There isn’t a polite way to say this, in an election cycle “like none other,” it is simply impossible to be demure. You are not entitled in any way to know how I’ve voted, or even if I’ve voted, or anything relating to my civic responsibility, and this considerable privilege bequeathed to me as a citizen of these United States of America.
That my involvement in politics came as a consequence of birth. That after 5 decades on this earth, in this country, and as an active and willing participant in the democratic process, there has to come a once-in-a-lifetime event. This is just such occasion. Another was electing, not once, but twice, the first African-American President. Taking my responsibilities as a good citizen very seriously, having actively contributed to, in a way that is not wholly ordinary, but can at times be called extraordinary, this political process and all its machinations, can or will lead to an event horizon.
Backstory: Being born to a particularly active Union Member/Organizer, growing up on picket lines during a strike, and having your mother (whom you adore) become the Chair of the Democratic Party in your small town, as well as a poll monitor, acclimates you on a rather granular level to how the sausage is made. That being said it also makes for quite the education in how people get elected, what tremendous amounts of effort are required to get anything done in this country. Also how much time progress takes. Politically speaking, of course.
Amplify the above by living just outside this nation’s Capitol. Where everything within a 50-mile radius is utterly infused like an artisanal baked good with the scent of politics. Bureaucracy, and all its odious permutations, infects everything. From the clerk behind the counter at the fast-food joint, bank clerks, nightly newscasters, to the Post Office. All DMV levels of brutish obfuscation. Everyone follows an unseen protocol. It’s not my job, did you do x in order to get y. If not, head to the back of the line & start over.
After leaving home, a decade was spent living in Washington, DC. A swamp, not only historically, but in the miasma rising above it still, hanging unseen but deadly in the air. All the lobbyists and power traded on a daily basis is designed to strangulate anything approaching progression. These were the Reagan/Bush years. While they sucked for America, they were particularly great for the underground & legendary Punk Scene that flourished there. Anarchy was rife, on everyone’s tongues, blasting from speakers at eardrum-shattering intensity.
Then enter all the activism that would flow after, Solidarity, LGBTQ Rights, Reproductive Rights, AIDS, and so forth. Which is conveniently erased, as we only count Stonewall, The Civil Rights Movement, Black Panthers and then gloss right over until we get to the #LoveWins & #BlackLivesMatter of the current age.
Let me repudiate that revisionist history, shall I? It is bullshit.
So lest when you get to the conclusion of this piece, your inclination is to recriminate this, remember that I stormed the NIH to get access to affordable & rapid life-saving drugs, and will march over you with the same zeal. Capiche? Good, I’m glad we’ve reached an understanding.
The Decision “Not to Vote”
What the above was designed to do, was illustrate to you, that in one life, there can be a wellspring of passion, on-the-ground activism, belief in a process, that isn’t in anyway indicative that one will always do “the right thing.” That this election process, going all the way back to the primaries, can and will rob someone of the will to vote. That people on this last day to get their message across, and in the weeks leading up to it, can still post vehemently about being with her, or call-out non-stop the atrocities both new and old, that we’ve endured on repeat for months now, is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and its more than occasional idiocy.
Yet as a sociologist, I’d ask if you aren’t doing exactly what you are accusing that mythical “other side” of doing? There is an authoritative, life-or-death mania, with or against binary, that erases all nuance, excepts the actual humanity of the process, and reduces it to rather double-plus-good conundrum. People can and possibly do vote on a single issue, but they shouldn’t. They can vote on personality, but again that is unwise. They can and do probably also invest entirely too much time in tabloid driven rhetoric, whose sole design is to flatter their own implicit biases or false sense of superiority.
Let’s not do that today. Let’s not elect someone because we want to “make history” either. Let’s elect someone with the gravitas and consideration that we’d give to choosing our path in life, the care of our children’s well-being, or those intimate health decisions.
