I Am Not Cynical Or Jaded About Voting. I Never Believed In It In The First Place
I believe what the system tells me about itself. I have full faith in its capabilities to replicate, uphold, and enact violence here and globally, which is all it has ever sworn to do since its inception.
by Briana L. Ureña Ravelo
This midterm season I have seen a lot of speculation about the cynicism of young (potential) voters, why it is, who is to blame, and what to do about it. Among younger progressives especially, there’s even more discourse that sympathizes with the cynicism, addressing issues such as voter suppression and purges, historic and current barriers to voting including the barring of those with felonies from representation, and the shit-show of the past two years and the inability for us to ameliorate the gap between how communities of color vote, especially Black communities, and how white people vote.
But that isn’t me. I am not recently made cynical, tired, or exhausted by the political system of the United States, nor am I apathetic. I am harmed and disenfranchised by the electoral system, yes, and I am also a part of it. I am from groups historically kept from electoral politics and other realms of civil, political, and social spaces. However, my heart was never broken by it because it was never placed in such a precarious and dangerous place, in the thicket of oppressor harm and statist hegemony.
Chalk it up to being a middle schooler and teenager of color in the Midwest during the Bush years, through 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror. By the time I was 14, I had gone to my first anti-war protest and was more regularly organizing and going to protests throughout the next year. By the time I was 18, when Obama was running in the first election I could vote in, I was ranting with a friend about our annoyance with people assuming we would, as two young Black girls, would be voting for the Black man. We knew about what his positions were on gay marriage and the war, and I had already made my decision to be a conscientious non-voter.
There’s nothing that could conceivably ever inspire me to vote, much less ignite a vigor or faith that was simply never there. There’s no way to mobilize me to an end goal that I never saw as a solution to the issues I see and experience daily. This is not so as to attack other QT/BIPOC people’s cynicism or sense of defeat, and the real hurt, sadness, or anger there, or to belittle them for their demands and expectations. And if anyone feels that way, it is the system’s fault, not their own.
It is oversimplification to view all non-voters, especially those conscientiously choosing to not, as injured, sad, and hurt. As only waiting to be consoled and woo’d so we can fall back in love with electoral politics and the US system overall. A system that does not love me. Quite the opposite to deflated or cynical, in fact, my belief in the system’s history, role, apparatus, and intended results are fully enthusiastic. I understand what will happen. I know full well! I trust it entirely when it tells me about itself, day in day out, regardless of the bent of its participants, politicians, and moneymakers. Thus, I refuse to engage or invest in the fallacy of electoral politics as its own act.
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I believe what the system tells me about itself. I have full faith in its capabilities to replicate, uphold, and enact violence here and globally, which is all it has ever sworn to do since its inception. Truth and trust in what I know about the history of the systems in place and their treatment of Black, Indigenous, Global South people, and other marginalized communities is what keeps me aware, and searching for other options.
To be sure, there are many amazing and effective grassroots radical organizers, activists, dreamers, fighters, and accomplices of color who still vote as an act of harm reduction or moving the needle forward, even if only a bit. But the way that one of those people, Charlene Carruthers, put it when I saw her in a wonderful conversation between her and Angela Davis, is that electoral politics are not our north star. They can be a method, a tactic, a tool among many in our box, but they are not the end all, be all, or even largely affective even when it comes to harm reduction consistently, or in the long run.
Carruthers comes from Chicago, the city where youth-led groups like BYP 100 and Assata’s Daughter have successfully organized and pushed politicians out of office. The work includes keeping politicians to their word when they claim they’re going to do something for the community as well as making sure to be a scourge upon and devastate their political career if they move in ways that are violent against their people. Even this more holistic way of approaching electoral politics is one I respect, but it is not one I see from liberals, those who shame people like me. If anything, we get shouted down for being too ideologically pure, for expecting and demanding too much, for not being patient because “change takes time,” for daring to call a bad politician out for what they are because well, they’re “better than the other guys.” Liberals actively work against communities and groups who aim to make electoral politics potentially work better.
The end goal of addressing any cynicism one might have is to not build reinvestment into a violent system, but to address the violence that one is told voting will, but doesn’t, which is what causes one to be cynical to begin with. If getting someone to vote is your only reason to care about their cynicism as opposed to, say, getting to a liberated world where one needn’t ever even be ruled and commanded by those with power over them, then you think too small. Worse, you set people up for failure and the very cynicism you wish to combat.
What drives me is optimism about other options, better solutions, and third ways. I am invested in those other solutions that most of liberals, statists, authoritarians, faithful adherents to white colonial capitalist settler politics aren’t. I have different hopes, dreams, and aspirations than voting. I have fire for other frameworks, have put energy towards other methods of real resistance, of protecting and safeguarding communities, of dealing with, reacting to and avoiding harm and violence, of building critical mass and mutual aid. I learn from these spaces, methods and people, move with them, break bread with them, learn and cry with them, shout down police and fight fascists with them, raise money for our communities with them. And I do it all the time, not just every two to four years.
Today, like all the other days of the year, I look to them, not electoral politics or politicians, to dictate and lead the change I know we all deserve. One that will not come simply through voting.
Author Bio: Briana L. Ureña-Ravelo. Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Afro-Dominicana. High Hex Femme.
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