Op-Ed: On voting and the ambiguity of submission

[ Content warning: This article discusses rape and abuse. ]

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Photo credit: Kyle Lawrence

Author’s note: This article is starved of visual juxtaposition. It needs a montage flickering with the linearity of the human condition in this disjointed time. Time is blurring and if I have to get another stick shoved up my nose, I may develop a new gag reflex. It’ll be fitting, like a newfound affinity to curvature, rigidity, angular disintegration. I sleep so restlessly and contorted that at times I wake up feeling as if my unconscious body is regularly exercising itself of this world’s arduous confines. Our bodies and minds have non-vernacular languages of meaning that seek to transpire our straightjacket boundaries of thought, reminiscent of when I stare at a screen for so long that I swear I can see into it and through it.

I’m swerving with my thoughts a little. It makes complete sense that the year a pandemic brings this country to its knees would also be an election year. We are all essentially bracing for bad news with the election’s eventual outcome — because that’s both of our options, baby. 

There’s only bad news (the corporate neoliberals won) or bad news (the fascists won). 

According to the U.S. Election Project, there were nearly 92 million non-voters in the 2016 presidential election, constituting about one-third of the country’s voting population. It’s important to note how much of that number is due to voter suppression and how much of it is people not voting as a political stance (even if the political stance is “I don’t care”). It’s interesting to note how voting behaviors have shifted since Joe Biden became the Democratic nominee. For example, it was reported in May 2020 that only 3% of Sen. Bernie Sanders voters have actually contributed to Biden’s campaign, even though an earlier poll revealed that 80% of Sanders voters would back Biden if he were to be the Democratic presidential nominee. That same poll showed 15% of that voting pool would vote for President Donald Trump in that scenario. No more recent data has become available since the end of the primaries this year.

Since Biden became the presumed nominee for the Democratic party, there have been memes strewn across the internet proclaiming how replacing one racist rapist in presidential office with another effectively does nothing but further reaffirm these behaviors as acceptable codes of conduct. The Democrats and the media have done little to combat the presently sitting well-known sexual assailant and predator in the White House, who has since taken the Department of Justice to be his own defense attorneys in cases of sexual assault brought against him. This, it seems, somehow, is the least of our voting populace’s and media’s concerns when considering what has been deemed the most crucial election in U.S. history. 

When the population is presented with seemingly only two “solutions” to myriad problems, and both of them are only further extensions of the problems themselves, when can a non-answer or revoking participation be deemed appropriate? How much larger can a non-voting population grow before it becomes symptomatic of a greater political resistance and actually make a difference?

We know that vote shaming leftists who don’t see resolution in the Democratic Party is counterproductive and throws zero bones to the politically disenfranchised. I would compare it to shaming people who don’t seek criminal prosecution of their abusers, because they know the road is exhausting, expensive, and sadly, rarely leads to prosecution. Why would they invest the time and money into a system that invests so little into helping them find justice, and instead just publicizes their source of trauma for the purposes of their own grandstanding and virtue signaling, causing them to relive it over and over for years? Can we really keep blaming people who see no benefit in these avenues when we have rapists like Brock Turner, who only served the time equivalence of one trimester of pregnancy? What about all the times people are robbed of justice, in that their traumas lack “sufficient evidence,” even when it’s streamed on live video? Can we begin to draw a line between this and voter suppression, another traumatic form of bureaucratic violence by the state that deserves public outcry in every instance? And to push the envelope completely off the desk of safe thinking: does the prison complex and mass incarceration actually prevent crime, or do they just warehouse it from general society, and leave it to the people to do damage control? And finally, do we actually find solace in our self-representation when the popular vote doesn’t appear to even matter? 

I believe in voting like I believe in Narcan: I’ve never done heroin and I’ve never voted, but I believe in the safe and accessible means of attempting to counteract a terrible mistake, regardless of whether it successfully works or appears to perpetuate a culture of addiction. People deserve options. They deserve to know where to vote in person and how to vote by mail just as much as they deserve to know that the U.S. voting system itself is institutionally racist and preserves systemic inequality. This has been extensively studied and outlined by researchers and professors such as White Rage author Carol Anderson, and other articles cover this. The keywords from these studies would be extortion, laundering, gerrymandering, and redlining. 

By this point in late stage, predatory capitalism, with our elections run in a two-party system that encourages voting apathy in what is a historically racially discriminatory and disenfranchising institutional electorate — precipitating conditions that essentially paved the path for Trump to enter the White House and keep him there — it should be abundantly clear that we can’t simply vote our way out of this one.

To see how easily manipulated these party planners are should signal to voters that morality is purchased at the cost of our lives, yet the left seems to advocate for the Democratic Party as a half measure of only hope. And thus, Harris and Biden’s oversights are continuously overlooked, as they seemingly pale in comparison to Trump.

This is what many people mean when they say there is no real choice presented to them, and it’s one I damn empathize with. I empathize with people who feel forced into voting for Biden/Harris, because in their eyes, it’s a survival tactic. It is extremely possible to vote for someone without endorsing them, but let’s call it what it is: it’s forced, involuntary participation. Like rape. 