If someone so avowed, and righteous in their belief in the power of the vote, what that representation and its historic significance does mean, can be dissuaded from using the supposed foundational tool of our fine democracy, what does that say about this election cycle?
You Made Me This Way
It is your fault, yes you reading this, your obsessive posting about every last thing regarding the election cycle, buying in to the social media/news sites/clickbait outrage cycle have created a toxic stew. It isn’t the least way reflective of who we are, what we do, or how we come to make important decisions. Instead it is a post-emotional-performative-social-media that I’ve remarked upon, and used in my work for years now.
Your strong, often compelling, arguments for your candidate leave me cold. You are neither pragmatic enough or nearly radical in your critiques, or your overall estimation of the controlling power that the concentrated media establishment, or Social Media Platforms used to espouse your supposed ideals has on it. That even those most grizzled and chiseled, forged from the very same late 20th Century activism, misses some rather glaring points.
Sure support your outsider, third-party candidates, *slow claps*, and hold those kitten heels of the supposed centrist alternative to the fire. BRAVA! Yet please don’t police, in a patriarchal and paternalistic tone my dissension of your false equivalence. The outer rims are very always likely to meet. When I can’t distinguish, by putting a thumb over your avi or profile picture, whether you are a rabid authoritarian bootjack from the well-meaning neo-liberal who thinks that they are ultra-progressive, then we have a problem. When your stances, criticisms, and other facile notions of what it means to be politically active seem to converge, then the problem isn’t with those that disagree, but with the systemic influences that brought us to this point.
Both Sides Met in the Middle
You all, on either side of this debate, and all the subsets, have mentioned nary a word that affects my life, or my decisions for months (or years if we are keeping it 100). That uninsured, underemployed, freelancer living in extreme poverty and your ideals combined are exactly the same. When homelessness is simply and clearly the only option left to me, and not being camera ready, or falling into a particularly visible and vulnerable group, you’d rather talk about the supposed economic anxieties of the whites that are voting for that hairpiece.
Bravo! Again, where are the issues? The real ones affecting us, not those that make us hit that voting lever or touchscreen like the sky is falling, and we are Chicken Little. Where is your supposed deep concern, when we’ve been primed from childhood to spot the ones “Who cried Wolf?” My disgust is so ample that there is enough of it to go around for friend and foe alike. No one is being spared.
As such months ago, I decided rather firmly, as is my prerogative, that I’d abstain from voting. That come what may, and despite any last-minute appeals that this entire charade, meant to represent the highest democratic ideals, was in effect a farce. There is something akin to a grand Theater of the Absurd production about it all, and my decision was not made in haste, but with all the seriousness of making end-of-life decisions.
There is a singular power in: NO
As a survivor, consent activist, and long-time sufferer of life’s many tragedies you learn the value of that. There is an acute awareness of things that can or will be triggering. This entire cycle has been a long sloth through every trauma possible. My faith in humanity is ample, while my practice of it (as a New Yawker), is to be wary and circumspect. Trust no one. Everything is false, nothing is Permitted. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
So you’ll forgive me if I’ll not stand around debating my humanity, or decisions, when you have clearly decided via social media that no boundaries should be honored. You’ll consult your dictionary, your outdated rationalist humanitarianism, and then proceed as if you have the authority or right to lecture me on it.
No, Thank You.
Let’s start with I’m at the busy corner of ‘couldn’t give a fuck, if I wanted to’ & ‘do you use that mouth to kiss your mother?’ waiting for the light to turn green. Stop hollering at me out of your car window! The answer is always going to be: NO. Being southern born and bred, the overarching rule of their supposed polite society is to never discuss politics or religion. We fail at this in our virtual interactions, and have for years now, been blocking, arguing, and otherwise engaging ‘friends’ (or followers/family) in a rather rancid set of entanglements.
