I’m sorry to say, but I don’t believe not voting is an effective form of protest. Not voting will not be registered as protest in our current, convoluted, and messy election process. Nothing productive will be accomplished from this act. If anything, low voter turnout, especially from young progressives, will only feed the current narratives that are used to dismiss the progressive movement. This is mere fuel and ammunition for the narrative that the way we do things can’t be any other way — that young people care but don’t show up.
Yes, perhaps voting blue is only voting for incremental change, and I agree that that is a problem. But unfortunately, we have to start somewhere, and we have to work in the messy electoral system that we have until we can garner enough momentum to change it. That momentum cannot be gained if we don’t even begin. And that incremental change might possibly make a big difference to someone, and that should matter. Pushing for more than incremental change is also so important, but don’t just drop the baton before we even get started — keep pushing for grassroots change. The progressive leaders we can look to now (Bernie Sanders, Nina Turner, and the Squad) started somewhere. Bernie Sanders started with a mayoral campaign that he narrowly won. We must infiltrate every county in this country and continue to build momentum through uplift. Through wild optimism in the face of blazing inequality and devastation. It is brave to remain optimistic — not naive, but boldly envisioning something new.
If we do not even participate in democracy, we will feed the narrative that is used to destroy the progressive movement. They will continue to dismiss Bernie supporters or progressives in general as being young and not even capable of “getting it together” enough to vote. I’ll play devil’s advocate to say that there isn’t truly any true way to know whether those facts and figures won’t be manipulated. Surely, even just closing polling places, purging voters, discarding or handing out improper ballots — these things all contribute to low voter “turnout” among young and disenfranchised voters. So perhaps regardless of a great turnout, young progressives will still be slapped with the label of “loud on the internet but unwilling to show up, organize and vote.” However, I suppose at a certain point it becomes very similar to the mask issue. Sure, maybe with a mask something will still be transferred, but what if it does help? Take 15 seconds to slap the mask on and maybe you’ll make a big difference. Take the five minutes to vote and at the very least, you may effect real change in the down-ballot races which actually need our engagement.
Perhaps we don’t consciously value down-ballot races with the same vigor because we as a society value and worship fame. Thus, if it isn’t the highest office, it is not worth our attention — and isn’t that just a reflection of our national culture? We seem to not even care about the collective group of leaders that make up our governing body — we only seem to process and internalize the figurehead at the top. We have a collective government as opposed to a monarchy on purpose, so please honor it and keep fighting for and acknowledging the importance of all parts and pieces of the governing body.
The similarity to wearing a mask is two-fold. Yes, perhaps it is not the only answer, and yet does that mean we shouldn’t even try to begin to make things better? Even in some small way? Yes, you should not only wear a mask, but you should also stay away from others, maintain six-feet, stay at home when possible, stay healthy, and wash hands. Similarly to voting, we should continue to stay engaged and educated, canvass, protest, get involved on a local level, and advocate for the kinds of initiatives we’d like to see. One does not cancel out the other — we should do as many things as we all can on a regular basis. Develop a practice of engagement that we can comfortably accommodate into our lives. The conversation should not stop at voting, but we should also not dance in the false dichotomy of one or the other — either voting and not being engaged or just not voting. Let’s push for option D — voting, understanding that it is not the end of political engagement and that we need to push for even more free and fair elections, and also pushing forwards with local, grassroots, activated, and universal engagement.