Author six times by the Austin Chronicle.

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