The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.
“Please vote everybody,” pleads comedian Jena Friedman. “We have a very scary election coming up, could be our last.”
Friedman is far from the only influential person using their large platform to urge citizens to vote. As we inch closer and closer to November, “Vote like your life depends on it” graphics are everywhere. Movements such as Rock the Vote claim voting should be “social, communal, and celebrated” while Facebook posts, Instagram infographics and Twitter voter shaming get more and more aggressive, all begging the question: will voting really save us?
I want to be explicitly clear: I am in no way against voting. Everyone should vote in every election if they can, but in a country with unprecedented gerrymandering, strategic voter suppression and almost 6 million people ineligible to vote in the 2016 election due to felony convictions, with African Americans being disenfranchised “more than four times greater than non-African Americans,” we cannot rely on voting alone to solve any problem facing this nation.
All too often, “get out and vote” rhetoric is used to silence critics who oppose elected officials or legal policy. Claiming that dissenters should “vote them out of office then!” not only paints a disingenuous picture of reality, but it deflects blame away from politicians who are in positions to fix these issues onto citizens, insinuating either citizens have caused the problems themselves or have not done enough to fix the situation. Additionally, it postpones any possible action until the next election cycle, and even then, it is still not a solution.
You can’t “vote out” systemic racism. It’s systemic. The Democrats won’t fundamentally change immigration policy, and electing Joe Biden will not immediately reinforce reproductive health care access.
Complex legal, structural, or political issues cannot be solved with a simple change of power from one individual to another, even one party to another. Even if Democrats take control of Congress this November, police brutality will still be a national issue, access to health care will still be an issue, immigration policy will still be an issue, the list goes on and on.
While voting in like-minded officials will certainly get us close to change, the actuality of political leaders being voted out of office is slight with congressional incumbent reelection rates as high as 91% over the last four years.
Large-scale issues require decisive action, but instead of politicians working to immediately address these problems, their insistence that voting is the best and sometimes the only course of action delays any possible solution for two to six years until the representative seat opens up — all while allowing the problems to continue.
Voting is only a partial solution and encouraging it as the only or most important civic duty to change the world for the better turns a blind eye to corruption, mismanagement or the actual root causes of the issues in question.
Voting won’t entirely solve our problems. It just gives the issue a different face with a different representative.
Moments earlier in her set, Friedman recounts how some of her friends have turned to astrology to make sense of the world, “…being like, ‘Everything’s crazy because Mercury’s in retrograde.’” Friedman pauses. “Okay, Carla, or maybe it’s because you didn’t vote.”
To reiterate: I am not advocating for not voting. Carla definitely should have voted, but we also need to acknowledge that it was not entirely Carla’s electoral indifference that shot Breonna Taylor. The fact that Carla stayed home was not the sole cause of ICE holding children in cages or administering non-consensual hysterectomies. The United States has festered these issues since its founding.
It is, however, our collective responsibility to vote in the 2020 election. It is our responsibility to attend rallies and marches. It is our responsibility to write to our representatives, to spread accurate and helpful information through social media, to donate money to legitimate organizations that work with at-risk populations and advocate policy reform. It is our responsibility to change the country for the better, but not by phoning it in with just a ballot.
Postscript: Check voter registration status, register to vote, request absentee ballots and more at vote.org