Elections are Scary Enough Without Voter Shame
OLIVIA HACKER-KEATING // NOVEMBER 9, 2018
My Freshman year of college, I was so excited to vote for the first time. The days of tagging along with my mom to eagerly watch her cast her ballot were behind me— I was finally an adult, ready to play my role in the democratic process, and in a presidential election at that! However, when the day finally came and I filed into Phillips with my peers, I was faced with the reality of the voting process that was a far cry from my fantasies of fresh faced youth stepping up to change the world. Instead, the process was sweaty, crowded, and anxiety inducing, and reminded me more of waiting to take my SATs than anything else. The following elections were even more disheartening, so when election election season rolled around this year, I had much less faith, let alone excitement, in the process then my eighteen year-old self had.
People’s responses to disappointment vary, though, and while the influx of GOP victories and unabashed bigots in office in the past few years left me and many of my friends weary and cynical, other democrats reacted with a kind of aggressive excitement about the electoral process that stood out starkly againsts streams of bad news. Since September, it’s been impossible to scroll through Instagram and Twitter without seeing phrases like “delete my number if you don’t vote november 6th,” often in cheerful font in front of an American flag background. The people who post such things are well intentioned: it is important to use every resource available to attempt to implement change, and voting is one of them. However, the “vote or else” rhetoric is also simplistic, and confusing.
As I saw my various social media feeds blow up with red white blue, I found myself wondering where this sudden burst of patriotism came from. We have seen hate win over and over again, often through unapologetic fraud— why did liberals suddenly have faith in the American democratic system, one that was built on racism and the suppression of marginalized communities? Voting is not the beginning or the end of implementing political change, it is a step. One that, yes those who are able to should take part in, but it should be acknowledged that, just as your mom posting “fuck Drumpf” for her equally liberal middle aged facebook friends to see, cannot be treated as the be all and end all of resistance.
While there is something admirable about unwavering hope in the face of adversity, it’s also important to take into account the very valid reasons that many people may have for not wanting to pay service to a system that, time and time again, has been shown to not care about their rights.
Voting can feel like playing into the fantasy of a representative democracy that is really by and for the people, instead of acknowledging that the system has always been skewed to keep the white, upper class in power. For non US citizens, incarcerated Americans and, in some states, those with a convicted felony on their record, working people who cannot take time off and people with disabilities voting comes with fear, difficulty, and legal barriers. Furthermore, these groups are the same people that liberal voting advocates claim to care about.
That being said, this election has shown the ability of voting to abolish systems meant to silence such individuals: Florida approved amendment 4, which allows for those formerly incarcerated for felonies to vote. We need to show politicians that we need more acts such as that to be passed, that we know that the suppression of marginalized voices is not an accident and that we demand change. We need to ask more of our representatives, and also understand the limits of the American political structure and that community organizing and direct action is also necessary. It’s not enough to just vote, we need to demand and create a system in which every vote counts.