Voting Isn't Everything, But It Is Our Sacred Responsibility

Stephen Rockwell • 6 November 2018
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It is Election Day!  Since the day Trump was swept into office with Republicans in control of all three branches of government, the majority of the country that voted for Trump's opponent has wanted to have their say.  Thousands of protests of Trump and GOP policies have occurred including record-breaking protests like the Women's March and the March for Our Lives.  Mass movements like the Poor People's Campaign and #MeToo have launched.  New tools and organizations like Swing Left, resistbot, and Indivisible have sprung up around the country.  Hundred of smaller organizations and efforts have sprouted up in every town in the country.   There is so much positive activity from folks seeking justice and to save our democracy from descent into fascism.  All of this will continue, but today is a singularly important day: Election Day.

In the last few weeks, a number of social justice activists noted that voting is only part of the change is necessary.  They are correct as can be seen by so much organizing and activism happening.  Others have taken this point to an extreme claiming that voting is ineffectual.  They are wrong.  In a democratic republic, the primary influence that any citizen has on the political process is their vote. Political parties organizing principle is gaining the most votes for their party in order to win because winning means power, power to affect changes in policy and in the composition of the courts.

Is There Any Difference Between Parties?

Let's state a truth about the Democratic Party.  Democrats have long taken the votes of African Americans and others for granted and there has too often been too little return to black communities and others for the investment.  This morning, I voted for moderate Democrats on my Philadelphia ballot with Tom Wolf and Bob Casey at the top of the ticket.  Am I assured that they will enact the type of progressive change I'm seeking?  Not really.  But I know that both is heads and shoulders better in terms of policy and temperament than their opponents.  Scott Wagner, Republican candidate for Governor, mansplained climate change to a young activist claiming that we don't really know what is happening and blaming human body heat for at least part of the issue.  I just can't...

In my city of Philadelphia, there are certain parts of the city that have not gotten any better despite decades of Democratic rule.  This is unacceptable, and its changing.    Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney has instituted universal pre-k with money from the soda tax and Democratic DA Larry Krasner has taken affirmative steps to end mass incarceration and hold police accountable.  Real stuff is happening here.  Real differences are being made.  And activists are organizing to hold elected officials accountable and to lay the groundwork for more progressive candidates.  

There is stark difference nationally in public policy delivered by the parties.  Obamacare dropped the number of uninsured African Americans by a third.  I still think we need universal healthcare, but nonetheless that’s a real difference that Republicans have insisted on eliminating and Democrats have fought like hell for.  There are lots of other examples including GOP attempts to dismantle any sense of the social safety net including universal programs like social security and Medicare.  One side wants to spend more money on war.  The other one wants free college, universal health care, and expanded voting rights and protections.  The differences are stark and real, especially with younger Dems coming up in this election in House races all over the country.  

Why are we even asking "Do Elections Matter?" in the Age of Trump?

Blatant voter suppression against African American voters is happening in places like Georgia and Native Americans in North Dakota.  In Georgia, there is an African American woman gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Adams, who is clear about addressing issues of mass incarceration and a progressive agenda in general.  Is the advice to Georgians don’t even try to vote?  John Lewis is on the stump this week talking about how he bled and went to jail for folk to be able to vote.  Such admonishments seem out of tune with his plea to the community.

They also seem completely out of touch with what we've witnessed under Trump.  Almost every week, there has been a need for mass protest to confront some evil from the Trump administration and his Congressional enablers.  I don't want to see more tax cuts to rich people, immigrant families being separated from their parents, immigrant in the migrant caravan threatened with being gunned down, racist and anti-semitic attacks that go virtually unanswered by the nations's leadership.  I want to protect Obamacare, voting rights, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other social safety net measures that make our country a more perfect union.  I want to push for a higher minimum wage, free college tuition, student loan forgiveness, rich people paying their fair share, and many other policies that progressive Democrats are running on.  

In this election in particular, we have a party that is using pre-civil rights era blatant racism and voter suppression in attempt to hold on to power.  Changing party control of one or both houses is vital to stem the tide of the licensure that Trump has given to his base of largely older white voters to act upon their racism.  The midterm elections is one of the few ways we have to start pushing back with a Congress that can investigate corruption and voter suppression and enact changes in law.  

Voting and Organizing Go Hand in Hand to Bring About Change

The Democratic Party should be held accountable but not voting is not the way to do so.   Also, voting is no substitute for organizing and movement building.  Voting and organizing go hand in hand to hold elected officials accountable.  Voting is only one part of dismantling systems of oppression, but it is a vital part.  I encourage all to take that responsibility seriously today, to hold it sacred because of the blood spilled and courageous activism that it took to gain and maintain the franchise.   Vote, and then let's get right back to the organizing and movement building in order to bring about a more just country and world.