There has been a lot of talk around what some would call liberals’ obligation to vote for Barack Obama this November, followed by a lot of critiques from a marginalized Left. Between his pension for drone strikes and his slow pace on gay rights and immigrant rights, on top of his utter failure to take any sort of stand for far-left ideals, I can see why a lot of people on the Left don’t want to cast that vote. While a vote for Obama can act as a vote against the Republican Party, just how much do we reward Democrats for being slightly less terrible than Republicans? I’m intrigued by this debate, but it’s not what this post is about.
Long ago the idea of voting as a privilege was cast off, with the franchise extended to a number of minority groups. But the remnants of that idea, the idea that only the elite are blessed with the vote, still remain. Many Americans have the opportunity to vote now, but that opportunity is limited in a host of ways, including voter ID laws and disinformation campaigns aimed at confusing voters. In a country where the vote takes place on a work day, with inflexible hours, and rigid rules regarding absentee voting and polling places, it is far easier for the privileged to vote.
It is this fact that leads many to feel obligated to vote, despite the weary mantra that our votes don’t count (and between the electoral college and big-donor-funded candidates, a lot of these votes don’t). That we have the opportunity to vote means that we need to use that opportunity. To be American is to vote.
But democracy doesn’t end with casting a ballot. That’s just where it begins. If your fed up with the two parties, then there’s a lot that you can do beyond just voting for the lesser evil. And in a first-passed-the-post system, I’m certainly not talking about voting for a third party. But if you can’t stomach voting for Obama, particularly if you live in a state not listed as a gradient on polling maps, I don’t care what you do. I hope you’ll still vote in your local and state elections, because that is where tons of liberal reform could actually happen (seriously, foster those ideas in your community). And I hope you go beyond the simple act of voting and decide to take on the act of organizing for change outside the electoral system. The fact of the matter is, voting is a right – and that’s all it is. To be American is to have the right to choose who you vote for – and to choose whether or not you want to vote at all.
We have the right to vote for whomever we want, and that right should matter. Voting should play a role in choosing effective leaders, and it should serve as a voice for what we want to see in our government. To that end, choosing not to vote isn’t surrendering that voice – it’s shouting something entirely different. It’s a protest of a rigged system, and it’s a protest of a party that isn’t listening.