Politics

Don’t #Settle for the Status Quo. A Better World is Possible.

“Voting Blue No Matter Who” is not going to save us. It’s time to divest from politicians and invest in our communities.

“Vote Blue No Matter Who.” These five words have become the mantra of liberal Democrats during this election cycle. It is a doctrine of pragmatism; the idea that the wreckage of the past four years has become so insufferable that any candidate, no matter how terrible in their own right, is an acceptable alternative to our current leader. 

Trump famously bragged that he could “shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue,” and his supporters would still remain loyal to him, and I don’t doubt the veracity of that statement. When he made that comment, liberals balked at the cultish tendencies of his followers, who worshipped the ground he walked on in spite of the havoc he wreaked on the country. In recent months, however, some Biden supporters have started sounding surprisingly similar to their MAGA counterparts. The Nation columnist Katha Pollit wrote that she would vote for Biden even if he “boiled babies and ate them.” I have personally seen people say they would vote for Biden if he was in a coma, if he “smoked crack with Pablo Escobar’s son,” or if he—yes, this is a real one—chose Hitler as his running mate. 

I understand that not everyone who plans to vote for Biden is as deranged as the Biden/Hitler ticket supporter; many are disappointed voters who backed more progressive candidates during the Democratic primaries, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Many of the Democratic candidates inspired fiercely loyal supporters who were devastated when the DNC force-fed Biden to voters. Liberals and progressives alike are aware that Biden is an incredibly uninspiring candidate, so much so that a group of desperate anti-Trumpers started the hashtag “#SettleForBiden.” 

I understand the argument for settling, and my intention is not to understate the danger of the Trump administration. We have seen the damage that Trump has wrought over the last four years: He has decimated the State Department and the foreign service; he has appointed a record-breaking number of ultra-conservative federal judges who will serve life terms; he has completely fumbled the national response to the greatest public health crisis of the century; now he is trying to interfere with the upcoming election by slowing the operations of the United States Postal Service.

This litany of offenses should make the opposition party’s job easy, but unsurprisingly, the Democrats are utterly failing at it. They have arguably put more time and energy into defeating progressive candidates and policies than they have into defeating their opponent, Donald Trump. Consider their health care policy as an example of this self-sabotaging strategy. Medicare for All, one of the core policies of Bernie Sanders’ platform, is currently favored by 87% of all Democratic voters and 69% of the general American public. Despite this overwhelming public favor, which no doubt is driven by the fact that millions of people have lost their employer-provided health insurance in the middle of a global pandemic, the Democratic National Convention voted against adopting Medicare for All into their platform, and Joe Biden recently commented that Medicare for All “would not solve [the Covid-19 crisis] at all.” 

It seems like a no-brainer for Biden and the Democrats to adopt Medicare for All—if not for the compassionate purpose of saving tens of thousands of lives each year, then at least for the fact that it would be politically advantageous. The policy is wildly popular and would easily gain them votes from progressives, independents, and moderate Republicans alike. So why don’t they?  It’s a simple answer if you follow the money: the private health care industry is determined to keep Medicare for All out of the Democratic party platform because it would prevent them from profiting off sickness and death. Biden himself is surrounded by industry insiders: Steve Ricchetti, one of Biden’s top campaign aides, is a former health care lobbyist who represented drug companies, and other aides also have connections to the private health care industry. Much like his Republican counterparts, Biden is beholden to the demands of corporate America, not the needs of the people. 

I used to believe that the Republicans were the villains in the story and that the Democrats, while flawed, were an obviously better choice. I’ve slowly come to learn that they are two sides of the same coin: both parties have supported expanding mass surveillance programs; both parties have supported the militarization of the police and expansion of executive policing powers; both parties continue to support endless covert wars and all forms of US imperialism abroad. In the United States, there is no party that serves the interests of workers, there is only the false choice between two parties that ultimately work for the same boss: corporate America.  

Look at the response to the recent uprising against police brutality. We’ve watched in horror as federal police tear-gassed middle-aged moms, Seattle police pepper-sprayed a seven-year-old, and the NYPD kidnapped protesters off the street in unmarked vans. Many people have used this heavy-handed police response as an example of why we need to vote Trump out of office, to rid the country of authoritarian fascism. The people making this argument are forgetting that this authoritarian brutality is on display in Democratic cities run by Democratic mayors, whose city police departments are requesting federal police assistance to quell anti-police demonstrations. They are also forgetting that during the Obama administration, The National Guard was deployed to Standing Rock and to Ferguson, where heavily militarized police viciously cracked down on peaceful protests organized by Black and indigenous Americans. Crushing dissent is not a feature unique to Republican administrations. How can we believe that Joe Biden’s response to the current Black Lives Matter movement would be much different when he suggested that we should train police to “shoot people in the leg” instead of the heart? 

