Our Dreams Do Not Fit in Their Ballot

With Election Day creeping closer I have voting on my mind. Or maybe it is not voting that is on my mind. With each year of my adult life I have become more cynical, jaded and critical of our current political system. While the two major candidates – Mitt Romney and Barack Obama – speak about issues like health cares, education and equality, my political interests are not represented in any meaningful way.

To confirm my cynicism, in 2011 37 states introduced laws that will suppress voters’ rights and 19 states have been effective in making it more difficult for voters to cast their vote on Election Day. Young people, people without a college education, poor and Latinos will be most affected by the new voter ID laws and potentially exclude them from the democratic process altoghether. Handpicking the eligible voters is nothing new for political elites – you only have to take a quick look through various Constitutional Amendments to trace the linage of exclusionary tactics used by the government to prevent certain citizens from voting:

  • In 1870, the 15th Amendment is ratified, granting men of color the right to vote.
  • In 1920, women earn the right to vote after the suffrage movement eventually led to the passing of the 19th Amendment.
  • In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18

While I am conflicted as to how to participate politically, I am awed by the amount of energy that has gone into expanding the right to vote. On one hand, I do not want to see their efforts wasted and feel an obligation to vote. On the other hand, voting grants legitimacy to the current political system and diverts momentum from direct action which is one of the most valuable protest tools we can use to enact widespread change to the government and economic system.

For years, people have used many forms of protest voting: intentional absenteeism, voting third party or writing in a candidate or a vote of no confidence. This election cycle, there is energy building around a protest vote and these tactics have been endorsed by Occupy Wall Street and Fire Dog Lake. This is compelling action, but it fails to address excluded voters – those lacking the proper voter ID and most convicted felons.

In the documentary The Take factory worker Maddy stands in front of a wall of graffiti scrawled with “Nuestros suenos no caben en las urnas.”

Translated this mean “our dreams do not fit in their ballot,” speaking about politicians who refuse to build policy around the needs of the people. This sentiment accurately articulates our current crisis in the United States. Our dreams are big and necessitate active, consistent and deliberate participation that continuously challenges the status quo.

This Election Day, whether you decide to exercise your vote, intentionally abstain or place a vote of “no confidence,” do it with enthusiasm and in conjunction with other political action. Either way, we need to Occupy the voting booths one way or another.

by Michaela Holmes

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10 Comments

  1. Ian

     /  October 25, 2012

    While the two major parties are vastly different in their core beliefs, those beliefs will always be shackled by the pursuit of simple power so long as they remain the only parties able to participate in government. In order to receive federal matching funds, a third party need only garner five per cent of the vote on election day. Once that threshold is reached, and a viable alternative is thereby presented to the voting public, you’ll see both parties pay more attention to what they actually stand for, allowing for a more honest and actionable debate regarding the way forward.

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  2. Hillary

     /  October 25, 2012

    I am frustrated with our two-party system – especially since both parties put the demands of big business before the needs of individual citizens. Having done a considerable amount of research on voter suppression myself, I completely understand the cynicism felt for our mess of a political process. But coming from a state where my indigenous grandmother was prevented from voting by a voter literacy law, I feel an obligation to vote – if for no other reason than to honor her. I understand the concept of intentional absenteeism, and why many might feel that it’s a viable form of protest, but the actual consequences of that scare me. The bottom line is that the intent behind voter suppression laws is to discourage participation – be it by legally sanctioned exclusion or by “self-deporting” from the voting process. I have no doubt that the authors behind the recent string of photo ID laws knew these laws were unconstitutional when they drafted them, but moved forward with them anyway hoping that those targeted by the laws would find the new information confusing and frustrating enough to drop-out of the process all together. Supporters of these laws don’t care if the laws are on the books – as long as there is an overwhelming amount of misinformation, they have done their jobs.

    For me, the trouble with intentional absenteeism is that it will never be a tactic of choice for those on the side of voter suppression. I doubt that withholding one’s own vote (even in the form of an organized protest) will cause political leaders to change the system. I fear it will simply mean that fewer people will decide the election results, which is the actual intent of the photo ID laws. Instead of intentionally not participating, I would do the exact opposite and hyper-participate. Rather than protest with an act of silence, I would be as loud as I could. Emily’s List is an organization that actively recruits and supports Pro-Choice, Women candidates. Copying and improving upon this model to support third party candidates that better reflect one’s political needs could be a viable alternative to sitting out the process altogether.

