Those voices are discussing Columbus Day, a holiday on the second Monday in October where people are meant to pause, consider history, and think to themselves, “does this mean I don’t have to go to work today?”
Columbus Day purportedly marks the occasion when Christoper Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and discovered America, setting anchor outside of a Walmart to buy a handgun just in time for Black Friday.
To be specific, Columbus is believed to have landed somewhere in the Caribbean and ended up ravaging the region through disease and an exploitation of the indigenous population. In other words, he took a cruise to the Bahamas, which is about as American as it gets.
According to the calendar that comes with my phone, Columbus Day is not a nationwide holiday — it’s celebrated in some states, like Ohio, which has a city named for Columbus, and in New York, which has a shape named for Columbus. But it’s not celebrated in states like Florida — and not just because they don’t understand why it’s not spelled with a K.
In states across the country, Columbus Day has been replaced with Indigenous People’s Day, which honors the Native Americans who lived across the continental United States for about 15,000 years before Columbus’ arrival, for about twenty-four hours.
And just like Cleveland, that’s not the only alternative to Columbus. The city of Sandusky, Ohio, for instance, just announced it will no longer honor Columbus Day, and instead allow municipal workers to take off Election Day.
Now, I think that’s a great idea, though it is surprising that that’s the thing Sandusky, Ohio wanted to change. That’s like the city of Jared Fogle, Nevada saying, “we’ve heard your complaints, and we’ve decided to open another post office.” The bank holidays aren’t the problem.
Anyway, for years, people have talked about making Election Day a national holiday to boost voter turnout. You wake up, you vote, and you do whatever it is you do on a holiday, like blow up fireworks in a church or something.
But giving someone a free day off with an asterisk doesn’t really matter if there are no consequences. At my college, all classes were canceled in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Instead, students were supposed to attend some sort of event in honor of Dr. King, like a lecture or a discussion.
But there were no repercussions if you didn’t go — nobody took attendance, and it didn’t count towards anything, unless you count the values of tolerance, equality, and fighting injustice as “anything.” They even put up signs around campus, stating, “it’s not a day off — it’s a day on,” and I guess they were right — they just forgot to add the words “the couch.”
Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s a very good thing to carve out specific times to help people carry out their civic duties. But instead of replacing the second Monday in October with the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November, we should be pushing to make voting happen on the weekend, like in Australia, France, and Japan, all of which have higher voter turnout percentages than us.
It’s not that I don’t want another free day off during the week — I’ll take it — but I think you’d get a hell of a lot more people voting on a Sunday as an excuse to get out of whatever else they were supposed to be doing on the worst day of the week.