On the eve of elections in the United States, I share three orientations to voting: voting as harm reduction, public outcry, and collective responsibility. These are three ways I think about voting as everyday action aligned with striving toward justice. Three ways to vote even when it hurts, even when the heart aches.
Why My Heart Hurts on Election Day and Why Voting Still Matters
As I wrote back in 2018, my heart hurts on election day. And it does today, leading up to the 2022 midterm elections.
It aches because systemic injustice is at the core of the U.S. government and, therefore, U.S. elections. It’s not (just) that the system is rigged. It’s that the system is working as it’s intended: concentrating power in the hands of a few. That power hoarding and power abuse are both maintained by and further enacting structural and interlocking oppressions. These oppressions—which are at the core of the U.S. government and elections—include white supremacy, anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, ageism, nationalism, religious discrimination, speciesism, linguistic injustice, environmental injustice, and many intersecting -isms and mythical norms.
I want to keep naming what’s wrong—to extend and linger over truth-telling—because my heart aches through so much unreconciled and ongoing wrongdoing enacted by the U.S. nation-state.
My heart aches every time we call for voting as political action and stop there. My heart aches through the conflation of seeking justice with partisanship. My heart aches because of slippery surface discourse that obscures the roots of oppression and draws attention away from visioning and change. My heart aches because the focus on elections feels like being stuck in what is instead of reaching toward what ought to be.
My heart aches because I long for a relational, reciprocal way of organizing ourselves collectively—what I can imagine when reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy or Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. And voting within the current system feels like it pulls my energy backward from this imagining. I feel left with false choices.
My heart aches because I see friends, especially white women, post photos of voting activity as an accomplishment. And I want a version of showing up that would never settle for small changes within the existing nation-state. As a white woman myself, I want us to be breaking from this pattern of harm—one of so many tied to white feminism.
My heart aches, too, because every year I experience and witness and take into my body additional stories of voter suppression and outright denial of voting rights. And then, alongside these experiences, I talk with a friend who feels disenfranchised and learn they aren’t voting anyway.
In the midst of this aching (what’s named and much more), I do vote. I want to encourage others who can vote to do so. I believe voting is one current action that’s important to take—one among many forms of resistance and response-ability. Voting is an action among everyday striving and living for justice. So, when possible, do vote. And it’s also not always possible. I want to honor friends and family who can’t vote because of citizenship status and felony convictions and transportation access and other reasons for disenfranchisement.
And I want to share three orientations to voting: three reframings or reasons I turn to when I need to remember why it matters to vote. These are three ways I think about voting as everyday action aligned with striving toward justice. And three ways to remember the broader actions I want to take beyond voting.
To learn more about voting as part of seeking justice, check out Three Point Strategies, Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, Movement for Black Lives Black November, and Black Campaign School. Brittney Cooper (@ProfessorCrunk) and Bree Newsome Bass also regularly offer political analysis and election reframing. These are some of my teachers about elections. I hope you’ll reach out to share additional resources and reasons to vote.
Three Orientations: Voting as Harm Reduction, Public Outcry, and Collective Responsibility
So, why vote when voting is a limited action?
Why vote when it feels like our voices won’t be heard anyway?
Why vote when the U.S. nation-state is rooted in oppression?
1. Vote as a form of harm reduction. Voting typically feels like too little and too far from what I’m longing for. So, this reminds me to enact both/and: both to vote and to do more, not to stop there. I’m grateful for Buddhist Peace Fellowship offering the language of build, block, be. When I struggle to orient to voting as generative building, I appreciate it as essential blocking. So many times, what is in our hands is to show up and prevent wrongdoing. So, I remind myself to vote in ways that communicate “NO!” as well as “yes.” I strive to vote in ways that honor and prevent harm to people, animals, and the earth.
2. Vote as a form of public outcry. This year, voting is one action toward continuing to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. It is one action toward blocking the Supreme Court’s undermining of rights across multiple decisions. It is one action toward sustained and strong outcry against continuing injustices. When I remember that voting is an expression—a communicative act—then I can use my vote as a form of outcry. What do I want to communicate with my vote? The answers include lament for injustice and longing for justice.
3. Vote as a form of collective responsibility. Though so much of our lives are set up against realizing collective responsibilities, our actions do impact others. We are not individuals acting alone. It’s not as simple as “you do you.” Voting can be a way of reorienting to the collective and considering again: what’s demanded of us for living relationally and responsibly? How do I/we respond in more relational and responsible ways? How do I/we embrace the ethics of community care and collective responsibilities? How do I/we act from commitments social, racial, and environmental justice?
These three orientations to voting help me re-orient to election day and act in the midst of aches. I offer them as part of learning and unlearning. And I hope you’ll share other orientations that keep you grounded and showing up.
Because this midterm election happens on the same day as an eclipse, it’s sure to be revealing. May I/we receive messages that re-align commitments and re-orient actions toward justice.
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