Voting Should Be the Last Thing You Do.
Stop putting your faith in the government, and put that faith in yourself.
There is something amiss in the land of the free. Behind the cheery symbolism of hamburgers, baseball, and bald eagles lies something sinister and hidden. If you knock down the walls of suburban cookie-cutter homes, you may find that America is made up of cleverly designed props, decoys of political theatre.
I know that a large part of this challenge is to promote and advocate the act of voting, and in that criteria I will most certainly fail. I believe that going beyond the vote, is the most important thing a person can do; taking action is where real civic duty lies. Whether you vote, legally cannot vote, or choose not to vote, this article is for you. I will focus on what we can do beyond the vote, while exploring some relevant discussion points about American politics.
I'm Not a Political Scientist, Okay?
I want to talk about electoral politics, and before anyone comes for me, I want to stress that I am no expert. In fact, not many people are. In an age where we have countless information at our fingertips, many of us Americans are politically illiterate. From scrolling on Twitter and Instagram, the most readily presented information is that one candidate is sleepy, and the other looks like a cheeto. Our elections have continually devolved into name-calling matches, rather than focusing on the important issues at hand.
If you want to test your own knowledge of US politics, here's the link to a short civics quiz from Pew Research Center. I got 4/8 questions correct, so don't feel bad about your score. (The website also has some great statistical information on a range of important topics.)
Let’s talk about how much your vote matters. When it comes to explaining the relevance of a solitary vote, it varies based on many factors. Do you live in a swing state like Florida, or a safe state like California? How much voting power does your state have in the electoral college? California counts for 55 votes, whereas Vermont counts for 3. Just a few facts can quickly illustrate that voting is not as simple as people may think. If the majority of American's vote for a certain candidate, it seems that person would be the winner, right?
Wrong. We saw a perfect example of this in the 2016 election, when Hiliary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.87 million votes over Donald Trump. Unfortunately when it came to the electoral college, Trump had 304 votes over Clinton's 227. The electoral college assembles every four years to choose a president. This group consists of senators and state representatives; and the election really boils down to those 538 votes. Seems a little disproportionate in a country with over 300 million people, right?
And what can you do if you are a democrat living in a republican state? We must put our faith in state representatives and senators to cast our vote. These politicians we elect, are supposed to take their state's popular vote into consideration, but there is no federal law enforcing this. Then we have the faithless electors, those who vote against who they pledged their support for. There really is no accountability in our convoluted political system.
I'm not a political scientist, and I can't say definitively that your vote for president doesn't matter, but from what I know about US politics, it seems fairly likely. I'm not the only one disillusioned by electoral politics, for the past several decades participation among eligible voters has hovered around 50%. For some, it may be a disinterest in politics, but for many I feel it is a complete distrust in our current system. I often ask myself how I can even ethically participate in the political system of a country founded on stolen land, and built by enslaved people.
I know that even considering the idea that your vote doesn't matter is problematic. I've been met with extreme backlash when even attempting conversations about the subject with those who advocate for voting with a religious fervor. But what I'm saying shouldn't be so problematic, it's backed by solid statistical evidence. This article from NBC synthesizes studies from three top statisticians, the outcome is that you are more likely to be struck by lightning twice than for your vote to be the deciding factor in an election.
Voting aside, it is important to remember the large group of people who are unable to vote. If you are a felon, an undocumented citizen, under eighteen, a U.S. citizen living in a U.S. territory, you are likely unable to vote. Not to mention various personal situations that may affect one’s ability to cast their ballot.
It seems the weight of our nation's mistakes rests on the shoulders of people like you and me, yet how can we blame the masses for the horrors perpetuated by our inhumane government. A constant rhetoric around election time is the echo chamber of people vehemently arguing that it is our duty to vote, because so many before us fought for the right. Yet, many of those marginalized communities are still fighting for equality, and voting hasn't made much of a difference. Who are we to demand that marganilized and disenfranchised groups be forced to participate in a system that has recurringly failed them.
It's 2020, it seems like our nation would have come a long way by now, right? Centuries of advocacy for human rights, and yet daily people are murdered in the streets by police officers. Children are the victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. In one of the most prosperous nations, people are hungry, and houseless, without healthcare or jobs. It's obvious that as a country, as a human race, we have a long ways to go. I promise the results of election day will not instantly change these harmful systems that have long been in place. We need to do better. Now.
Another issue in the world of voting, is voter suppression. We talked about people who legally cannot vote, but what about eligible voters having their right to vote tampered with. Cori Bush, a democratic nominee for US congress, made an impressive list on Instagram of the many ways voters are suppressed. I'll outline a few that stood out to me.