The argument and plea that “anyone is better than Trump” is manufactured consent. We are kidding ourselves if we are willing to suspend our understandings of how deeply embedded rape culture is in our society for the sake of having a Democrat president in office. We are indeed being forced to consent to a president other than Trump simply because we fear what will happen if we do not. But are we really in a position to be so rest assured with the election of Biden? What are we going to do when this pisses off the boogaloos and the Proud Boys so much that they flex just as hard as they would under Trump? 

The political left is essentially being assaulted by the Democratic Party, forced into participation of an election through means of intimidation and fear mongering, to the point where we have to engage in extreme cognitive dissonance and vote for a two-headed monster personifying the egregious injustices around which we center our movements. I’m not out to victimize, but I’m here to recognize how extremely traumatic this election is. In the process of healing, it is important to recognize all moving parts of the situation so we don’t lose our agency and develop a sort of Stockholm syndrome with Biden and Harris, the alleged only hopes for this country. 

In a society that propagates how “silence does not equal consent,” the mainstream sure does a ton of direct blaming on the non-voting population. This could be because most view the act of not voting as fence-walking, opting out, or a sign of privilege; when really, for many, it’s the most grassroots form of passive resistance. Not voting is the most indirect way of asserting that one doesn’t consent to the electoral process. If the non-voting population was to ever be recognized as the technical majority it’s been throughout history, and if not voting itself was recognized for what it is — an act of free speech, rather than silence — it would be a deafening defeat for both parties. If non-voters were properly represented, it would prove a massive bipartisan failure where both parties failed to persuade an actual majority into endorsing them or their candidates. Republicans and Democrats alike would be forced to recognize that practically no one in this system is winning.

Once leftists see the Democratic Party for the malignant, neoliberal reformism it is, emotional divestment is essential and alienation is inevitable. But as it stands, the political left is in a toxic, codependent relationship with the Democratic Party: they need our votes and we think we need them in order to fight some greater evil. This relationship has developed for decades upon decades, and it’s about time we kill all our demons once and for all. 

And nearly a hundred million people is a loud statistic. It screams impropriety and yet it will be interesting to observe the non-voter number dwindle with the rise of fascism and a culture of fear in this country, as fear and intimidation are excellent tactics in quelling all volumes of rebellion. To simply reduce the politics of the non-voters to apathy and stupidity completely silences the true victims here: those who are the furthest marginalized, those without access, those who are so put out from systematic abuse that they refuse to lay down and endure an either/or fate complex. 

Voting for Biden and Harris is not harm reduction. It’s a poorly contemplated trauma response. It’s completely understandable, but it’s reactionary. And sensitively, I want to remind us all that traumas do not exist in a vacuum. Voting Biden into office will not undo the mass hysterectomies female-bodied ICE detainees have undergone; it will not allow Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, or any others to rise from the dead or receive justice; it will not keep another racist, be it badged or self-appointed, from killing Black peoples and immigrants in the name of white supremacy shrouded in Christian ignorance and patriotism. So for those that exercise their right to vote this election: own it, but don’t glorify it. Voting is not a solution; it’s a half measure that on its own ultimately avails us nothing but a false sense of security in a time when nothing is safe anymore. I’m so sorry to say this, but our adorned voting stickers read as nothing more than the liberal equivalent of thoughts and prayers.

When justice is diminished to spectacle performance, such as a presidential election or a public rape case, and the conclusions leave us feeling hollowed out and defeated, it’s because we’ve delegated the responsibility of taking action onto others who misconstrue it as putting on a show. And this election definitely feels like a “Black Mirror” episode, as the Republican Party continues to manifest into our wildest nightmares Freddy Krueger style, except we can’t wake up from what is already our reality. 

Conservatives — and their lip service to QAnon and the alt-right — collectively set the stage for frantic compromise, as we find ourselves bargaining with our own morals and expectations, willing to settle on disturbed sleep and bad dreams in comparison. But let’s make sure we don’t succumb to a collective amnesia about Biden’s has-beens as the right-hand man to President Barack Obama during his overall romanticized administration. Together, they sold America on vigorous and ruthless systems of ICE and deportation backed by the efforts of the Bush Administration, among other things. All the while, their cult following admired their gregarious, bromantic teamwork enough to never check the stats and naively extended blind faith into the world of politics. 

Voting for Biden-Harris in 2020 is like pressing the “close door” button in an elevator despite being well aware that it effectively does absolutely nothing. It raises the question: is voting Democrat merely performative virtue signaling? If so, we need to find ourselves and each other in the streets. 

This essay may be coming from quite an obtuse angle, but that’s the nature of topics circulating this year within the vortex of a presidential election amidst an ongoing global pandemic and an uprising. The State’s protractor is far reaching and covers a purposefully overwhelming amount of territory. As their lines are drawn, they intersect and diverge, running parallel at certain times, but they always meet. Our entanglements are virtual, social, geographic, and arbitrary, yet impactful, in their positioning. 

Borders on political maps are manipulated to better suit certain tax brackets. Some of them keep children from their parents. Politicians drop lines during their campaigns, rehearse them, and attempt to convince us of their meaning. They run like underground cables that touch each of our houses and jobs, placing us in grids like a high school math lesson. They cartograph us intersection by intersection as they pour out smooth, even, and paved for the affluent and leave trails of dust behind the rest of us. The most innocent contour can turn into the most divisive political border if found to have integrity worth destroying. Lines, even in their most graceful and artistic forms, serve to create division and distinction; yet it is within them we are conditioned to simply wait.

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