Your Vote Was Not Enough

Jesse Lowe, Scarlet Staff

Let me begin by saying that I am pro-voting. I think it’s a great thing to do and that it does make a difference. I just want to add my voice to the chorus of folks reminding each other that we can’t think for even a second that voting, by itself, was enough. Joe Biden may be our President-Elect, but we haven’t saved the world. We haven’t prevented the nation’s slide into fascism. We aren’t anywhere near done.

“Your Vote is Your Voice!”: A Partial Truth

Your vote is your voice! It’s just a tiny, feeble voice compared to the voices of lobbyists, corporations, and even just ordinary people who happen to live in pivotal states like Georgia, or in states that are disproportionately represented in the Electoral College. (In the 2016 Presidential Election, a vote cast in Wyoming carried over three times as much weight as a vote cast in Florida.) Not all votes are equal.

Even if all votes did count equally, the opinions of the people would be only one factor in deciding who actually gets elected. Public support is won by sound policy, but also by expensive campaigns. The funding for those campaigns comes from small donors, yes, but also from PACs (Political Action Committees) and dark money groups that obscure the sources of their funding.

You may have seen graphics that compare President-Elect Biden and President Trump on many issues. These graphics make the valid point that there is a large difference between the two candidates. That difference is important and will impact our lives. But in order to emphasize that truth, these graphics exclude a lot of similarities between the two potential outcomes of the election:

  White politicians will continue to use Black voters as props to legitimize their power without making meaningful steps towards paying reparations or desegregating the country. (Direct quote from President-Elect Biden: “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Among many many other things, President Trump’s re-election campaign created fake profiles for Black supporters and hired Black actors to attend his rallies.)

  Defense spending will rise, taking money away from domestic issues that require government spending.

  The Electoral College and oligarchical control of elections will continue.

  We will not reach net-zero emissions fast enough. (By 2050? Maybe? We should have been net-zero by 2020.)

  The middle class will continue to vanish, wages will continue to stagnate, and our safety net will continue to be insufficient to keep people from dying of poverty in one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

When we put all of our energy into elections, we become burnt out every fourth December. Many stop paying attention to the world beyond their household because they buy into the idea that after they vote, their work is done. Voting has not been enough to end racism, war, climate change, poverty or countless other issues. Perhaps most frustratingly, it has not been enough to fix our system of voting in a way that would enable it to be a more effective tool for change.

Your vote does make a difference. It’s just an extremely small difference, and you can do better. So, you must vote and. But what comes after the and?

Louder than Votes

When we think outside of the box that is voting, the options can be a little overwhelming. One of the most pivotal moments of my life was definitely when I read a Crimethinc zine with the message, “To change everything, start anywhere.” That frame of mind reminds me that the chaos and endless possibility of activism doesn’t have to be scary. It can be liberating. You don’t have to find the single most impactful action and take it constantly. You can commit a thousand different acts of change in fits and spurts, and as long as you’re doing something, you’re doing better than nothing at all.

Let’s start small.

A convenient stepping stone from voting to more than voting can be staying in touch with the people we vote into office. Look up the bills that they’re considering. Call, text, and email them from time to time (by which I mean constantly) to make sure that they’re writing, sponsoring, and voting for bills that you want to see become laws. Write, share, and sign petitions. Spend the next election season campaigning and phone banking, both for candidates and for ballot questions that matter to you.

Next, let’s talk about your economic power as a consumer. In a capitalist society, one of the ways that individuals can chip away at a corporation’s power is by boycotting them and encouraging others (especially our own university, which still has a problematic contract with Sodexo) to do the same. The internet is your friend: it is chock-full of lists of companies that exploit prison labor, use sweatshops abroad, or cause environmental devastation. Changing your habits as a consumer to be more environmentally friendly, more economically just, and more locally focused can be a process that you start (or expand) today.

Please read the preceding paragraph with the knowledge that working within capitalism to try and end the damage capitalism causes to people and the planet will never fully succeed. We have to work outside of the system to fully destroy the system, and that is where organizing comes in. People power works a lot better when you have a lot of people working together, rather than a one-person boycott or protest trying to take down a billion-dollar company.

Are you a worker? Join (or found) a union. Are you a renter? Join (or found) a tenant’s union. Are you a member of a marginalized group in need of specific supports? Join (or found) a group at Clark like the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), Prism (LGBTQ+ community), or the newly-created Middle Eastern and North African Students’ Association (MENASA).

Clark Engage isn’t just a place to find out what movies are screening on the green this week; it’s a place to find your next project for social change. National and international organizations for change exist all around us. You can find structured, centralized, politically-minded ones like Clark’s branches of the Massachusetts Student Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) and the Independent Socialist Group (ISG). Beyond Clark, you can also find groups that have a deep impact on the local Main-South community like Mutual Aid Worcester and Defund Worcester Police Department.

Part of organizing is participating in mutual aid – a voluntary exchange of resources and services for the benefit of the whole community. Are you a person who knows how to write, garden, perform first aid, or build useful things? Offer to teach the people around you. Do you speak multiple languages? Offer to translate for an organization doing work that you support. Did your family send you too much food, clothing, and/or toiletries in a care package? Ask if anybody else needs them.

Whatever you can contribute to community organizations is better than contributing nothing. Whatever you learn from community organizations is better than learning nothing.

Now, let’s think a little bigger. (But not too big, because advocating for the overthrow of the government is a federal crime and I would like to get a Bachelor’s Degree before I get a criminal record.)

Get used to the idea that if you feel the need to ask the government for permission before you protest the wrongdoings of the government, you aren’t going to get very far. Get comfortable with civil disobedience – with intentionally breaking unjust laws. Keep the idea of both general and targeted strikes in the back of your mind. 

You are more than your vote. Stop accepting the myth that someday, a candidate behind a shining podium will save you from all of the injustice in the world. You save yourself. You may start to save yourself by voting, but you need to find at least a couple more strategies before you’re ready to stop.