1. Threats of Violence. This has been a constant issue in past elections, but as a recent example from just last week, there was a threatening email circulating, targeted towards registered democrats. I know many people were concerned about this sinister chain letter.
2. Racial Wait Gap. Cori Bush cites that in the 2016 election, residents of Black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote, and were 74% more likely to spend more than 30 min. at their polling place, than in white neighborhoods.
3. Photo-ID Laws. 3.2 million Americans don't have photo ID's. States with strict ID laws have lower Black, Latinx, Asian-American, and multiracial-American turn out. Also criminal records, and expensive fees can make it difficult for voters to get the identification they need in order to vote.
4. Mail-in Ballots & COVID. Due to Covid-19, many polling locations have been closed. This not only puts a strain on remaining voting facilities that must cater to a much larger population, but also discourages people from voting in person. Yet choosing to vote by mail has its own drawbacks. Trump defunding the USPS, has slowed down mail service, and caused millions of ballots to arrive late. On top of that, states have unnecessary rules that allow ballots to be tossed out if not in strict compliance.
Land of the Free, or Land of False Choices?
Now if the previous arguments don't at least get you thinking about the validity of voting, think about how much power we have in choosing a candidate for president. How much choice do we have when it comes to even choosing the shortlist of candidates eligible to run for president? We only have the illusion of choice.
In fact America loves to boast about choices. You can choose between a Pepsi, or a Coke. You can get gas from the BP on the left side of the road, or the Shell on the right. But when you dissect these options, we find that in essence they really are the same thing by different names. This illusion of choice distracts us from important issues at hand. We have a gas station on every block, while houseless people sleep on the sidewalks.
Similarly, we have presidential candidates that are two sides of the same coin. Both are white men concerned with money, who will do anything to protect the United States' imperial status. That's the best we can do? When did we come together as a nation to say that Biden and Trump are the best chances we have towards a better future?
Instead of choosing a leader that will actually propel positive change in our society, we are often forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Does that sound like a well-oiled democracy to you?
If You Want to Enact Change, You Can Do it Right Now.
I wanted to highlight the notion that voting should be the last thing you do, by showcasing the weaknesses of voting. I want to ignite in you the passion of creating change now, and not waiting for the US government to do it for us. The fallacy of voting is two-fold. On one hand, a lot of people seem to think the best way to enact real change is through voting; but relying on this method alone is foolish.
Not only can it take a long time to achieve the desired effects, but also these changes can serve as temporary placeholders, easily reversed by future legislations. The other point is that some people seem to think that voting is the best, and only thing they can to do create positive change. That is simply not true.
As Vocal stated in the challenge guideline, 'real change begins immediately in our own communities.' I want to share what I've been doing to go beyond the vote, and how you can help too.
Activism Tool-Kit: Get Involved Today!
1. Mutual Aid. This is the idea of voluntarily exchanging goods & services for mutual benefit. This is a form of political participation where YOU take responsibility for the well-being of those in positions of need. This can take shape in many ways. Maybe you are in a stable financial situation and are able to donate money to those in need of direct monetary aid.
Or if you have a particular skillset that is useful for someone in need of a graphic designer or photographer etc.
Or you can volunteer your time towards rebuilding communities or preparing meals for the houseless.
Mutual aid is a beautiful thing, and I have seen it help people quickly get back on their feet in the face of harrowing medical expenses and looming evictions. With social media on our side, it's easier now than ever to find causes to donate your time and money to.
But don't just wait for the opportunity to find you, you can actively participate by searching for people or projects in need of aid. You can also advertise your services on social media, or on local community boards.
2. Get Active & Know Your Role. Political activism can take many forms, and not every part will be ideal for you. I suggest taking some time to think about what role(s) suit you the best, because we all have a different role to play. Deepa Iyer created a beautiful tapestry of the different roles we all inhabit in a changing social ecosystem, called The Framework.
Take some time to go through the infographics to discover what position best fits your personal expertise. Through the three-step process you can find where your value lies, then you can map your role within the political ecosystem, then observe, reflect, and plan how you can take political action according to the role that best fits you.
Maybe you are a Frontline Responder, who addresses community crisis by organizing networks and resources. Or you could be a Healer, who tends to current traumas caused by oppressive systems and policies. I myself lean towards Storyteller and Guide. I like to share community stories, and I enjoy teaching and advising those who wish to be further educated, and of course I love to learn from others. This guide will help you if you're new to activism, or if you need to re-align with your core values.
Once you have an understanding of how you relate to the political ecosystem, you can attend a protest or head a community initiative, the possibilities are endless!
