As the flames of political tension are fanned all around us with increasing fervor, our campus is consumed with the seeming imperative of desperate resistance. Unfortunately, we reduce this engagement to the singular, and ostensibly all-important, action of casting a ballot. We judge people not only on the basis of their ideological assertions; more than that, the overriding determinant for our respectability is whether or not we’ve chosen to vote at all.
This narrative reduces the scope of legitimate political expression; in a misguided or cynical effort, it serves only to stigmatize those who deviate from the narrative of initiatives like the Vote100 campaign. This conflation of the civic virtue to vote with ethical standing simplifies the motivations of nonconformists and entrenches the very structures that created the situation against which we must tirelessly, and substantively, struggle.
Instead of asking what some people are prevented from doing in abstaining from voting, why not inquire as to what political activism can take its place? The formation of unions, along with a corresponding level of combative political activity, is much more heavily demonized than the vote at large.
This is because such activity is the lifeblood of a truer democracy, one in which going through the motions prescribed by the paternalistic beneficiaries of electoralism is unsatisfactory and, in some instances, entirely inadvisable.
In the past couple of months, there has been a substantial effort to invigorate political energy on campus. Always up for a discussion of that sort, I am disposed to welcome such an attempt. Embedded in the rhetoric characterizing this participatory upswing, however, is a set of presumptions that are bolder than their proponents can justify; indeed, rationalizations are hardly ever called for, so implicit are these assumptions in the context of their parameters, as carefully constructed as they are thoroughly suffocating.
One such assumption is that voting for the “lesser of two evils” is both unambiguously righteous and a signifier of efficacy. Unfortunately, this simplistic framework assumes that the identity of the least harmful option is clear. Anyone who challenges this notion is clearly suspect, perhaps even an irredeemable enemy. In other words, the hopeful organizers of an unprecedented mass movement cannot avoid demonizing the entire faction of the population that chose differently at the ballot box. Furthermore, in consideration of all possible futures, their choice was the right one, albeit only marginally less “correct” than that of their ideological adversaries.
It is also noteworthy that, based on the lesser-of-two-evils strategy, candidates and their parties leverage the evilness of the other party. A decision among unpalatable options is hardly a choice at all; rather, it just enough resembles empowerment that, when that empowerment is absent, this fraudulent substitute is employed, to rock the population back into a state of uneasy docility for another couple of years.
At this juncture, an unsympathetic reader may counter that voting must be important, since Republicans in particular have gone to such lengths to minimize it. His objection, in a certain sense, is undeniably valid; after all, gerrymandering and voter ID laws are engineered with the purpose of influencing election outcomes. But warping and tainting the outcome of individual elections, or even disenfranchising entire demographics, does not illustrate the revolutionary potential of voting which, although it is not an implausible route, seems tenuous in recent election cycles.
After all, throughout most of U.S. history, two political parties have handed formal political dominance back and forth; this has only rarely heralded fundamental transformation. Rather, these types of abominable restrictions are part of a wider effort to subjugate specific populations, another charming practice in our unrivaled, democratic paradise. In no way, however, are they what sustain the system of government, representational facades and all. Instead, it is the durable deference to our electoral and other governing institutions that serve this reactionary function.
Abstaining from voting is not tantamount to the shirking of one’s political responsibility or moral standing. There are other, perhaps more effective, means of upholding the convictions that animate your political beliefs.
Braden Flax is a sophomore from Merrick, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.