Choosing Not to Vote is A Privilege Millions Wish They Had
words by Arielle Egozi (she/her)
2020. A global pandemic. Forest fires caused by climate change — and gender reveal parties. Cities on fire. Funerals for the state-sanctioned murders of black men. A mammoth economic recession. Mass joblessness. Isolation. Black Panther and RBG have met each other in the place superheroes go when they die. And we’ve got a presidential election.
As our government has slipped further and further into a fascist totalitarian regime, we’ve been reminded that democracy in this country has always been an illusion; freedom has only ever been accessible to those free enough to make the rules. By now, we recognize the American History stories we were told were never true, and the last few months have yanked the curtain right off the rails and revealed what has always been slithering behind it.
As November draws near, there is a burnout that’s eclipsing any dream of change. There is an anger that’s burning us into exhaustion. There’s a hopelessness, a detachment, a rejection to play into any more of these silly games, or listen to any of these silly stories.
Because a black man already became President and nothing changed. Sons are still murdered on streets, as are daughters who the world insists are men. Indigenous people are imprisoned for protecting their land, their water, their home. Powerful men get away with doing broken things to young women.
As November draws near, there is a burnout that’s eclipsing any dream of change.
And now, for the first time in history, a black woman is a Vice Presidential candidate. The black President's former Vice President is now running for the highest seat in office. For some, this means a lot. For others, it means nothing.
Unless you’re white, has this country ever had your back? Unless you’re straight, have you ever been accepted by church or state? Unless you’re a man, has your opinion ever held any weight?
For those of us that exist on the opposite ends or outside of these binaries, the flag we pledged allegiance to has only ever strangled us.
Revolution. Fuck The System. Resistance. The energy of these statements alone deconstructs colonized mindsets to make space for newness, change, and hope. This energy is what can create a new world. But I will not gaslight those who recognize that voting may, in fact, ultimately, change nothing.
Opting out of the game because no one’s playing by the rules we want isn’t powerful. It’s rejecting our privilege and pretending it doesn’t exist. Choosing to walk away means you have the power to do so. No matter your identity, where you come from, or what you’ve been through, if you have the right to vote, you have something millions of the hardest working people in this country don’t have — the power to influence the potential of this place we live in.
It doesn’t matter if you think Joe Biden has as much political flavor as boiled chicken. It doesn’t matter if you’re pissed off about Kamala Harris’s stained political past. There will be no way to hold either of them truly accountable unless we stop this country from sliding Trump-first into a totalitarian state. Will it work? I have no idea. But if we don’t even try, then we already know the answer.
Opting out of the game because no one’s playing by the rules we want isn’t powerful. It’s rejecting our privilege and pretending it doesn’t exist.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, and her death has left a vacancy in the Supreme Court to be filled by the president. In theory, this should be the newly elected president, but it’s possible Trump will replace her, regardless of whether he wins or not.
Ginsburg’s potential replacement by a right-wing justice brings everything from abortion rights, to immigration and presidential power into question — basically everything that marginalized communities have always fought for. The outcome for upcoming cases on same-sex adoptions and healthcare, as well as issues on voting rights, criminal procedure, and gun control become very different with a solid 6-3 conservative majority on the court. There’s no wiggle room anymore. And if it wasn’t already, the future of this country is now in critical condition. This election may be the only lifeline we’ve got.
For the undocumented folks in this country, elections have always been critical. While the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States isn’t calculable for obvious reasons, there’s an estimated 12 million, at least. The bulk of these millions are the people who pick our food. The people who raise our children. The people who build our homes, and later, the people who clean them. They are the silent community that can’t stick out, speak up, or be seen. Yet to be anything but invisible can mean anything from deportation, to separation from their children locked into cages, to death.
Undocumented immigrants can’t join unions; they can’t sign petitions; they can’t vote. They can’t participate in the system of the very country that sent their native countries into economic and military upheaval, which ultimately forced them to seek refuge and cross the border in the first place.
I spent a few weeks packing boxes this summer. I did so alongside other women — mothers providing for their children, daughters providing for their parents — who were alone in this country to give their families a fighting chance. One woman moved heavy boxes all day, sweating in a hot warehouse to pay the medical bills for her son who contracted COVID-19 and needed a ventilator back home in Guatemala. Public hospitals were full, and he had to be sent to a private one. She’d take short breaks to cry, slipping off her mask to blow her nose. After a moment, she’d force herself to snap back. She couldn’t get sick; she couldn’t get too emotional; she couldn’t stop working. She had to keep moving boxes to keep her son alive.
When we choose not to engage in the political system, we’re not only ignoring the millions of women like this one. We are communicating that she doesn’t matter. We are saying the chance for change isn’t enough for us to act.
When we choose not to engage in the political system, we are saying the chance for change isn’t enough for us to act.
Forget about the “American Dream” we were sold. But do everything you can to save its people. Do everything you can for the chance that our trans sisters get to increase their life expectancy, that immigrant children are never locked in government cages, that our black brothers walk safely in the streets. Even if it ends up being a scam anyway.
It’s up to us to own our access to this power and participate when we can — even if we don’t like the outcome, even if there is no choice that we like. Don’t forget, the decision to not make a choice is also a choice. We may not get everything we want, or everything we deserve, but there is a chance that some of these things can change if we exercise our right to vote. It’s a right that the millions of people in this country depend on, but don’t have the privilege of having.
If you are able to vote, this election is an opportunity for you to use your voice to make a difference for those that have been silenced — for those that are working in fields as the mountains around them burn so that we may have vegetables for dinner, for those whose pay is stolen every day because their employers know they can’t do anything about it. Millions of people have given their lives to make yours better. Will you vote for the possibility of making theirs better too?
Redefining Activism by Kénta Xiadani Ch'umil (the/them)