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  3. Jessica Nesbihal

     /  October 25, 2012

    I recently got into a heated argument with a friend of mine when she said she would not be voting in this upcoming election. I was shocked. An intelligent, well-educated lesbian woman choosing not to vote? Her argument was that she does not like either of the top two candidates, and should not be forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. While I can understand and even agree with this, I think that there is a lot more to consider before voluntarily forgoing your right to vote. The system is flawed, that is for sure, but unfortunately it is the system we have to work with right now. It is also a much greater opportunity for preserving our rights than millions of other people in our own country and across the globe have ever known. While I would not argue that someone must go against their beliefs and participate in a system that is so obviously corrupt, I think that there is value in voting in election, large or small, in order to protect these rights and promote progression in whatever way we can.

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  4. Excellent article, Michaela. Thanks for so nicely expressing the frustration so many of us feel with the conservative options we have before us. I’d say it’s not cynicism – though that’s what so many label the feelings of our generation as – but rather a deep-seated, informed frustration. I’m with Hillary in that, by abstaining from voting, it’s giving more power to the side of the wrong. I feel obligated to use my vote for those who cannot. But these frustrations you express are exactly the place from which more meaningful change can and should stem. By the next presidential election, let’s work to change and expand the system. Let’s promote progressive candidates. Let’s run for office ourselves (I’d vote for you!). And let’s do this proactively, through positive action, not through negative absence.

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    • Michaela Holmes

       /  October 26, 2012

      Erika and Michaela run for office in 2016! All joking aside I love the comments, especially regarding the chance of a third party…. or 4th or 5th or a dozen! It saddens me that the Green Party had to resort to to the spectacular tactic of getting arrested at the 2nd presidential debate in order to get mainstream publicity. I think that there is something to this line of thinking of focusing our energies towards supporting and promoting a viable alternative. For democracy to work we must have choice!

      There is a lot of optimism in the above comments and that is something I can always use an extra dose of! You guys are keeping my heart going.

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  5. NJS

     /  October 26, 2012

    Compromise is a natural experience, so common we don’t consider it, we compromise on riding the subway, dressing to impress others, eating the food available at the restaurant, in general we compromise on how to function in order to attain or avoid certain consequences.

    It’s not that we prefer compromise, but to respond to the realities of the situation, we do. To me, support of a candidate is like compromising, abstaining is like giving up, or missing a chance to register to vote (which I have done).

    The real debate might be the importance of an individual vote, but assuming you do find it important, compromise is what you get to do in choosing who to vote for, whether Obama or Romney or one of the third-party candidates.

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  6. Josh Holmes

     /  October 26, 2012

    Good article Michaela. I am unhappy with my options too. For my entire life our country’s politics have consistently moved towards conservatism, to such a point that now it’s considered socially wrong to have progressive ideals.

    I know of no solutions, unfortunately all I know is: money buys elections, “the people” do not have the money required to buy elections, our form of democracy is inherently a two party system, and people are susceptible to political marketing.

    I would love to see change, I just don’t know the best way to bring about the changes I want. One thing I can do is vote, and I will.

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  7. Jessica G.

     /  October 28, 2012

    Many who support third party candidates get resistance from others who say that it is a vote wasted. In the third party presidential debate on Tuesday, Gary Johnson said “Wasting your vote is voting for someone you don’t believe in.” I think this sentiment resonates with many who have become dissatisfied with what the major party candidates are offering.

    “Democracy Distilled: a History of Our Nation’s Voting Rights” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k57ARG7Kxg&feature=share) outlines the successes and failures of the U.S. when it comes to voting rights, noting that “the struggle to maintain our freedom is never over.” We have certainly learned that this year with the various attempts across states to suppress voters through voter ID laws and cuts to early voting. While I may not agree 100% with any candidate’s beliefs, I will vote for the candidate whose beliefs most closely match mine on the issues that are the most important to me. I don’t see the value in abstaining from voting. The stakes are too high this year. So, even if you have to compromise in some areas, find something to believe in and vote.

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  8. Tanzeem

     /  October 31, 2012

    great article Michaela. I agree with you, neither candidate appeals to me as they are by and large the same. however i don’t know that I believe chnage will come from even a third or fourth party. I believe the issues go deeper than that. The president will not be able to change the fact that we are a neoliberal capitalist state; which in my opinion is the heart of the issue along with the fact that we are a system based on white privilege and supremacy. (don’t even get me started on imperialism) voting is lending legitimacy to this system. I think real change will only come from struggle taking to the streets. the wider the gap becomes between the rich and poor the more likely people will begin rioting and attacking the phyical embodiments of this society. until that happens i dont see the opportunity for any real change, only for reform.

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