I write this with lots of love for my fellow activists, but also with lots of urgency because I really do feel that we are in dangerous times with the possibility of McCain/Palin taking office.
As activists we are always striving for growth and critical consciousness. When you first learned that you were an oppressed person, you probably got angry at the “oppressor”—who ever that was. Perhaps it was a white person, a heterosexual person, a man, a rich person, or even a citizen. Soon, you learned that the “enemy” is not always what it seems. In fact, those people who you consider your “enemies” are sometimes your allies. And those people you consider your “allies” sometimes create your biggest obstacles.
The truth is that things are very complicated. We live in a racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, citizenist society that upholds/sustains white supremacy, internalized racism, patriarchy, male-identified womanhood, heteronormality, homophobia, citizen superiority and anti-immigrant hate. Therefore, our goals are always centered on trying to take these systems of discrimination down. I understand that, and I am committed to the goal of deconstructing oppressive power. Still, I recognize that I/we function within this system.
We inherit privileges from this system. And while we are constantly trying to change it, very few of us, if any, are completely free of privilege. Furthermore, we participate in it fully—through our education, work, homes, modes of transportation, social lives, and food. All of these things are connected to this system. And while we may not agree with it, the system plays a role in our lives. There are real consequences to our lives depending on who holds the power in our society. Therefore our strategies of survival and transformation within the system often seem and are contradictory.
I say all this because some of my friends, students, and fellow activists are not voting in the upcoming presidential election. Some organizations and folks have even decided to encourage people not to participate in the political process at all because they are boycotting both republicans and democrats and because they do not want to pick the “lesser of two evils.”
I find this problematic and hope that you will change your minds for the sake of those people whose privilege may be less than yours. Rejecting the vote has serious implications for people who are denied the ability to vote. There are also lots of people (documented and undocumented) who will be directly affected by this decision. Below are some examples.
Conclusion: I recognize that Obama is not our savior, but if we believe that we are helping the cause and being “true” revolutionaries by not voting or encouraging people not to vote, I believe that is a mistake.
I know that Obama will disappoint us as president at times. In fact, he has already disappointed me in some ways. What I remind myself though is that he is running for the president of the United States, not a grassroots, critically conscious organization. Therefore, his vision for social change is dramatically different from mine and other activists. Still, if I continue to do the work that I do, I have better a chance at accomplishing it under him than I do with McCain. We should always challenge our alleged “leaders,” but we should also recognize that there are differences/consequences between the two options that we are currently being given. One day, we will hopefully have more options. I will work towards that.
Yes, all of these politicians are conformist, but so are the people at your job, your bank, and the stores you shop in. It is highly possible that even you are a conformist if you are middle class, seeking middle class entry, higher educated, working for a corporation (that includes the university), own a car, own a house or want to, consume and/or reside in this country—then you are probably also conforming. Honestly, unless there is a complete social revolution, these are the paradigms under which we function. And if you pretend that is doesn’t matter who you vote for, it’s probably because you have the privilege to believe that.
I guarantee you that poor people, LGBTI-Queer folks, women, immigrants, people of color, old people, people with sicknesses, and poor/dark-skinned people around the world will suffer MORE under a republican president than a democrat president. For every critique you have of Obama, add at least 10 to 100 more and you will have the republican candidates.
The disenfranchised will still suffer in this country regardless of who is elected. I know that, but there is a difference between being hit once and being hit repeatedly. That is why some people vote for the “lesser evils.” Indeed, some people even believe we can actually create change within this system. The truth is that we can be activists committed to transformation while simultaneously participating in the political process of the country that we are working so hard to change. The two are not exclusive. You do not have to choose between activism/organizing and voting.
Here are some examples of differences between the candidates:
1. If undocumented people could vote, they would absolutely be voting for someone who could do something to alleviate the pain that they experience on a daily basis. I understand that the democrat party is not living up to our expectations in terms of immigrant rights. In fact, I was very disappointed in Obama’s nomination acceptance speech when he referred to undocumented people as “illegal workers.” I also disagree with his vote for the wall along the border. Still, at the very least Obama has said he will offer drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants and he argued in the debates that immigrants are unfairly scapegoated and blamed for the US economic crisis. He urged people not to make the mistake of pitting low income workers against undocumented immigrants.
Perhaps the drivers license seems like a small issue, but if you have the right to a license, you have the right to hundreds of privileges that citizens take for granted every single day—the right to fly, the right to buy car insurance, the right to apply for jobs, even the right to go get a drink at a bar!
If you have a license, you have citizen privilege. And in the interest of social justice and immigrant rights, it is unfair and selfish to ask people not to vote or support a candidate because this is one small advancement that is only being promised by Obama and is crucial for millions of people. Obama also supports the Dream Act, and while it does not fully guarantee the kind of change we need, it is definitely a campaign that thousands of people have been working on and in which many students will be able to gain access to education. Obama drafted and passed legislation that gave in-state tuition to undocumented youth in Illinois. While McCain has supported the Dream Act in the past, since campaigning for president he has said that he would no longer vote for the immigration reform plan he previously supported. This is one example of what may be the difference between McCain and Obama, but there are many others.
2. Another area of difference between the two candidates is sex discrimination and women’s rights. If you care whether or not women should have the Right to Choose and have abortion and reproductive rights, there will be a difference depending on what party takes office. McCain has promised to try to revoke advancements made through Roe v. Wade. He has cast at least 125 votes in both the senate and the house that were anti-choice. He has repeatedly voted for the Federal Abortion Ban. Palin is extremely anti-choice. Even in the case of rape, she still has said she opposes abortion. http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/assets/files/mccain_fact_sheet.pdf. McCain also opposes equal pay amendments. Obama supports Roe v Wade and the Equal Pay for Equal Work Amendment. In Illinois, he co-sponsored the Equal Pay Amendment. Obama supports increasing funding to fight against domestic violence. Biden authored the Violence Against Women Act. McCain does not support the fight against violence against women. He has repeatedly voted against funding for the prevention of domestic violence. http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/assets/women-compare-public-9-3-08-final.pdf. Again, rejecting the vote could mean that millions of women are denied reproductive rights and choices. It could also mean that any small advances that have been made with domestic violence shelters and programs would be in danger of even less funding and support. It would mean the continued 70 cents to every dollar unequal pay that women receive for doing the same work that men do (there are even bigger discrepancies for women of color and Queer women).
3. Finally, if you care whether or not we have an outright Racist/”colorblind” president or not, your vote will matter. McCain voted against the MLK national holiday, admitted he never thought much about race or racial inequality because in the military everything appeared “fine,” and said he will always hate Asians and referred to them in derogatory terms (called them “gooks”). If you want a president who has offered the most sophisticated analysis of institutionalized racism in the US, you should vote for Obama. At the very least, Obama does not pretend that race and racism do not exist. He also advocates more funding for schools and teachers, etc. Obama rejects deficit theories about student’s of color “drop out”/push out rates. Michelle Obama was the founding executive director of Public Allies—one of the leading non-profit orgs creating leadership and fostering critically conscious youth for social change. Barack was a member of the founding board of the organization. My colleague, Alejandro Covarrubias wrote his dissertation on Public Allies in LA indicating that is an Agency of Transformational Resistance. We know that the republican party does not support more funding for education. When Bush took office, I personally immediately lost a federal fellowship for bilingual education.
These examples alone are reason enough to give me the urgency to vote. there are many others. I just want people to stop saying that there are no differences between the candidates because this is simply untrue.