Election day morning:
I join a line that snakes around my new polling place. Like others, I pull my raincoat tighter against the cold and damp morning air, as kids squirm, jump, and cry around us. After 40+ minutes and only few feet of movement, I step out of line, knowing that if I stay, I’ll miss a hard-to-reschedule doctor’s appointment. I feel frustrated, disappointed, and angry.
Election day evening:
I re-join the line and, again, wait outdoors in the rain. This line is shorter, but, again, slow-moving. After 20 minutes or so, I make it indoors, where I face repeated requests to “squeeze tighter” and “get to know your neighbor.” Election workers explain that the lines have stretched outdoors all day, but only those people indoors by 8pm will be allowed to vote. The polling place is clearly beyond capacity. The conditions are clearly inhospitable. The workers are clearly doing their best, but the system isn’t designed to accommodate high turnouts, much less full voting of an engaged citizenry.
Throughout the day, I tune into my anger—an anger that simmers daily but burns brightly with each election experience. There’s long-rooted and widespread injustice written into U.S. governance, and election days highlight this unreconciled and ongoing wrongdoing.
To scratch the surface, here’s some of what’s wrong, wrong, wrong:
- We witness year after year all sorts of voter suppression: from outright obstruction of voting to long lines and limited voting places and hours. People can be dropped from voting registration rosters and can be turned away from polling places. People previously incarcerated are blocked from voting. And voter suppression particularly targets communities of color.
- We have active “taxation without representation” (the slogan on DC license plates) impacting many citizens—from those of us living in the District of Columbia to folks in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. DC, for example, has a population larger than several small states. Those states each have two senators, while we have none. Again, this disenfranchisement noticeably impacts folks of color.
- Our vision of “democracy” is particularly limiting when framed through representation and voting rather than active participation and shared leadership. Too often discourses that focus on elections pull attention away from questioning how we might better relate, participate, and organize ourselves as collectives.
- Systems like the electoral college, partisan gerrymandering, and “corporate personhood” show explicitly just how rigged and unfair U.S. elections are. Instead of designing systems to represent the people, power is concentrated in the hands of the already-powerful. And when systems concentrate power, they entrench the mechanisms that deny people personhood. More simply, elections illustrate how black, brown, and indigenous lives matter less under current governing structures.
The list goes on and on, reminding me that the system isn’t broken but functioning as it’s intended with white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and elitism at the core. The system is rooted in keeping power in power’s hands. It keeps us invested in where we are instead of envisioning where we could (should) be.
In the days leading up to this year’s U.S. general election, I took inspiration from “Elections in End Times,” an episode of the Brown sisters’ podcast How to Survive the End of the World. Featuring interviews with Three Point Strategies’ Jessica Byrd and Kayla Reed, electoral work is situated within larger organizing and movement work.
I so appreciate this work that adrienne maree brown, Autumn Brown, Jessica Byrd, Kayla Reed, and other black women and women of color are doing to hold visions and name what needs to break and be built. They remind me that voting is often, at best, harm reduction—about blocking as much as building. Both are needed.
As long as we in the United States are organized within this governing system, I’ll vote. And vote for and with black women, indigenous women, and women of color. And notice how and why my heart hurts on election day, so that I might witness and counter the many, many wrongs.
This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What Is Justice?” or “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!