3. Educate Yourself and Others. If you have access to the internet, this is quite possibly the best time in history for self-education. There are so many learning resources, I can't even begin to list them all here; but I did make a little guide to show some different ways people learn, and learning tools to try out. Not everyone learns in the same way, so try out these ideas individually and in conjunction to find out what works best for you.
Vocal is also a great way to learn, I've found a ton of articles that explore topics I'm interested in. At the bottom of this article, I will list some resources for further learning. Educating yourself is a powerful tool for exploring the political infrastructure, and learning what you can do to change it for the better.
A Rant on How Capitalism Keeps Us Down
The rich, the ruling class, the 1%. Millionaires and billionaires, whatever word you want to use. The exploiters have a great situation right now.
The majority of us, the working class, are just content enough to be satiated. Just busy and overworked enough to keep us distracted and tired. Just jaded enough to not have tangible hope or desire for a better future. Just addicted enough to consumerism not to question it.
Often we are complacent and comfortable with the status quo. Also we are so overcome by the stressors in our own lives, that we just don’t have the stamina for a sustained fight. What are we so stressed about? If you trace the root of many of our modern problems, we find money at the center.
Some of us our idealistic in our youth, we believe in the American dream of capitalism, that if we work hard enough we can access these material successes we’ve been conditioned to desire.
We may start working when we’re young, or go to college first to access better jobs, only to find ourselves in debt with limited job prospects. Then we go through life spending most of our time working and sleeping, sustained with just enough crumbs to get us by.
It’s understandable that many of us are complacent in this country of overproduction. Those of us in the working class usually do not starve. Although we may not have access to nutritious foods, there’s usually something to eat. Most of us have a place to live, whether we’re spending over half of our paycheck on rent, living with parents, on a friend’s couch, or in a vehicle. Some of us may be privileged to ‘own’ a house, but most likely the bank is involved.
Then we have a little money left over to buy books, music, makeup, or beer. Our self-care, and consumerism keeps us content, and numb. Not that we are to blame, we deserve to treat ourselves, yet capitalism determines the cost.
I challenge myself and others to think critically about mass consumerism, to think about where your money goes, who you are making richer, and if by purchasing something you are harming another community.
In our society, money is power, and collectively we have the power, to an extent, to control who we are funding. I challenge us to explore our relationship with consumerism, to think more sustainably and collectively. It is gravely important that we cast off the plague of individualism that divides us, so that we can stand more united in the face of an uncertain future.
The Importance of Getting Involved.
Don't let the perils of capitalism keep you down, because for many people 'beyond the vote' is all there is, and we need to do our part to create lasting, positive change.
The results on election day will not instantly change the lives of those suffering. Our nation is wrecked by debt. People are jobless and impoverished due to COVID, and other harmful infrastructures designed to keep the lower class down. Together we are fighting innumerable causes such as climate change, police brutality, and the violation of Indigenous rights. Whether or not Joe Biden wins, all of these issues will not simply disappear overnight.
It takes a lot of time and effort for systematic change to occur. So whether or not you vote, the important thing is to take action today. Don't just cast a vote and assume that's where your civic duty ends. Going beyond the vote is where the real work gets done, and we need to fight now more than ever.
Below I will list a number of resources to get you started on your activism journey, and also some causes you can donate time and money to.
Causes You Can Get Behind!
The Freedom Fighter's Fund was created after the tragic death of Oluwatoyin ‘Toyin’ Salau. This cause is dear to me, because this young activist was murdered in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. After releasing a series of tweets about her recent sexual assault, Toyin's body was found in June 2020, she was murdered by a man she had trusted; someone she asked for help.
Through, Justice For Black Girls, the Freedom Fighter's Fund provides grants to Black girl activists under the age of 25, who need housing, food, and other monetary support. Please consider donating to this cause.
The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States.
Abolitionist Law Center litigates on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, educates the general public about the evils of mass incarceration, and works to develop a mass movement against the American punishment system by building alliances and nurturing solidarity across social divisions.
The Abolitionist Law Center seeks to challenge this status quo by building creative, principled, visionary, and lasting alliances with people and organizations inside and outside of prison who are determined to confront and defeat these interconnected systems of oppression, and replace them with healthy, sustainable, and liberating alternatives. You can find the donation page easily on their website.
The Climate Emergency Fund was formed at the intersection of philanthropy and climate activism to focus funding on radical action as opposed to incremental change.
They fund the most impactful climate activists working to disrupt the status quo, inspire others to do the same and force policy-makers to take action.
Their role in winning the future is to turbocharge activism, to put pressure on government leaders, divest from fossil fuel financing, and diversify the movement by engaging new voices. To donate, visit their website.
