“Do you want to vote for the person that killed your mom, or do you want to vote for the person that beat your dad within an inch of his life?
Go on, choose. If you’re having trouble deciding, then you have a problem.”
Mathematically, I’m a binary choice voter. Essentially, all votes that will produce electors this election will fall into one of two buckets. Setting aside the unnecessary complexity of the electors for a moment, the bucket that has more votes in it will win. “More votes” is based on a difference in votes between the buckets. Removing a vote from one bucket increases the difference, even if I cast the vote on the ground rather than placing it in the other bucket, or place it into a third bucket.
I very much want the incumbent President to be unseated, so I’ve been lobbying pretty hard for a Presidential candidate I’m not particularly enthusiastic about and a Vice-Presidential candidate that I don’t know much about other than the historic nature of her appointment. However, I read a tweet thread from Kaitlyn Greenidge (@surlybassey on Twitter) that changed my mind about how I’ve been approaching discussions on this.
In the thread, rather than rolling her eyes at the browbeating binary choice voters out there or listing Biden and Harris’s foibles, she asks some questions.
“Am I listening to what the other person is saying?”
“Am I really sitting with the inequities / contradictions / sadness / grief / rage / impatience that they are expressing?”
“Am I able to recognize that the offices of the president and vice president of the US have perpetuated real violence in this country and abroad, that is even more hurtful and insidious because we never discuss it as a nation?”
“Am I willing to devote the same level of scrutiny I did to Mueller’s every breath and Trump’s every spelling mistake to the policies coming out of the next admin around policing, education, debt relief, drug policy and mass incarceration?”
Her questions shook me in a way a hundred “crimes” and failures of candidates could not. I realized that my response is mathematically accurate but completely lacking in empathy. I’m asking people to choose a new roommate, with the choices being the person that killed their mother and the one that maimed their father. Worse, I’m annoyed with them for agonizing over the choice and taking so long to make it.
To my progressive friends, to my trans friends, my Native friends, to others who have seen the system fail, willfully neglect, or actively harm them, and who have reached a point where they can no longer hold their noses, I apologize. In my zeal to end the specificity of the nightmare of the current regime, I have not sat with the contradictions, sadness, grief, rage, or impatience you have expressed. As a cis-, straight, tall, able-bodied, probably neurotypical, middle-class Black man who is a US citizen, I have my Blackness to deal with in our nation, which is not a small thing. But most of the other axes of power and privilege broke my way. I have not sat with your pain and with my contradictions because I have not been substantially or obviously harmed by their policies. This is the exact thing that we challenge white people to get right in matters of race — to start with empathy rather than cold reason, to weep with those who weep rather than tell them to dry their eyes because things are not so bad. I missed the mark.
I continue to believe that actively voting for Biden/Harris will create a larger platform from which to move progressive values forward, even if neither of them prove to be particularly progressively inclined. Women wiser and more progressive than me share this belief, such as Angela Davis, without defending the problematic choices these candidates have made in the past. We are fighting a game of inches, and the inches matter. As my friend Christina Springer says, rather than focusing on the highest levels, we should “look down, lift up”. We have local and state level candidates who express an inclination toward the radically humane and progressive values many of us are seeking. We can focus on those candidates, who will have more impact on our daily lives anyway, while at the same time working with the pieces available to create a better platform.
But if you just can’t do it anymore, I understand. I just ask that you don’t descend into apathetic despair or nihilistic attacks on the whole process. Find someone and something local to believe in and work on. If it’s not a political campaign, it can be a community organization, or a local school. The world is broken and corrupted in many ways, but at the one on one level, or the 100 person level, or 1000 person level, there is much good that can still be done. If we are all working on something we can genuinely feel good about, things will get better, even if the candidates at the highest levels are problematic on all sides.
It’s still stinky water vs. sulfuric acid to me. But for someone else, maybe all the choices burn and destroy, and I need to respect that truth.