Kevin Rinker began working in radio 19 years ago at a high-school station in southeast Washington state. Since then, he has worked at Northwest Public Broadcasting in Washington and WABE in Atlanta, where he is operations/production manager.
When I ride my bike by myself, I have a lot of time to think. When I rode my bike from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Wilmington, North Carolina, solo in November of 2019, I thought a lot. While I went on the ride less than two years ago, the country felt far different from today. The 2020 presidential race was in full swing, coronavirus would not exist until a month after I finished the ride, and we were more than a year away from the events that would unfold at the United States Capitol on January 6. I timed the trip between Halloween and Thanksgiving. As such, there were hints of each holiday everywhere I went, from roadside scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns to Happy Thanksgiving yard signs and festive turkey decorations.
As I traversed the rural-urban divide, I began to think about the importance of shared traditions to a country like ours. Seeing people celebrate these two holidays regardless of where I was provided a sense of place. Despite political and geographical differences, it still felt like I was in the United States.
While shared traditions like holidays can bring us together, others can drive us apart. The history of racism, sexism and classism in the United States demonstrates how the tradition of allowing discrimination can disenfranchise entire groups (even Thanksgiving is problematic if one looks at its history). The best traditions are those that work to provide support, community or a voice. The vote is one example of giving people a voice.
The act of voting is a shared tradition in the United States, as is the belief that the outcome of the vote — not violence or the refusal to accept the results — will determine the future of our country. News reports compared video footage of the insurrection at the Capitol to images seen coming out of other countries, not the United States. As some refused the tradition of accepting the results of an election, our sense of place, of being in the United States, began to slip away. Will we be able to recognize our country in the aftermath of the next election? Only if we hold on to those traditions that are at the foundation of our democracy, like the vote.