Voting With Our Feet

Voting With Our Feet

Read this essay as published by Orlando Sentinel 8/8/19 Since the age of five, I’ve probably spent more time on I4 than in any single place. All of the major destinations of my life—parents, grandparents, grad School, Disney, homes—have been along the storied, and ever-evolving corridor. Not everybody is fortunate enough to have all of their lives’ destinations along a single road. Not everybody has the privilege of mobility. Some fellow citizens can only “stay.”

Mobility and choice are luxuries; they should be rights. For some, that mobility may be more exotic or dramatic—across the country or around the world. For others, such choices may not exist. As a theory—though not as practical reality—any American may vote with their feet: move from one place to another that better aligns with their interests. Such interests may be economic: like lower taxes or better paying jobs; cultural, like access to arts or more vibrant ethnic or LGBT communities; political, where blocs of similarly minded voters may congregate to advance policies that support economics and culture.

What it means to be mobile has evolved since 1776, when the near-simultaneous, near-lock-stepped marches of trade (Adam Smith) and liberty (Thomas Jefferson, et al) reverberated around the world. Then, on this sliver of North America, most everybody was either newly arrived from somewhere else or just a couple generations removed. They traded their homes in the “old world” for freedom and refuge. They voted with their feet, risking everything—including life—for economic, cultural, and political liberties. America’s founding parents made this new land (first peoples notwithstanding) their own. They didn’t consider returning to their ancestral homes for the purpose of “fixing” them. Rather, they knew that a successful new nation would shine as a beacon of what is possible: that by making America great, they could change the world for the better. This story of foot-voting has changed little in three centuries. Immigrants have planted their feet, nonstop, in American soil. They have come as refugees and as opportunity-seekers, joining and enriching communities with never ending infusions of cultural and political diversity.

Not everybody comes to America of their own volition. Many of those who were forcibly brought here (or removed) have not had the same experiences of mobility once they arrived. To claim the greatness of America we must acknowledge that a core implied value—the ability to vote with one’s feet—has not been available to everyone. Not everybody has always owned their own feet; to this day, there are impediments to mobility. Even in this wealthy and opportunity-rich land, some Americans are tethered by place, rendered immobile: if they cannot also bring family with them, if they can’t move because they can’t find a new job, or have reliable transportation to a new place, or access thousands of dollars necessary to put down new deposits and first month’s rents. If they can’t come and go of their own will, they aren’t wholly free.

For some Americans—institutionally root-bound—social and economic mobility are unimaginable because they can’t even manifest  physical, geographical mobility.

Some Americans convert lack of mobility into political power. Especially in traditionally less mobile communities, enclaves of homogeneity—ethnic, economic, social—emerge. For those in such communities who might otherwise have the means to mobility, they might choose to remain in their communities and fight for their neighbors’ opportunities.  It’s only natural that such enclaves would combine resources to send representatives to Washington who might address, among other things, the structural impediments to their neighbors’ mobility.

Thus, we bristle when mobs and bullies command that bravely-and-newly-mobile Americans “go back” to where they “came from.” Such commands are worse than morally obtuse, they are unAmerican. They devalue the agency of those who might have chosen their “place” by voting with their feet. They impute an agency that someone may not have had in their placement in the community where they reside. They deny  the structural and institutional impediments that stand in the way of equality of mobility. They misunderstand the roots of the Federal System which, by its nature, brings a panoply of representatives from disparate localities to a central space for the administration of the nation. Such commands arrogantly flaunt the bullies’ own mobility.

As a lifetime of unencumbered mobility along the I4 corridor has taught me, my votes and my feet prefer partners and neighbors to fearlessly, “come along with me,” than to ever, “go back,” or, “stay,” anywhere. This is America, after all, and we should all be moving, optimistically and freely, together.

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