Voting is a vital first step, but it isn’t the entire process. We need to focus on the process of uniting ourselves and less on shaming one another.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it isn’t Black peoples’ responsibility to rescue the Democratic Party from the depths of oblivion. We are not solely responsible for delivering them electoral victories, especially when they offer us little to nothing in return. As November creeps closer & closer, I need us all to understand something; it’s up to Joe Biden to excite his own voters. He’s the one running for President; he’s the one that needs to earn the votes. If he can’t do that, or isn’t interested in doing that, then why is he even running?
How does he deserve to represent the people in the highest office in the world if he can’t earn their votes, especially given the alternative? More specifically, if he wants to proclaim that ‘you ain’t Black’ if you don’t vote for him, then let him prove to us all why that is with a robust and intersectional Black agenda. I completely understand if you want to help him in that regard, even if you aren’t in love with him as a candidate. This election feels existential, and our current Occupant of the Oval Office is literally killing thousands by the day because of his narcissism and incompetence. However, you should also understand that shaming people into voting for Joe Biden isn’t going to help your cause.
Voting and catching the bus?
This tweet makes no sense; I’m sorry to disappoint you. Several people who I love and respect shared this, but there’s one minor problem. This analogy is a complete non-sequitur. How in the hell did we jump from marriage to *checks notes* public transit? Either we’re going to use romance and relationships, or we’re going to use transportation, pick one for the love of all things logical and coherent. Anyway, I do like the analogy of likening voting to relationships, so let’s start anew.
They’re right when they say that voting isn’t marriage. In my view, voting is like going on a date. You don’t fully know the person yet. You might have had your eye on them for a long while, or maybe it’s just because you’re bored and you want free food (seriously, do you boo-boo, I ain’t judging!). Just because you go on a date with someone doesn’t mean you’re going to be committed to them long term. However, you wouldn’t go on a date with just anybody, would you? They’d have to demonstrate a basic level of respect for you. You’d probably at least want to find them somewhat attractive, right? You have standards, don’t you? If the date goes well, then you might schedule another one. If it goes poorly, you probably won’t. If there are no acceptable suitors pursuing you at this time, will you date someone that doesn’t meet your standards just because? Perhaps you’re deathly afraid of dating because of a past traumatic experience. I know, I know that escalated quickly, but let’s relate this all back to voting.
Have you ever had a terrible date? What about a terrible relationship? How did that toxic relationship affect how you viewed dating? Have you ever met someone and thought that they were the one for you, only for it to end badly? Did you need to take time to ‘focus on yourself’ afterward? This is what you’re dealing with when you approach someone about voting. They’re frustrated. They’re hurting, angry, and in deep despair. You don’t have to undo years of trauma within a few minutes, but you do have to show basic empathy and compassion. If you want them to put themselves out there again, you’ll need to understand where they’re coming from. Starting off with bad analogies and condemnation isn’t going to get you anywhere with a voter that feels heartbroken and betrayed.
Meet them where they are
Deploying voter shaming as a Get out the Vote (GOTV) tactic is akin to someone approaching you requesting a night out together by complaining about how you’ve never gone out with them. Calling people ‘trifling’ for not voting is the equivalent to someone calling you ‘trifling’ for not going on dates. You have to meet them where they are. This doesn’t mean that you can’t share your ‘why,’ it merely means that the main focus is on helping them create their own. Sharing your story can help them realize that though it’s an uphill battle, giving in to despair won’t help. Not taking the time to understand them is the equivalent to someone demanding your time and attention without even bothering to learn your favorite food, color, or place to relax. You have to learn their love language to reach them. If you’re not willing to do that, then I completely understand, because it isn’t easy. However, if you aren’t even willing to listen to them, then why do you think they need to hear what you have to say either?
When you’re trying to get someone’s vote, you can’t go into that conversation, only thinking about what you care about. You’ve already made up your mind; you have to try and convince the other person. To this end, have you tried asking them what they care about? If this is your starting point instead of, ‘our ancestors died for this!’ then you’re off to a good start. Once you’ve listened to their concerns, here’s your chance to pitch them on how voting for Biden or any other candidate can improve their area of interest. Here’s the catch though, please don’t lie.
Honesty is the best policy.
