This is the third and final post in my series on voter apathy. For this post, I share the words of another, Roxane Gay, in an OpEd piece she wrote for the New York Times. The piece speaks for itself …
You’re Disillusioned. That’s Fine. Vote Anyway.
Very pragmatic advice for anyone thinking about not casting a ballot.
A young woman in Milwaukee recently asked me if I had any advice for disillusioned young voters. She said that in a representative democracy it was hard to want to vote for, in her words, “yet another 40,000-year-old white man” who didn’t look like her or have familiarity with her experiences.
Her question was genuine, and even though more women are running for Congress than in previous years and Stacey Abrams of Georgia has a chance to be the first African-American woman elected governor, I understood her overall frustration. For every beacon of progress there is a stark reminder that the status quo all too often prevails.
Young people are facing a lot of problems they had no hand in creating. Far too many of them are saddled with incredible amounts of student loan debt, working in a gig economy where little job security is scarce. If they have health insurance, it is likely inadequate. Homeownership can seem out of reach. Black voters are being disenfranchised at alarming rates. Reproductive freedom is precarious. Citizenship is precarious. Climate change threatens our planet on an alarming timeline. Things are grim and politicians of all persuasions are doing very little to assuage or address the very real concerns people have about this country and their place in it.
I could have offered a warm, gentle answer but these are not warm, gentle times. Given everything that has transpired since President Trump took office, I have no patience for disillusionment. I have no patience for the audacious luxury of choosing not to vote because of that disillusionment, as if not voting is the best choice a person could make. Not voting is, in fact, the worst choice a person could make.
In 2016, nearly 40 percent of eligible voters chose not to vote. Many who showed up to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 were apparently so underwhelmed by Hillary Clinton that they simply stayed home. And, of course, there were the voters who chose third-party candidates who had no chance of winning the presidential election but were still able to affect the outcome in key states. If and how one votes is a personal choice, but that choice has consequences.
We are reaping what has been sown from voter disillusionment and we will continue doing so until enough people recognize what is truly at stake when they don’t vote. A representative democracy is flawed but it is the political system we must work within, at least for the time being. We have a responsibility to participate in this democracy, even when the politicians we vote for aren’t ideal or a perfect match. Voting isn’t dating. We are not promised perfect candidates. Voting requires pragmatism and critical thinking and empathy and now, more than ever, intelligent compromise.
Only 40 percent of Americans choose to vote during midterm elections, generally speaking. There has been a lot of talk about the importance of voting next Tuesday because we are desperate to change the political climate and the first step in doing that is shifting the balance of power in Congress. Politicians, their volunteers and progressive publications have been vigorously trying to get out the vote in a range of ways.
Many of these efforts have been well intended but poorly executed. One tactic has been the use of bait-and-switch on social media — sharing something innocuous like celebrity gossip or a recipe, only to direct people to a webpage about voting and voter registration. These efforts imply that one cannot care about both trivial things and the state of our democracy. This bait-and-switch approach may not be anyone’s primary voter outreach strategy, but it is happening often enough to grate on my nerves. These efforts are predicated upon the belief that condescension and manipulation are the only way to reach apathetic or disillusioned voters when what we need is brutal honesty.
We deserve a better class of politicians who recognize the greater good and act in service of that greater good rather than in service of amassing more power. We deserve politicians who are held accountable for their decisions. We deserve politicians from all walks of life, not just the same old wealthy white heterosexual people who are overly represented in all branches of the government.
We also deserve to be disillusioned and disappointed with what our politicians, thus far, have offered. For the most part they have failed us spectacularly because they understand that radicalism doesn’t play well even though radicalism is what we need now, more than ever. And it is certainly a travesty that universal health care and a livable minimum wage and civil rights and higher taxes on the wealthy are considered radical, but here we are.
I am going to vote on next Tuesday but I can’t say I am particularly optimistic about the impact my vote will have. Between the corrupt stranglehold the Republican Party has on political power and the incompetence and cowardice of the Democrats, voting feels futile. The politicians I will vote for don’t represent me and what I believe in as much as I would like them to.
Voter disillusionment makes perfect sense but it is also incredibly selfish and shortsighted. In the past week, a biracial man was charged with sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats; reports said he drove a van covered in hateful propaganda. A white man tried to enter a black church in Louisville, Ky., and when he couldn’t, he went to a nearby Kroger grocery store and killed two black people. On a Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, a white man entered a synagogue, shouting anti-Semitic epithets. He killed 11 Jews and injured six others. This took place in the same week in which it was reported that the Trump administration thinks it might be able to define the transgender community out of existence, and in which the president continues to use the caravan of migrants heading to the United States to stoke the xenophobic hysteria of his base.
Every single day there is a new, terrifying, preventable tragedy fomented by a president and an administration that uses hate and entitlement as political expedience. If you remain disillusioned or apathetic in this climate, you are complicit. You think your disillusionment is more important than the very real dangers marginalized people in this country live with.
Don’t delude yourself about this. Don’t shroud your political stance in disaffected righteousness. Open your eyes and see the direct line from the people in power to their emboldened acolytes. It is cynical to believe that when we vote we are making a choice between the lesser of two evils. We are dealing with a presidency fueled by hate, greed and indifference. We are dealing with a press corps that can sometimes make it seem as though there are two sides to bigotry. Republican politicians share racist memes that spread false propaganda and crow “fake news” when reality interferes with their ambitions. Progressive candidates are not the lesser of two evils here; they are not anywhere on the spectrum of evil we are currently witnessing.
If you are feeling disillusioned, get over it, at least enough to vote and vote pragmatically. Tell your friends to vote. Drive people to the polls. Support candidates you believe in with your time or, if you can afford it, money. Volunteer for community organizations that address to the issues you most care about. Attend town halls held by your elected officials. Hold them accountable for the decisions they make with the power you give them. Run for local office. Do something. Do anything.
Nothing will change by sitting at home for the midterms or any other election. We cannot afford disillusionment. We cannot afford to do nothing. Lives are at stake and if you don’t recognize that, you are no better than those with whom you are disillusioned.
Roxane Gay, an associate professor at Purdue University, is the author of “Hunger,” and a contributing opinion writer.