With the mid-term elections coming up in about a week the Peace and Anti-war movements and other parts of the left are going through a bi-annual argument about voting. Should people vote for Democrats to stop Republicans? Whether or not to vote third party? Or perhaps is it best to simply not vote at all? I do think a discussion concerning for whom to vote is healthy and needed, but I am amazed that it has changed little since I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Democrats and the Republicans continue to dominate the discussion. Vote for Democrats because they are the lesser of the two evils. Vote for a third party because the Democrats and Republicans are the faces of the same two headed party dominated by corporations. Why vote? It does not matter who wins, nothing will change.
I vote for candidates, not party affiliation. Stereotyping everyone in a party does not work for me, so I like a good discussion about issues, positions, abilities and vision. It helps me decide for whom to vote. Admittedly I started my voting career a bit late, casting my first ballot at 28. I made a decision in high school not to vote while in the military. I did not want to have political feelings about my Commander in Chief, so no voting. My first vote was for Bill Clinton in 1992, after I left active duty.
It is clear to me I must vote. Those who came before me, the ancestors who gave me this gift, expect me to vote. They faced humiliation and great danger for me. Many spilled their blood and others lost their lives, so to me refusing to vote seems dismissive and arrogant. I don’t know how I can claim to know more than Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth. Should I tell Du Bois and Alice Paul they were mistaken? I’ll just say, “Times have changed. In 2010, voting turned out not to be all of that.”
Should I tell Fannie Lou Hamer that she had no idea what she was talking about? Should I forget about the pain of the Evers and King families? Of course not. Moreover, even if I one day decide voting is a waste of time, I still have a responsibility to take a trip to the booth in their memory.
For those who choose to disregard the shoulders upon which we stand, I have more pragmatic reasons. Voter turnout is an obvious indicator of public interest, but does low turnout mean apathy or a sense of powerlessness? It could mean dissatisfaction with choices or with the whole system. The problem is that the refusal to vote statement is indistinguishable from the person who did not vote because of illness or couldn’t get a ride to the polls. Though not voting retains some individual meaning, it is swallowed up in all the other nondescript non-voting, blurring its meaning to nearly nothing. So to make a statement one must make a clear statement. One way is to vote for a third party. This is a clear rejection of the Republicans and Democrats. Another is to write in a person. In the 1998 Missouri Senate race between Kit Bond and Jay Nixon I wrote in Julie Weber, who at the time was a Washington University Law School lecturer and activist who now resides in San Francisco. I thought she would make a better Senator than all the candidates. Perhaps this year I should write in Alice Paul or Frederick Douglass for my House vote. However, the best statements are the clear statements like No More War. Imagine hundreds of thousands of No More War votes around the nation. A race lost by the margin of No More War votes is wielding power at the ballot box.
Finally the idea that voting changes nothing is historically inaccurate. Simply look at the history of movements and their forcing change via the ballot box. It is slow and steady change that begins with grassroots organizing and continues through education, agitation, motivation, voter registration and mobilization; ending with Executive Orders, legislation and Supreme Court confirmations. It takes tremendous work to create social change before we will see change in government, local or national. Granted the Anti-war and Peace movements have seen little charge in the past 9 years, but the vote has been a decisive instrument of change for far too many struggles to call it useless. We should examine our electoral efforts. Are we effectively using our votes? Are we doing what it takes to build candidates and create the local and national politics where our vote means more?
Not voting is not an option. Too many people sacrificed for my right to vote. I owe them at least that. However most important, it is an opportunity to make a clear and official statement about whom should govern and what issues I deem important. It provides a snapshot of national sentiment in which I need to make sure my thoughts are represented. I hope there is more than my one No More War vote this November 2nd. See you at the polls.