It’s absolutely not lost on me that in response to this powerful wave of protests against the horrors of racial injustice and over-policing, the Democrats have nominated the architect of the racist 1994 Crime Bill that contributed to the mass incarceration of millions of Black Americans, and a former prosecutor with a controversial record on criminal justice. It begs the question: Are the Democrats just tone-deaf, or is this intentional? When the Democratic National Convention gives more speaking time to literal Republicans than it does to extremely popular progressive party members Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it feels intentional. The Democrats are telling us exactly who they are, and they have been telling us for years now. 

Liberals who shame the voters who don’t want to vote for Biden are forgetting that millions of real people have been irreparably harmed by his past policies. Things have gotten worse for many of us under the Trump presidency, but Black folks, trans folks, poor folks, and other marginalized Americans have already been suffering for decades now. Shaming them into voting for someone with an abysmal record on helping marginalized people is not constructive and will do nothing to increase voter turnout for Biden. 

Despite my many qualms with Biden and the Democrats, I am aware that I have to be realistic and accept that this is our choice. The reason that so many people have chosen to “#SettleforBiden” is because they feel that there are no other options. I sympathize with the reasons for settling, and I don’t judge anyone who is choosing to do so. However, I also believe that settling for candidates like Biden is giving our tacit consent for the Democrats to continue nominating centrist candidates who will do nothing to improve the material conditions of working Americans. “Not Being Republican” is not a policy platform that makes a candidate worthy of your vote, in fact, it is not a policy platform at all.

Many people ask me: So what do we do in this situation? With no other candidates who can realistically win, what is the alternative? 

Unfortunately, the answer is complicated, and it’s not the answer that most people want. Many people who ask this question want an answer that involves checking a box on their ballot. The reality is that most people do not want to extend their political action beyond the ballot, they want to be absolved of political responsibility the second they step out of the voting booth, hoping that the person whose box they checked will solve our problems.

The problems that this country is facing are systemic: institutional racism, mass incarceration, police brutality, and income inequality, just to name a few. These problems existed long before Trump, and they will continue to exist under Joe Biden. The fact that white liberals are just now waking up to these problems doesn’t mean that they are new and voting Trump out of office won’t remedy them. Trump is certainly a unique threat to our country, but acting like the single greatest problem in this country is one individual is also willfully ignoring the system that allows him to exist: The Republicans who have coalesced around him because he promotes policies that protect their wealth, and the Democrats who refuse to take a stand against him by adopting policies that benefit working people.

Voting is not useless, but it is also not enough. Voting can be a catalyst for positive change, but our elected officials are often painfully slow to respond to the ever-evolving problems our society faces, and we cannot rely on them alone to enact the changes we urgently need. So what is my answer to the question, “What do we do?” We need to divest from politicians and invest in our communities. This does not mean we should abandon electoral politics as a whole, instead, it means we should vote with intention while also finding ways to take political action beyond the ballot. We need to stop encouraging people to “#settle” for milquetoast moderates and start advocating for grassroots progressive candidates at the local and state levels. We need to research candidates beyond our president and senators and elect progressives to our mayor’s offices, our city councils, and our district attorney’s offices. These are the people who lead our communities: they allocate the funding for police, education, and social programs. We need to show up to our city council meetings and demand more from our leaders. We need to protest, and unionize, and organize workers to strike. We need so, so much more than Joe Biden. 

More importantly, we need to invest in our communities by taking direct action to help our oppressed and marginalized neighbors. Why should we wait for politicians to make the world a better place when we have the power to do that right now? It is imperative that we divest from the politician “savior complex” because no leader—no, not even Bernie Sanders—has the power to save us. We have the power to save us, and we’re not going to accomplish that in the voting booth.

The power of direct action is evident: During the protests and riots that erupted in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, neighbors came together to provide free food, water, and supplies to people in need in their community. Mutual aid networks in cities across the country are providing food and medicine to vulnerable people affected by the coronavirus pandemic (I volunteer for one!). Protestors are putting their bodies on the line and physically blocking landlords from entering courthouses so they cannot evict their residents and force them onto the street. All across the country, we are witnessing the incredible power of community right before our eyes. And yet, some people still think the answer to all of our problems is to “Vote Blue No Matter Who.” 

There are grassroots organizations in each and every one of your communities that need your time, your money, and your talents. Not everyone needs to be an activist or an organizer to change the world, but everyone has something that they can contribute to the revolution. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need to be asking the right questions. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” He also had some choice words for white moderates, but alas, that is not my point here. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to help the most marginalized members of our communities? How can we better serve them? How can we seek justice for them? These questions are far more urgent and important than the question of which evil to vote for.

Most people today forget that Dr. King was wildly unpopular and denounced as an extremist during his lifetime. People who challenge the status quo as he did are usually written off by the majority as dreamers and radicals, but it is dreamers and radicals, not moderates, who push society forward and drive change from the ground up. We need them. History absolved Dr. King and countless other civil rights leaders like him, and someday it will absolve the people who are fighting for human rights today in 2020.  Our society desperately needs people who are willing to critically engage with the problems we are facing and to imagine creative solutions to those problems. We need people to stop settling for the status quo, to start dreaming of a better world, and to take action towards building that better world. 

I believe it’s possible. Do you?

tell me what you think