In the United States, November’s presidential election is slowly approaching, and I have been asking myself whether I am going to vote in it or not.
For the most part I have been approaching this question from a personal angle: Would my vote be likely to swing my district or my state? If being a participatory citizen, politically active and vocally engaged, is something I believe in, am I setting a bad example by not voting? If the candidate I like the least is elected, will I feel guilty for not voting for the incrementally better option? Is participating in an election in which I am not represented, the results of which can only further my frustrations as an oppressed person, worth it?
The more I ask these questions, and the more I pose them to other members of my community, the more I am reminded that there are far deeper quandaries that a presidential election raises, especially in a political moment like the current one. As all mainstream media and election coverage beat around the realities of national debt, worsening economic emergency, military conflicts and the global shifting of industrial and material power, one must ask what it is that we are expected to vote for. Our choices, as per usual, are not between different representatives, but between different models for our economic appropriation, different ways in which we might make ourselves useful to the ultra-wealthy, and keep a state which thrives on our disenfranchisement competitive in the global market. For those of us who have the option (and a sizable number of us do not), what is our participation in this election, or lack thereof, going to accomplish? In the face of the issues which truly affect, divide and pose threat to our collectives, how does voting for the president factor into addressing them?
If there is one thing I hope we all learned from the election of Barack Obama, it is that the state apparatus does not become a fundamentally different kind of machine when it is headed by an oppressed person. (And that if we are electing candidates based on their likability, we should not be so quick to judge those who made similar miscalculations in previous elections.) Campaigns which garner their clout from corporate funding and wealthy foundations, and whose platforms are based on celebrity rather than consciousness, cannot be expected to represent our communities, nor to encompass their many voices. The government to which their candidates are elected, one which is in place to assure the economic dominance and military force on a global scale of the U.S. nation-state, should not be trusted to care for the descendants of slaves, or homeless folks, to acknowledge the incarcerated and respect the rights of the undocumented. Our marginalization is the design of the state, not its unfortunate byproduct, and while voting may at times help us pass certain laws and bills–ones which represent arguable victories for our people–I cannot help but see voting as more ritual than practice, one which galvanizes our communities around the benign maintenance of the state, not its transformation.
One of the reasons why raising this kind of a discourse around U.S. elections is so complicated are the long legacies of struggle in so many of our oppressed communities for the right to vote. To suggest that voting is not worth the trouble often seems apathetic or even disrespectful to previous generations and their hard-fought battles. I know there are members of my own community who would remind me that the privilege of having the choice to not vote is one which many fought to grant me.
Yet the point I hope to make is that voting does not grant us any real choice–it merely gives us the opportunity of tallying our consent for the continuation of a system of global domination, one which represents our demise along with that of countless communities across the planet. What I hope to call for is not political disengagement, but a radical re-engaging of our communities, centered around our advocating for ourselves, raising our voices outside of predetermined systems, demanding the basic resources we require, and organizing to actively dismantle the state, not to make limited choices about which powerful figures should temporarily occupy it. This kind of action is taken with the deepest intentions to honor, protect and fight for all generations of our communities, not to offend or alienate them.
A professor of Ethnic Studies and Native Sovereignty Politics at my college for whom I had much respect, stated often that once Indigenous and colonized subjects have looked critically at their relationship to the nation-state, the only logical thing they can do is call for its dismantling. Once it is understood that political borders and the resources they delineate, the occupation and desecration of ancestral lands, and the calculated disenfranchising of specific populations are the problems, voting on whose job it will be to oversee them becomes a ludicrous solution.
We may or may not be able to vote in the upcoming election, but whether we should, I have begun to think, is a question which is irrelevant to the liberation of our people and of ourselves. If we want to know how our own struggles are coming along, we should ask ourselves what it is we are doing actively and on a daily basis to undermine the state, rather than imploring its representation. Exercising our political voices, and engaging next generations in using theirs, is critical. Yet acting out false democracy in the form of a presidential election may be the least significant way of doing so.