For the Gworls is an initiative through the Arts Business Collaborative. This fund assists Black, transgender people nationwide. Those who apply for this assistance can receive housing help, and aid for gender-affirming surgeries. This initiative is extremely important; Black trans people are at increased risk for sexual assualt, unemployment, discrimination, and difficulty with housing and living expenses.
If you want to support getting home cooked, healthy meals to Black trans people. I suggest checking out The Okra Project.
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) formed in December of 2014, was created as a space for Black organizations across the country to debate and discuss the current political conditions, develop shared assessments of what political interventions were necessary in order to achieve key policy, cultural and political wins, convene organizational leadership in order to debate and co-create a shared movement wide strategy. Under the fundamental idea that we can achieve more together than we can separately.
This anti-capitalist, abolitionist organization is a coalition of more than 50 US groups representing the interests of Black communities. I highly recommend reading through the website, this group is incredibly organized, and always in need of extra support.
United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country. Their goal is to bring awareness and direct action to defunding and dismantling harmful policies against immigrants. ICE stands for Immigration Enforcement and Customs. ICE was created in 2003 to brutally enforce US immigration laws; they are highly weaponized and ruthless.
Currently there are 545 children in ICE detention centers without their parents. Not to mention the many allegations of physical, mental, and sexual abuse on these humans that are being immorally detained. I also recommend checking out ACLU's information on abuse in immigration detentions. __________________________________________________
When it comes to donating and mutual aid, I believe in quickly getting money and help to those who need it immediately. If you want to directly help someone right now, I recommend checking out any of the following resources at the bottom of this article. Most of the webpages and Instagrammers I provide will regularly highlight people in need of aid.
And if you don't have money, don't worry! There are plenty of things you can do instead. Try writing letters to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) who reside in nursing homes, or who are confined in prisons. You can phone zap for legislation changes. Use your social platforms to share and boost causes that need more exposure. Or educate your friends and family on these issues, so they can help too.
The More You Know.
Follow these Instagram Accounts!
@muchachafanzine -a decolonial native Xicana Feminist fanzine
@workingclasshistory -the title says it all, the history of the working class, people like us.
@nowhitesaviors -"We never said 'no white people.' We just know you shouldn't be the hero of the story."
@theconsciouskid -Parenting and Education through a critical race lens
@theslacktivists -community based comprehensive media
@nyc4revolution_ - Serve the people
@decolonialatlas -the revolution will be mapped
@decolonizemyself -First Nations personal journey. Exploring colonization, decolonization, healing, & culture.
@riseindigenous -R.I.S.E. is an Indigenous artist initiative dedicated to the amplification & evolution of Indigenous art & culture.
@bailproject -we believe no one should be in jail because of poverty
@fighttoxicprisons -grassroots activism at the intersection of incarceration, health, and ecology.
@qiaocollective -A diaspora of Chinese media collective challenging US aggression on China.
I could go on, but this is a great list for getting started. If you find an Instagram account you like, you can check to see who they follow as well.
Where to Buy Books
I recommend checking out Haymarket Books, and Verso. They have great selections of political, historical, and activist content. Their websites have categorized lists of books, so you can explore by topic to find a book that fits your interests. Try not to buy books from Amazon whenever possible.
Google Docs, Linktrees, Websites, & Lists
This Black Lives Matter googledoc, has more helpful information than you could probably go through in a lifetime.
Nomu Nomu's list of activist resources has detailed how-to guides for getting involved in political movements.
This Dropmark page has free and easy to understand pamphlets on socialism and capitalism.
Anti-racist Allyship Starter Pack has amazing categorized resources of podcasts, essays, books, movies, etc.
Indigenous Action provides strategic communications and direct action support for Indigenous community's sacred land defense. Their website has an incredible selection of free printable zines.
If you are a white person, I recommend checking out this extremely helpful list of what we can do to fight racial justice immediately.
@FatRose linktree has resources on fat activism and liberation.
Zinn Education Project is a compilation history lessons, rooted in more accurate, complex, and engaging history, than what you might normally learn in school.
@sistersocialist linktree lists bail funds by city, a masterpost for the Mi'kmaq fishers, along with protest charities and petitions.
The intention of this article is not to shame anyone, or tell anyone that they shouldn't vote. I wanted to highlight an opinion that I feel is often overlooked, especially around election season. Voting should not be in the forefront of our minds when we think about how we can change the world. You can change the world, and you can start right now.
Thanks for taking the time to read! Any tips received from this article will be distributed to mutual aid funds, and if I place in this competition, I will allocate a portion of the winnings for some of the many causes listed above.
<3 Daniela @slyvia.apathy