Sometimes, it feels like the difference between Democrats and Republicans is the difference between apathy and open antagonism to the simple act of someone like me voting. It makes a lot of sense when you consider that young people don’t have wealth that might translate into campaign donations. A generational wealth gap is overlaid on top of historical racial wealth gaps for generations that are more racially diverse and on top of historical gender pay gaps for generations of women more likely to join the workforce.
That complex tapestry of economic screwjobs is part of why I was so alarmed in June 2019 when Biden told a Manhattan fundraiser full of wealthy donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became president. That’s a disturbing message for generations of people whose entire lives have been defined by economic recessions, climate disasters, forever wars, and other American nightmares.
That’s also why one of the most concerning outcomes of Trump’s personal bout with COVID-19 is his newly invigorated insistence on a herd immunity strategy. As the New York Times reported this week, the White House is now touting a pandemic strategy that would allow the novel coronavirus to spread among young healthy people in an effort to achieve herd immunity. If we did reach that point, it would mean all the young people stuck in jobs they hate, struggling to make rent but unable to afford homeownership, go back to work and try to scrape by. In other words, nothing would fundamentally change — except the presence of the virus.
What’s clear is that a great many things need to change — and quickly — for the sake of both basic human decency and life on this planet. Very few of those changes, unfortunately, are really on the ballot this year. We have a choice between reinvigorating a rapidly deteriorating neoliberal status quo or enabling an acceleration of our apparent descent into full-on fascism. That it’s even come to this is a sign of how f*cked we are.
So, why vote? Why uphold an obviously broken system, perpetuate a colonial empire founded on stolen land and built by stolen people? That’s the question that’s been eating at me for over a year now and I would never admonish anyone who doesn’t want any part of it. There are a million other ways to engage politically, to manifest your values in the material world.
I don’t want to be dismissive; there are real policy stakes in this election. But for me, one of the most compelling reasons to vote is the fact that it’s much easier for everyone in power if I don’t. Some Republicans’ recent insistence that we’re a republic, not a democracy, is more than just an argument about the two parties’ names. It’s a reminder that like nearly every other value this country has ever claimed to uphold, many of us are at best striving toward true democracy, even as people in power actively work to prevent that ideal from being realized.
Now, we have an authoritarian strongman at the helm. He is already seemingly scheming on how to win any legal challenges that might stem from the election, even as vigilante forces rally to his cause in the streets. A serious show of small-d democratic force at the ballot box in this election is a valuable demonstration of an appetite for elections.
It’s also a validation of the legitimacy of the government that’s elected and that’s why even people who don’t care about your future want you to vote for them. Elections are a legitimizing force for power and they’re easier to manage when fewer people vote. Nothing should ever be easy for the people in power, especially not validating their own authority.
We may not have a true democracy right now, but we should still show the powerful people uninvested in supporting elections or invested in ruining them that we want one. It’s not a panacea for everything that’s wrong with this world or even an effective bandage for much of the pain and injury people suffer every day. But voting in the U.S. is a chance to say that I care about what happens to my neighbors, to my family, and to people all over the world. It’s one way to do that and not always an easy one, but it’s something I’ll do even if it’s just to stick it to everyone who doesn’t want me to.
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