On (Not) Voting

by Jonas Weaver

Let make this clear from the outset: I don’t hate America. And most times when I’ve said that I do it’s been in a fit of frustration about some incident or another. Am I jaded and cynical with regards to America and its dream? Yeah, absolutely. But I think that makes sense to some degree. I care about America, if by America we mean it’s varied people and not just some abstract ideal of America. I care about America because I hate to see it screw up constantly. But none of this is to say I want America to keep doing the whole, “We’re sorry. We’ll try to do better to live up to our liberal, democratic ideals,” shtick. Not interested in that. I want to be a part of change in America, to criticize the system, and to acknowledge the good.

This leads me to voting. I’ve been eligible to vote for almost two years now. And in neither of those two years have I voted. I remember getting my drivers license at 18 and seeing the old gentleman at the desk raise his eyebrows when I said I didn’t want to register to vote. In no way am I opposed to voting. It’s worth partaking in if your conscience so dictates and if you think it meaningfully contributes to social change. I’m skeptical, especially lately given the Citizens United ruling and the money it’s brought to political campaigns.

But the reasons I’m skeptical aren’t just because of big money, the fact that we are in no way democratic, and the neoliberal system has failed us in numerous ways. Nor is my skepticism ignorant of the major movements to secure the ability to vote for women or persons of color. Those were, and are, important movements which we’d do well to heed with the onslaught of (racist) voter ID laws. I acknowledge all of this. But I still remain doubtful about voting.

Part of this ties into thinking the unthought. Why is that we haven’t gotten past the whole, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain” deal? Even progressives partake of this weird logic, albeit in a more passive aggressive way. Somehow not voting is apathy, a failure to account for grassroots movements, etc. In contrast I want to start thinking what a democratic republic might look like where voting isn’t some sort of deified, often too easy, means of social change. Why is voting given so much importance?

Now, contrast the American situation with that of Greece. America doesn’t really need our vote, in fact if less people voted the system might actually be bucked a bit and change might occur. Greece needed a turn out, in both its elections and referendum because, in those moments, the vote meant something. But Greece has had a history of numerous left anarchist groups and right wing groups that clash, riot, protest, etc. America has that history too. But somehow it’s become easier for us to go vote  than to go in the streets, go to local town hall meetings, engage with local news, protest, call people out, situations where we’re actually unconvinced.

Maybe Zizek is right, we need less action and more thought. And maybe the most violent way to effect social change in a system predicated on wealth is to do nothing at all, let the system run itself into the ground, keep hoping, keep protesting, but don’t bite the bullet. As a friend recently posted on Twitter, we thought Obama was going to change the American situation but he hasn’t, not meaningfully. We think Bernie will, but Bernie is still part of the system and is less a socialist than he claims.

So, I’ll let people vote.

But I’ll be over here thinking, trying to imagine a world where we don’t need the call to vote, where voting isn’t the end all be all of politics, where politics isn’t just about elections and the current system, thinking a world better than this one, a world where thought is actually respected again. Call me a utopian, call me an idealist, call me an apathetic bastard, whatever, but I want to actually think about why we feel the need to vote, what spurs us to vote, to think like this, and then I’ll go from there.

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