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Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is about more than just going to a poll to say you did something. “Engage” is a verb. It requires action.

At last night’s Presidential Democratic debate, almost all of the candidates took rightful digs at former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who, for all intents and purposes, is a Republican running as a Democrat—seeing as how he hadn’t registered as a Democrat again until 2018. During one point in the debate, Elizabeth Warren detailed Bloomberg’s very racist, sexist, and otherwise harmful track record; a record in which he has been accused of sexual harassment more than 60 times, has led the charge to heighten mass incarceration in New York through stop-and-frisk laws, and much more. While in the middle of naming these horrors, Warren followed up with, “Listen, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is, but…”

This perfectly sums up the american liberal.

Shortly thereafter, I sent out a tweet pointing out the fact that she said she would still support him if he were to win the Democratic ticket because all other tweets I saw from others were about how much she was “taking him down.”

american politics have increasingly shifted to a national comedy roast, wherein the focus is on who can create the most drama and get the most laughs, rather than who can present the best policy and create the best conditions for the world around us. Make no mistake: american politics have never been about real policy—that will impact and protect our everyday lives—and for as long as there is an “america,” the politics here can never be about real policy. Which only makes this worse. And it made me sit and question, yet again, whether people actually understand not only the weighted harm of the two-party system but also that we are not required to participate in it.

Recommended: ELECTORAL POLITICS WON’T SAVE US. HERE IS WHAT TO DO INSTEAD.

Many people have written about the monstrosity that is the two-party system. And yet, every four years we arrive here. We struggle and we argue, day-in and day-out, about voting. Folks tout “vote blue!” endlessly; we’re met with an overwhelming amount of “march to the polls” events; we’re asked constantly if we know “that our ancestors died for our right to vote?” (They didn’t die, they were murdered; and they didn’t suffer for our right to vote, they fought for our right to exist—using voting as the medium by which they advocated for our humanity). 

And every four years, I ask: are we all aware that we literally do not have to engage in the two-party system at all?

Of course, that’s always met with heavy pushback, but as we start getting more candidates like Bloomberg, Warren, Klobuchar, Biden, Buttigieg, and yes, even your beloved Sanders—who all, in many ways, mirror the thoughts, feelings, and policy ideas of Trump—I think this question becomes an even more necessary one to answer. When Bloomberg is harassing women in the same ways that Trump is advocating for us to “grab [women] by the pussy”; when Biden and Sanders are writing, signing off on, and voting to pass bills that would go on to be a major contributor to mass incarceration; when each candidate has their own horrific background with police and horrible politics around prisons; and when each candidate is openly willing to work in conjunction with Israel as a white supremacist ethnostate, we have to face the fact that they are no different from Trump in many ways.

What binds them together far outweighs what separates them. Regardless of where they may differ in terms of which party they belong to, they must all be invested in maintaining this settler-colonial project through white supremacy and imperialism. That’s the task required of every President. Yes, even your precious Obama.

Recommended: I AM NOT CYNICAL OR JADED ABOUT VOTING. I NEVER BELIEVED IN IT IN THE FIRST PLACE

They hide behind pseudo-concern for our wellbeing. They learn the “proper” language to persuade voters and hire their “diverse” campaign staff. They pander. They stand on stages for months and they use our trauma, our lives, and our realities as talking points; making a spectacle out of our experiences for votes. And none of it means anything in the grand scheme of things, yet every four years people ask: “If you aren’t going to vote blue, then who will you vote for?”

My answer has been and will always be the exact opposite of Warren’s; I’ll vote for absolutely no one.

Civic engagement is about more than just going to a poll to say you did something. “Engage” is a verb. It requires action. Voting can be a strategy one uses as a form of engagement, but not voting does not mean one is not doing their civic duty.

Many of us who don’t vote are community organizers. Our everyday lives are about community outreach; lobbying at the local level on behalf of our communities; base-building in our respective cities; building coalitions with other on-the-ground organizing entities; creating campaigns around issues specific to our organizations’ interests and mission. We have a goal, and we reach that with or without “the vote”.

Many of us who don’t vote are writers and teachers. We recognize political education as the very means by which people learn of the importance of civic engagement through politics. We lead digital political education campaigns; we hold meetings with our respective organizations; we pass out literature with language that is easily understandable to our community members; we lead community “talk backs” after a direct action to inform community members about why the action happened and how we arrived there; we write articles, essays, and books that are intended to engage and bring awareness to varying marginalized experiences.

Recommended: THE VOTING HAPPENED, NOW WHAT?

We work in policy, we work in media, we roam college campuses and the halls of our non-profit buildings. The opportunities are endless. You just have to decide where you belong, then you work.

If the goal is to change the structure of our government, it only comes through revolution. And revolution—true revolution—is led by the People, not elected government officials. The longer we put our faith in these elections, the further away we move from abolition and revolution.

So stop asking about how to fit within the two-party system. Let it die. Bury it. Don’t mourn it. Instead, ask how else you can be engaged in life-changing work away from electoral politics.

Da’Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. They write and speak publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. Harrison is the author of the forthcoming book, “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness,” which is expected to be published in July 2021. Their portfolio and other work can be found on their site: dashaunharrison.com.

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