So much so, that having seen that outrage garners more clicks, shares, conversations — that the entities who stand to profit from it, social media platforms or publishers, have exploited it to the hilt. They’ve provided us with an election cycle that is not unlike standing in a crowded room of people performing the comment section on any given website. Instead of anything approaching these issues seriously, tackling what is germane, we are jockeying for positions or performances that make us look “intelligent and reasoned” while yelling that the other side is “stupid and misguided” — all of which is the politics of impossible. A country never so ‘divided’ they tell us, as if a civil war didn’t litter this same land with the blood of brothers, or that the same land previously wasn’t robbed from its rightful owners, and then the importation and enslavement of others didn’t equate to that so-called “Greatness.”
Blame & Shame Game
The narratives in the media have already started around “low enthusiasm” & “low turnout” and in a repeat of tired tropes of 2004 (and beyond), they will blame African-Americans, or whoever else falls on the margins. Despite evidence which belies their considerable confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.
All this social media s(ch)tick with no carrot? That is how you make someone both your mule, and then disenfranchise them. Disempowering them while using their labor or vote to only give them the appearance of democracy. If you are going to get blamed anyway, why bother? Save your so-called self-righteous recriminations of my decision. Or use that energy more wisely, like to dig deeper.
In an election season that seems like one long pathological lie, where any attempt to address real issues is met with prevarication on a level only experienced in dystopian literature, you’ll forgive me if your pleas for months, or even in these waning hours has left me emotionless. There is simply none left to offer you. After running through them all, and not a single one having any direct impact except to fuel an entire nation to look at anything but its actual on-the-ground realities.
Vote or Shut Up!
That is bullshit, and if you employ this tactic, expect for me to upbraid you for no less than 15 minutes, and make you feel entirely too small minded, and too entitled to have an opinion. That is like saying: If you can’t have babies, you can’t get married. What about barren folks, those in their twilight years, etc… To extend this analogy to our right to vote, what about the dispossessed? Those whose vote is suppressed? You tell us not to leave the polling place, but if the line is so long, and you have a job, a life, something just as pressing? Of course there are exceptions.
We have not only all turned into political pundits, where just about any crackpot theory will pass muster, or seem legitimate, we’ve also come to that where you think your opinion matters. Further with social media extensions of ourselves, and a phone in our hands, we think someone cares about that opinion, or it is best delivered through a tower of sanctimony. You’re doing it all wrong. All of you. Thinking only from your position and privilege, with nary a thought to what the data suggests. That our two-party system isn’t designed for everybody. That Citizens United shifts the power to where the money is. That compulsory voting is something I’ve advocated for, at least two decades now. That would create a true coalition. We’d have to rely on one another, it wouldn’t necessarily be better, but is a system that includes (with penalty of a fine) to include everyone. When your political leaders actually have to cater to, and address the needs of a broad electorate, then they will find solutions, stratagems, and partners to make this happen.
That without that, what we have is more symbolic of democracy. That people who have coalesced their power, or have built it since our inception, are not particularly keen on letting someone vote that away from them. In a compulsory vote, refusing to, and paying the fine can be a form of activism. Just as not voting, but then reserving the right to complain about it, is also promised to us now. For if the person who was blocked from voting has this right after systemic disenfranchisement, then allow me to stand alongside of them and say, I’ll vote when my vote means something. When everyone is heard and represented.
The meanings being floated around now, are all valid. Yours and mine. That as I opened with, this is a very serious decision, and one that even if treated lightly, or not given the same rigorous thought I’ve done, is also valid. That because you vote, doesn’t entitle you to in effect further disempower me from participating in any process. After all what was the last rally you went to? Not your Feel the Bern! one either, but the one for the dead black bodies clogging our streets. Or the state-sanctioned arms of war that are then called in to further show you what power looks like and who holds it, and what they will allow.
You needn’t put your life on the line, marshal to a cause you don’t feel personally connected to, but when those people who do, won’t join you in what you consider the lowest bar for acceptance into a democracy, don’t bitch. Going to a polling place, participating in a process, which in case you hadn’t heard isn’t even handicap-accessible, if you’ve not walked a mile in that person’s shoes, then spare your judgment.
