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.
I will vote this fall, but think the Electoral College (or is it ‘collage’?) is part of a sham process that, quite possibly, was designed to induce citizens to believe they actually have a say in their own governance and thereby quell their inclinations to take other steps to alter their lives and lifestyles.
Over 40 years ago my parents noted that “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer” (with ‘richness’ and ‘poorness’ resting on economics, power, or any other polar-opposite dyad). Except for the situation having worsened for most citizens, I see little has changed since then, and I am ever less enamored of political and social movement and process theories. It seems to me that the point where interests converge is where significant changes may have their origin, and that such a convergence point does not lie within the political arena (the framework of which assures that little, if any, substantive change will be effected).
Insightful analysis of what presidential elections really mean. It’s a broken, corrupt system. And your vote in the Presidential election won’t count if you’re in a safe Democratic district/state.
But consider the impact your vote might have in a close Congressional race, especially for education funding. I’ll vote for the Democrat if it could mean taking a majority back in the Senate.
And for readers in states that are in play for the president, consider the Federal Court appointments that another Republican administration will make, which could lead to many more years of oppressive decisions.
Thank you for writing, these are all important points. While a discussion of the democratic party at large, its recent policies on education funding (http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2012/01/extra-extra-the-white-house-announces-another-federal-education-non-policy/), as well as decisions passed by the Federal Court might be in order, the point I hope to make is that the survival of oppressed people necessarily depends on our organizing outside of all of these channels. It’s not that the appointment of congress people and judges and other officials don’t impact our lives, it’s that visible ways in which these officials’ decisions effect us are nothing compared to the ways the order they represent–regardless of party affiliation–is constantly degrading, denying and doing us violence in ways we forget to notice because we have been taught to accept them. Again, it’s not apathy but the galvanizing of movements which undermine and pose threat to the state apparatus that I hope to be a part of.
For myself, the larger point is still the realization that my people and I do not have a voice in this system, are not valued or supported by it, the next question being, what does it take to create the spaces and systems which we imagine, which we control, and which do honor and provide our communities with the things that they need?