Why the voter apathy, Asheville?

Ciru Muchiri Photo by Virginia Daffron


Since I’m a good Kenyan who grew up listening to the news and reading newspapers, I’m always interested in politics. In Nairobi, people gather every evening outside the City Council offices to exchange news. In rural areas where people can’t afford personal TVs or newspapers, you will find a group of people gathered around TVs or reading newspapers in the shopping centers.

I’ve been living in the U.S. for a year, and in all this time, I’ve tried as much as possible to teach myself about the politics.

Here in Asheville, there’s an ongoing election for City Council and mayor. However, you wouldn’t really know since everything is quite subtle around here. No loudspeakers, no vehement exhortations from people, and my Kenyan family isn’t here to hotly argue for the candidates they support.

Sometimes the news in Kenya is suppressed and/or skewed, and you have to go out on the street to find out the truth for yourself. Your neighbors and family are a vital source of information ― or disinformation, depending on whether they got paid to stir up support for the chosen candidate. I’d be surprised if politicians in the U.S. dish out money during political rallies.

In Kenya, Facebook and Twitter have also upset the balance due to citizen journalism. To counter that, the government has turned to jailing people for “misuse of information and technology.”

It’s also very important to know the politics around you since one day, your life could depend on it. One only needs to look up Kenyan news right now to glimpse into the meaning of this sentence.

So, what’s the difference between Kenya and the U.S. in how politics and elections play out at the grassroots level?

For one, Kenyans are an angry lot. They could tell you all about the importance of voting rights; they keep abreast of local news and, most of all, they understand disenchantment, disenfranchisement and injustice in very immediate ways.

When politics go bad, so does your life: no food, no shelter, no clothes ― or they may be very hard to come by. It might also mean living in a state of war where conditions are volatile and unstable. In August, 79 percent of registered voters turned out to vote in the general elections. When people decided to boycott the recently held elections in October, the impact was hard to ignore. It was a collective sneer that makes it hard for the winner to have any legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

By comparison, Xpress’ Carolyn Morrisroe described turnout in Asheville during the October municipal primary as “remarkably high” (16.52 percent) compared with previous municipal elections of 12.82 percent (2015) and 8.98 percent (2013). Although, to be fair, the turnout for last November’s presidential election here was much higher — at 69.77 percent in Buncombe County, according to the state Board of Elections.

In the U.S., the personal suffering caused by government officials is sometimes not as immediate in its impact. There’s still electricity to light the city, and the roads will be repaired.

So I’m not surprised that no one is really excited about elections within my circle of friends. The roads to work will still be paved; people will still follow traffic rules on the way to work; the police will leave you alone; and life goes on.

At this point, I’d like to take a step back and question my experience here in the U.S. I’m married to a white man ― ergo, my family here is white, and the only black people I know are privileged.

So, life will go on unless you’re a person of color or poor. There’s a correlation between being a person of color and poverty; that’s hard to ignore. In that case, I tend to see many similarities in the conditions of the people in Kenya and the black people in the U.S.: slouched shoulders, a defeated look. I haven’t yet encountered anger, but I know it’s there, smoldering under the surface, building up all the time. To see this, though, I have to use the slow and unreliable public transportation.

In a way, it’s shocking to see this laxity with my friends and family, given that the U.S. has a rich history of people fighting for justice, equality and voting rights. To vote or to refuse to vote can be powerful in their own ways, as the Kenyan experience shows. The problem is that no one seems bothered enough to even have a discussion about it.

It seems like people who live in the small towns of America like Asheville aren’t quite as engaged as you’d expect. (Since I am not a U.S. citizen, I can’t vote in the election myself.) I don’t understand why people won’t vote in larger numbers for the local Council elections. That’s the structure between you and the chaos of national politics. While you might feel disenchanted about the outcome of the 2016 national election, at least you’ve still got the local government to make things right.

The devolution of power in the U.S. is what keeps the country stable. You might have a crazy man as your president, but he doesn’t have so much power that he could determine whether you have food on your table or not. In a place like Kenya, on the other hand, the powers vested in the president are so strong that even having a new constitution that heavily borrowed on the American model cannot help.

The one uncanny similarity I can see on the face of it, is that black people and people of color don’t even seem to exist. Of course, they’re there, but they’re not visible — not walking about or in the businesses I patronize. And the question of visibility is what clarifies things for me. Underneath the calm surface and the laxity lies a smattering of problems that are just as complex as those back home in Kenya and that are centered on resource sharing.

I suppose the window dressing in the U.S. is a lot better, and it’s harder to see the sh*t, which is why I’m wondering why this City Council election isn’t quite as important. Otherwise, if it’s important, and assuming Ashevilleans know about the privilege of voting and understand the beauty of independent local institutions, why won’t they go out and vote? Especially those for whom life isn’t quite as rosy. Or rather, why am I not encountering conversations about it? Do I have to be in a specially appointed space to know about people’s deepest concerns and thoughts as citizens?

Ciru Muchiri is an Xpress marketing associate who loves collecting and telling stories about everyone and everything.


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

24 thoughts on “Why the voter apathy, Asheville?

