CathBlog - Voting in the Facebook era

Facebook has been an interesting source of political commentary this election. Campaigns stir up emotions, and more than ever before, a Facebook status can be used to tout your political leaning and perhaps, wishfully thinking, influence the undecided. On election day, I woke up to check my Facebook, and every second status had something to say.

“I think I’m gonna vote for my dog – pretty sure it will do a better job than anyone else”; “For the love of God, don’t vote for #insert political party here#”.

By far, the most interesting one I saw was from some Catholic friends and acquaintances of mine. “I just met Bob Brown in the tally room!” remarked one friend, updating his status on his iPhone. He went on to say that he had shaken Bob’s hand and congratulated him.

The eight word status has led to quite the Catholic debate! The list of comments on this status is now up to 45 and growing. Many of the comments are from committed Christians with solid and well-informed consciences. And yet, what a diversity of opinion from people of such goodwill! One young woman who is extremely faithful and has worked in church for many years made the point that congratulating Bob Brown was like endorsing abortion….another remarked that the Liberal party had not done anything to reduce the number of abortions in Australia…..others remarked that only one party has not used asylum seekers as political fodder….others commented that abortion trumps asylum as a political issue….and others again quipped that we need to look at more than one issue when casting our vote…..and thus it continued.

Now I don’t have a particular desire to let people know who I voted for. After all, it’s meant to be a personal decision. What I will say, is that human dignity and the rights of the most vulnerable in our society were my absolute highest consideration when numbering the boxes. I’m still unsure about whether I voted right, and I wonder who Jesus would have voted for. There is obviously some debate about who are the most vulnerable, and for me, it’s essential that we consider quite carefully how we personally treat these most vulnerable in our own lives as much as in choosing how we vote.

This relatively public Facebook debate was a sign that in fact we live in a democracy where we have the birth right to vote without fear of recrimination…. (well, except a frosty Facebook reception perhaps).

We can carefully discern which politicians may best uphold the values that we hold dear. As much as we might claim to hate them – the Liberals, the Greens, and the Labor party will all, despite their sins, uphold at least that right for people to vote. Sadly, they may never have the best record on issues such as abortion, overseas aid, asylum seekers, health, education, or poverty. Political parties may never champion the right to be born or the right to seek asylum. Not a single political party in Australia is the whole enchilada, but, as one woman remarked on this Facebook chain – we vote in the least worst.

We live in a country where a young man can shake hands with Bob Brown, maybe congratulate him, and he doesn’t get put in jail or shot. We live in a country where a young woman can defend the right to life of unborn children, and she doesn’t get tortured or forced to limit the number of her own children.  

Further, it is worth noting that it is less than 100 years since women have had the right to vote without restrictions. Even in 1962, Australian women’s votes carried some restrictions.  For many other countries, this came much later.  Kazakhstan, South Africa, Samoa and Kuwait have only afforded women the right to vote in the last 20 years.  So, what a privilege to be able to discuss the issues that are important to us freely and openly in a public forum like Facebook.  There are still countries in this world where the internet is effectively barred. Much of Africa and the Middle East are not free to cast their vote without recrimination. In 2010, only 46 percent of countries are considered completely free and democratic.

Now, perhaps after this ill-fated but interesting election, instead of simply talking about it, we might consider visiting our local member – even if they aren’t of our political persuasion…and let them know what we think about issues such as abortion and refugees. It’s a guarantee that we won’t be put in jail, tortured or killed for doing so, unlike many of those who seek asylum on our shores. And as for those who participated in this most interesting of Facebook debates, they will probably sit down to dinners and lunches in the future, invite one another to baptisms and weddings, sit next to one another in Church and let their kids play together.

Beth Doherty is media officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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