I am writing today to talk about the practice of voting itself. Yesterday, I posted this status on Facebook:
I know I should not have to say this, but I am. If you have the right to vote for President, unlike our immigrant brothers and sisters, folks living in our colonies, and the millions of mostly men of color that have lost the right due to felony convictions (Jim Crow is alive and happy as Hell)...and you do not vote because "voting doesn't matter," or "you are protesting the system," please take your selfish self-centered ass up and out of these here United States. Most likely someone died for you to have that right especially if you are a woman, person of color, non land owner. Folks are still dying because y'all decided to stay home in 2000 and 2004 here and around the world thanks to wars started by Bush. Go vote. I hope you will vote for Obama, but not voting isn't a protest it is an abrogation of your most minimal democratic obligation. Don't vote; relocate. Danke! Gracias! Merci! Obrigado! Salamat po! Grazie!I stand by this Facebook status emphatically, but I want to explain a bit more about why I believe voting to be important even within this broken system, particularly after receiving some well thought out and meaningful push back from a former colleague and someone that I adore as a human and as a thinker, Patrick Barret from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can read Patrick's full discourse on my Facebook page by scrolling down a bit and clicking on the comment feed under the above status. But one of his comments struck me in response to my statement that we have an obligation to participate [in democracy via the minimal act of voting]:
"Yes of course we do, but not blindly. We are plenty smart enough, and we're morally obligated, not to just participate aimlessly, with no analysis of what works and what doesn't. The system's broken, and in my opinion, that obligates us to avoid fulfilling Einstein's definition of insanity."
I agree with Patrick. The system is broken. Democracy is limited more now than at anytime since the official dismantling of Jim Crow era poll taxes/lit tests/etc. Using the vehicle of the prison industrial complex and restrictive ID laws and court room shenanigans, the vote is either directly or effectively stripped from millions upon millions of mostly people of color and poor voters. That, of course, is not coincidental since a working poor/oppressed class of folks that see themselves as having a legitimate opportunity to use the electoral system to effect change would buck the two party system and create a much fairer (as fair as can be possible while still operating under capitalism). It would be a democracy that was at least multi-party if not explicitly socialist in its leanings. That's my belief and the trends of the 60s of radical social groups that were broad based holds this up as do the union organizing of previous decades, etc. So it is in the interest of power to limit the franchise as much as possible and to those that have some particular interest and investment in the current system. It is easier for the working poor to see themselves in cahoots with a struggling and shrinking middle class which identifies with American dream aspirations rather than having the working poor and middle class seeing themselves as fundamentally the same as the working poor and having the middle class risk what small privileges still exist for a chance at a revolutionary democratic movement that would pay out real liberation dividends via a time of struggle.
Yet even with that broken reality, I believe that our system is not yet so monolithic and gone that the two parties are one party from rhetoric to recent history WE KNOW THAT TO BE UNTRUE!
The system is broken. It needs to be fixed. But the reality is that who sits in the White House DOES matter. It matters to those of us living with HIV if the president in the White House is going to fund Ryan White and at what level, Medicaid and other social programs. It matters to working class people of color and poor whites if the president in the White House is going to rush to or manufacture a war for political and financial gain. It matters who is the White House when it comes to basic human rights protections for queer and trans folks. It matters for many reasons who sits in the White House.
HEAR ME CLEARLY! No person in the White House is going to give us our liberation, But I do not ascribe to the notion that who you vote for in this corporate democracy doesn't matter. Eight years of Bush and the Great Recession that followed proved, unequivocally, that, in fact, it does matter. It matters in a cost of lives. Mayhaps I am not as "down," as those that are willing to suggest that voting doesn't matter because the system is inherently flawed. Voting doesn't matter in the way that it should. I spent years working with Patrick Barret, David Cobb and others on just these issues. And I continue to advocate for real and meaningful democratic practice. And if I need to do so, I will continue to repeat that voting is only your most minimal obligation to democracy. But I will vote tomorrow. I will vote for Barack Obama. And I encourage every one of you to vote, attempt to vote, or raise Hell in one way or another if you find your right to vote denied while at the polling station...and then...no matter what the outcome of the election tomorrow night, get ready for the real work of democracy that comes each and every day afterwards.