Is Voting a Responsibility?

Readers, I am sick and I am tired.

I’m sick and tired of people shaming those who don’t vote in this country, attacking young people for failure to get involved in politics, and saying that a decision not to vote is a vote for the “other side.”  For many of us, there is no “other side.”  The political atmosphere in the United States doesn’t offer truly opposing viewpoints on many issues, and hasn’t for a long time.  Politics is not a sphere of creativity, activism, and problem-solving.  It’s a charade.  And I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that a vote for a Republican necessarily is worse than a vote for a Democrat who will do nothing.  I believe that both choices are appalling.

In school, we’re all indoctrinated into the ideal of “democracy.”  In a democracy, we’re told, political participation is the right and the duty of every citizen.  Political participation includes voting, campaigning, and writing letters to our Congressperson.  Those are the boundaries of participation, and if we do not choose to exercise our rights in these neatly delineated ways, we are not participants and we have no right to object to what happens in our nation.

I call bullshit.

I was disheartened by a recent comment on the Pursuit of Harpyness by mischiefmanager.  Here it is in part:

We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, Becky. I don’t see women-or men, for that matter-in their 20′s and 30′s getting out and mobilizing, writing letters, donating, or voting in the numbers we need to make and keep laws protecting women. Look at the numbers of voters under 40 in the midterm election. The Obama spike disappeared. If you believe it’s patronizing to point that out, so be it. But it is true the older the person, the more likely that person is to vote. If we fail to exercise our franchise, we are failing in our duty as citizens and giving the right a victory they don’t even have to work to earn. I do judge people who can’t be bothered to vote. Don’t you?

Writing letters, donating, and voting are certainly some legitimate means of participating in the political process.  But they are by no means the only options available.  Young women are not “failing in our duty” by choosing not to vote.  Young women are not responsible for the disappearance of the “Obama spike.”  Personally, I have no problem with the disappearance of a spike for a President who has repeatedly failed to live up to his promises to women, LGBT people, and peace-loving individuals.

Here’s what young women are doing:

  • Forming unique, radical activist groups on campuses, in underserved communities, and all over the country.
  • Educating fellow citizens about our government’s failures in the areas of human rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc. on blogs and in online communities.
  • Finding opportunities to break into the mainstream media with feminist perspectives.
  • Writing books and magazine articles offering alternative perspectives.
  • Making activist art.
  • Distributing contraceptives and giving safe sex lectures.
  • Raising money for crises at home and abroad.
  • Developing new organizing strategies that take into account the needs and organizational priorities of people of color, those outside the US, people with disabilities, queer people, and others that have historically been denied a voice.

The concept of “the vote as duty” is designed to keep a populous in check.  It turns our eyes away from our own country’s horrific abuses of human rights at home and abroad, it keeps us from thinking about the big picture, it keeps us ignorant of how people in power have turned factions that should be working together against each other since time immemorial.

The people in power know that government, business, and the elite have to work together and keep the populous down through this stigma against non-voters, against alternative means of participation.  They have to do that because the alternative is revolutionary.  If we think too hard, we might realize that the system is broken, and that we have the power to change it.  We might organize in our communities.  We might feel free to talk about racism, sexuality, socialism, accessibility, partriarchy, oppression, kyriarchy, colonialism, imperialism, and prejudice.  And those in power don’t want that.

So if you can’t find an acceptable candidate in an election, then don’t vote.  And tell everyone who shames or ridicules you exactly why you’re not voting.  Be an activist in your community.  Kick ass through peaceful protest, rebellion, and radical change.  And report back!  I’d love to hear about what you’re doing to rock your community.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on February 19, 2011, in law & politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hell, it’s not just in the US. In England we have three options for parties who “might get in” any any given time, three options for who could be in power.

    They’re all lousy. So I have three choices – vote for the “least lousy” of the three, vote for someone else, or not vote. The last two options have the exact same outcome – I did not have any effect on who runs the country. The exact same outcome. But in one I voted, one I didn’t.

    I distrust the three main parties enough that I voted for someone I knew damn well wouldn’t win, because I couldn’t have it on my conscience to vote for any of the main three, and I felt wrong about the idea of not voting. But… it doesn’t matter. You only actually have a voice if you folow one of the main parties.

    • Very good point. I focused on the US because I’ve been steaming lately about the whole “individual responsibility” rhetoric with the Tea Party and all that, but I’m guessing the same kind of thing is true for most modern democracies.

  2. Thank you! Where I live, out in the middle of nowhere in TX, when it comes to local elections, there are never people I agree with. Therefore, I don’t vote. And if I do vote, I vote for someone who has no chance of winning, but whom I agree with. Often, these people are comedians or musicians who run on a platform that is quite liberal, knowing they won’t ever win.

    I try to vote in the primary elections for president, but when it gets to the actual election, if the person I give a shit about doesn’t get it, I won’t vote.

    So yeah, I hate when people give you crap for not voting.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. I completely agree.

  1. Pingback: Harpy Seminar: Is Voting a Duty? - The Pursuit of Harpyness

  2. Pingback: Occupy Wall Street for a Radical with a Job « Radically Queer

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