  1. Lulz

    LOL, a crazy man sends hundreds of millions to Iran on private jets. LOL, a crazy man seeks to silence the opposition via the use of the IRS. LOL, you can’t change the political landscape locally when people are either ignorant or in denial of the corruption. And their city turns into what they accuse political opponents of doing. A city for the rich and well connected with a huge pool of low wage labor.

    • bsummers

      LOL, how many falsehoods become “news” in the minds of people who don’t check their sources?

      • Lulz

        Arguing with people who think ignoring wrongdoings by their political allies is a waste of time. When Lerner pleads the 5th then that’s all that matters.

        It’s sort of wondering why Clinton lost even though she bought the DNC. And what’s even funnier, Sanders was her token opponent stooge. And what’s even better, fake outrage at comments by Trump but not the actions of Bill. But as Hollywood is releasing its vomit, it’s showing us all that vocal democrat actresses literally shut up and took it. From big democrat party friends and celebs. And yet were outraged at Trump lulz.

  2. jason

    Asheville is a highly educated community; a lot of degrees per capita. Residence realize that America is an Oligarchy; and NOT a democracy. Money in politics matters; NOT the will of the majority. 5 years ago the US Supreme Court voted in favor of unlimited campaign finance contributions….. without question; this vastly corrupts our political system.

    • Big Al

      A “highly educated community; a lot of degrees per capita” means little when so many of them majored in fine arts and humanities, degrees which allow them the privilege to wait tables and tend bar while paying off their massive student loans. Such choices DO NOT lend to any conclusion that Asheville residents realize ANYTHING about what America is or isn’t.

      • Lulz

        It isn’t about what government grants people the right to do. Marxist rely on the ignorance of people followed by the police state enforcers for compliance. And in such a system, there has to be “victims” and “villains” for it to succeed as the former are needed to keep the “democracy” going via their votes. But the “villains” will eventually tire of it as they witness time and time again the “victims” benefiting while they themselves wither away. Those college degree holding service workers may not know it, but they are the replacements for today’s “deplorable” white working class. And they’ll compete for wages with illegals while a crony government equity manager continues to tax their wages to give to the “victims”. Or as the law is meted out differently depending on the color of your skin or whatever label you choose to identify yourself with. That’ll be the bribes that keep the Marxist in power. Revenge politics and police state compliance.

        Let them suffer until they wake up.

        • Alan Ditmore

          Good line about illegals, but the Asheville liberal elite PINOs are hardly marxist, though some might pretend to be. Marxists tax property 100% where Asheville PINOs won’t even tax it half of one percent, miles from the ballpark by 200 fold!

  3. Joseph Dawes

    Superb article! Thank you for that. I hope enough people read this.

    • Lulz

      Why? When the people up for vote are all the same, what difference does it make. Let me know when one shows up the defends property RIGHTS. Because the only rights they seem to believe in are the ones they assume they have the power to grant lulz. You know, land of the free and all that jazz.

      All this was is an article by a leftist for leftists. No new ideas. Nor is she critical of the local shenanigans taking place.

      • luther blissett

        “When the people up for vote are all the same, what difference does it make. Let me know when one shows up the defends property RIGHTS.”

        $75 would have put your name on the ballot. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport. If you cared enough about having your idiosyncratic political philosophy represented, you wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for someone else to show up. Land of the free, etc.

        Seems like you’ve proved Ms Muchiri’s point about apathy.

        • bsummers

          $75 would have put your name on the ballot.

          Lordy Out Loud! That would require giving your name. Don’t you know that Democracy is about sniping at others from the cover of anonymity? LO frikkin’ L, dude!

      • Bright

        This is exactly why I did not vote, and don’t plan to until it’s not a waste of time. Thanks for your insight, and truth. Now, convince the brainwashed fools…which is formidable, if not impossible.

      • Alan Ditmore

        True enough Lulz. when all the candidates are identical liberal elite ZONERS, why bother voting?

  4. Peter Robbins

    Great piece. It’s sobering to hear the perspective of someone from a country where people don’t have the option of taking their political rights for granted.

    • Alan Ditmore

      Americans are being distracted by a media conspiracy to cover the president during LOCAL elections!

  5. James Cassara

    It is maddening , especially when this City Council race has some of the most qualified candidates I have seen in years.

    • Lulz

      How are they qualified? Any of them run a business? Created jobs? Or have they spent their years as insiders who know nothing of budgets.

      • Alan Ditmore

        Good ‘tude again Lulz. I’m so glad a tude like yours still survives the censors. Again if all qualifications are identical then why bother?

      • bsummers

        Umm… Vijay Kapoor runs his own business, Rich Lee is a financial advisor, and Gwen Wisler was CEO of the $800 million company Coleman, among other executive positions. I suspect they all know way more about budgets etc. than you do.

  6. Alan Ditmore

    “the police will leave you alone”?!?! since when!!! If the wrong mayor gets in, the cops will shoot you as Black Live Matter has shown again and again! Also there is a media conspiracy to use presidential fixation to blot out local elections where third parties have their ONLY chance.

  7. Alan Ditmore

    Try camping in a city park if you think “The police will leave you alone” Then build your house there, or better yet an affordable highrize with a million apartments like this! en. wikipedia.org/ wiki/Capsule_hotel

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.