We won’t know for sometime what the numbers are to crunch them. How many ACTUALLY showed up, how many ballots cast, or where they fall in terms of elections past. Yet there will be many attempts, and certainly a fare amount of armchair analysis from people who barely string a sentence together, and who clog comment sections. So even in my non-participation, it isn’t as if I’m forfeiting the right, to continue valiantly to hold everyone accountable.
You Do You
Let me do me. Several people I’ve spoken with today aren’t voting, and don’t care. Sure there is an anxiety, but again, in the modern epoch — and through the majority illusion paradox that Social Media is known to create, it seems rather bellicose. We’re tired. That just because your limited circle doesn’t include but the stray relative, and news sources that don’t align and confirm your particularly biases, does not, and should not make you feel comfortable.
If my choosing to abstain from voting makes you uncomfortable, or perhaps somehow lesser. Then the thing you most need to do, is ask yourself why? Even if it were just for the simple reason that I don’t want to, and you seem to think that the very freedoms and foundations of the world you know rest on it, then I think one of us is suffering delusions, and it is most certainly not me.
That we sit in judgment of one another, square off over the slightest of things, and reduced civility to a near non-existent state, makes everything seem far less human. Again, I love humanity, and seem to hate humans. Not who they are or even what they do, but in the way that they are so unable at times to walk in the light of their truth, and as such find everything a threat.
Politics and elections only work if we are doing this together, if we are doing what we think is best for humanity. Not our own self-serving interests, but that of our children and fellow citizens. Even those we vehemently disagree with. If after the ballots are tallied we continue to work with hope and change in our hearts to improve upon what we have, to bring more seats to that table, become more inclusive, and not just for the people who look and act like us — but everybody!
What Americans want on both sides is an authoritarian regime. Or so it seems. Even the progressives want change at the end of force, not through the political process we have. Which has to allow for all of them, even the ornery ones who fight you at every step, and block your every move. As we’ve seen for eight years, and can expect no matter who wins tonight. We’ve already lost.
The system is already broken, but our belief in its better nature, keeps us striving. Yet we mustn’t let our ideals, and our short-comings, dictate that we don’t see things clear eyed. Many people, based on who wins, will be ebullient tonight. While recent past tells us whoever loses will set about dismantling and ramping up more hatred and violence. Even benevolent forms.
So again, it saddens me to not participate with those who are voting, but at the same time it is the only choice left to me, when effectively my situation or circumstances are at the margins of concern for the entire country. That having not spoken to me directly, or made an appeal to win over my heart or my mind, that it is impossible with a clear conscience to do anything but abstain.
Please respect that, and work on the next election cycle, the midterms and getting more people to turn out. Including them, restoring their rights and privileges you hold so dear, that are at times just an accident of birth, and considerable luck. Dismantle the systemic oppression, in ways big and small. Empower people, and build alliances even with those you can’t seem to stand. Protect this earth, and our little portion of it. Be kind to one another, unless they are enforcing the very systems, even through their well-meaning ways, by all means please illuminate them in whatever manner is appropriate.
After all, where is our LGBT president? The atheist one? The Asian, Hispanic, Native, et al… lest we overcalculate how much identity politics as propaganda tool can be, we’ve a long way to go to have an inclusive society. That even as it births its way into being its most diverse, we are seeing a resurgence of what can only be called our worst traits as human beings. A regression to things that those less willing to change find comfortable. Bigotry, Racism, Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Homophobia, and every other form of oppressive marginalization.
Live at the intersection of being a good citizen, of making others want to participate. Let’s all on January 1st, or tonight even, put this entire sordid year behind us and move on. That won’t be possible, of course, but let’s dare to dream it. Work towards it. When they bring up the past, let’s find ways to meet that with something in the future they can look forward to. When all that fails, let us follow the only safe advice to come out of this entire debacle:
“When they go low, we go high” — FLOTUS Michelle Obama