Don’t write checks you can’t cash. Don’t promise the sky and stars when Joe Biden and the DNC aren’t even promising the ceiling. Go to their websites and read up on their policies. Be ready, willing, and able to articulate how Biden and the Democrats will be an improvement over Trump and the GOP. ‘Orange man bad’ simply will not suffice. Talk about the President’s cabinet, and how the President will fill various positions that can affect their everyday lives, whether they vote or not. Betsy DeVos is an easy pinata here. It won’t be hard for Biden to appoint a far superior Secretary of Education than her after all. Also, you should uplift other actions that you’ll take to work in tandem with voting.
Go Beyond the Vote
We have to stay engaged. We didn’t get to this point by accident. 2016 wasn’t a culmination of random events on election day; it was the culmination of decades of policies and practices that failed the American people. The blame is bipartisan, and merely blaming Republicans is not sufficient. The Democratic Party must do better. We don’t benefit from denying this fact. In reality, it is to our detriment to deny this fact. I don’t advocate for voting for every Democrat, but if you do, you should continuously push every Democrat to be better.
Join a local organizing group in your area. Hold elected officials accountable before and after they take office. Given your schedule and lifestyle amid a global pandemic, you may only be able to sign petitions or share posts on social media, but that still helps. Stay in the know for all three levels of government and refuse to accept less than what we deserve. Public demonstrations are essential. While you might not be able to attend them for various reasons, you can still support them in the ways mentioned above and by donating money and supplies or even helping plan them! Everyone can play a role in the struggle, and you should pitch the prospective voter on this too. Selling voting this way sets realistic expectations, and invites people to stay engaged beyond election day to get the maximum value out of their vote.
We don’t need to set up an echo chamber to help our preferred candidates succeed. Candidates need to face their records and make amends where they’ve done wrong. If candidates are going to run on how much they ‘got done,’ they also need to be prepared to apologize when it was the wrong choice. With this said, the best apology is changed behavior. What good would it do us if Joe Biden wants to apologize for the Iraq War and the Crime Bill, when he still holds many of the same positions on war and crime today? He needs to apologize through his policy. No one is asking him or any other elected official to be perfect; we’re asking them to do better.
We also shouldn’t wait until Biden is already in power to start making demands. We’ll never have more leverage than we do right now. We need to demand that Biden earn our votes by outlining a more bold and ambitious policy platform. This practice works. The Sunrise Movement and other environmental activist groups have already pressured Joe into doing more on Climate Change than he planned to before. We need to build on this momentum. Many of us are celebrating Kamala Harris’s newly announced Vice Presidential candidacy, as we should. However, Kamala’s come up will not automatically trickle down to all of us. Representative politics must go in tandem with substantive policy. We must not ignore the need for fundamental change, and we must acknowledge that it takes more than symbolic ‘firsts’ to achieve that. #BlackLivesMatter in protests, but they have to matter in policy, too.
Moving on from Lesser Evilism & Voter Shaming
Shaming people into voting, even when successful, won’t create a desirable outcome. People who’ve been shamed into voting will begrudgingly vote for the lesser evil and then retreat into their cocoon of ‘hating politics.’ They won’t check in on their representatives, and they won’t show up again until the next November election after all of the battles over policy has been decided. We need to reimagine our entire political process.
Why is an electoral system that was constructed to perpetuate slavery still used in this country? Why do we, as citizens, preserve the two-party system that we admit results in ‘Lesser Evilism’ instead of pushing for Ranked Choice Voting? Why is the right to vote being (un)lawfully taken from people both overtly and covertly? We live in an alleged democracy that’s exceptionally undemocratic. My question is, what are we going to do about it?
Lesser Evilism and harm reduction aren’t the cures to our condition; they’re the causes of it. We need to dream bigger and organize better. We need to come together and collectively decide how we’ll recreate our country and communities. We need to create and strengthen people-powered movements that elected officials of either party can’t ignore. We won’t be able to do any of this by shaming each other into perpetuating failed systems. This won’t be easy, and the path will be long and arduous, but we won’t reach our destination without drastically changing how we currently function.
No longer will we simply vote, we have to vote and stay involved year-round. We have to give everything we can in our fight for a better society. We have to question everything and everyone, especially those that wish to represent us. No more non-reciprocated love. No more toxic situationships. We can’t say that voting isn’t like marriage; then spend our entire adult lives voting for one political party, no matter what they do or say. You can’t change someone by loving them harder. You have to set healthy boundaries and stick to them. So, Black and Liberal America, how are we going to make the Democratic Party earn our impassioned support?