On Forcing Myself to Vote

by Latoya Peterson

getobamasback

When I was fifteen years old, taking the updated version of Civics class, my teacher impressed upon me the utter importance of participating in a democracy. This is both a right and a privilege, he noted, explaining that with every right came with a responsibility that must be fulfilled.

To ensure our right to a trial by jury of your peers, one must agree to serve on a jury. So when I was called for jury duty, I groaned internally, but went happily, knowing that I was playing my small role.

Similarly, the right to vote comes with the responsibility to exercise those rights, less they be taken away. So, ever since I was 18, I have gone to the polls.

But this year was a fight. I had a great conversation with Erwin de Leon on the Michael Eric Dyson show where he talked about wanting to vote, dreaming of voting, but being denied that kind of civic participation because he was not a citizen. When Erwin mentioned how he pleaded with his friends to care enough to vote, and remembered how the Philippines has a very different relationship to voting than America.

As he spoke, I flinched inwardly. I believed every word he said. Knew it. But I was still struggling with the idea casting my ballot this year.

I’ve watched as many of my progressive friends beat the drum for party unity and party loyalty. Linda Lowen takes to the Women’s Media Center to explain:

In gauging the mood of the electorate in 2010, it’s clear that many are threatening to sit this one out. Some are spurred by internal dissatisfaction, like those segments of the LGBT community and the women’s movement who feel the Obama Administration hasn’t done enough to advance their interests. Others are made apathetic by external factors, including voters worn down by the ugliness of this campaign season. Many believe the level of animosity has reached new heights in 2010 and blame negative ads for their disenchantment with the political process. [...]

Young women are the most deeply affected by the political malaise, argues Colleen Flaherty in Women’s eNews. Yet the fact that you’re reading this indicates you’re a high interest voter with a good grasp of what’s going on.

Share that knowledge. Take the final 24 hours to have coffee or dinner with an indecisive friend or two. Use social media to extend your influence. Tweet the URLs of some of your favorite columnists or op-ed pieces. Write a note in Facebook about why you’ve chosen the candidates you’ll be voting for tomorrow, and provide concrete take-homes and positive points to support your choice. Tag “low interest” women of your acquaintance in this note, or post a shorter version as your Facebook status.

Do any of these things and you’ll help put to rest that damning adage for women, “It’s not polite to talk politics.” Be impolitic. You can’t afford not to be in this midterm election.

Friends don’t let friends sit this one out.

Gloria Feldt exhorts that angry, progressive women must vote:

Democratic and progressive women of all stripes need to take a “get even” attitude as their new mantra. And they won’t get even by not showing up at the polls or by voting for a Republican out of anger at the Democrats’ failure to live up to their promises. That’s simply self-punishment by leaving power unused.

Instead, women should get productively angry and grab candidates by the virtual short hairs to demand the change we want in exchange for our support. Women can get even with President Obama and the Democratic Congress’ lackluster performance only by using voting power visibly and ratcheting up, not withdrawing from, activism.

A few years ago, I would have agreed. But now I am a lot less sure. So wait, we vote them back in and…then demand change? After they already got what they needed? That looks like an exchange based on trust, and trust has been broken. It’s true, Obama and the Dems have done a lot while in office. But a lot of these things were compromised, and a Democratic majority seems to have done little to push the most progressive reforms into law.

Also, a large part of the malaise appears to stem from sentiments that everyone should be on board with this -just because. Lorelei Kelly writes in the Huffington Post:

Hey you twenty-something independent who voted for Obama but is now too bummed to show up. Who worked on the campaign and then felt dropped like a hot rock. I hear you. Lots of us do. But Tuesday is vital.

Hey, I’m a 27 year old Independent voter, and I’m not bummed – I’m pissed. I’m pissed that Democrats and the party faithful seem to have forgotten that the folks who elected Barack Obama weren’t always part of the base. That many of us were Independents, right-wingers for change, first time voters, and newly enfranchised. We aren’t post-racial, and may not ever want to see those days. (I’m personally still waiting for post-racism. Keep the heritage, drop the hate.) We are those who don’t receive the emails, who don’t contribute regularly to the DNC, and who were watching closely to see what would happen.

We weren’t dropped – more like taken for granted. I’m amazed that those who dreamed up the 50 state strategy didn’t think ahead to keeping that coalition together. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The strategy “at least we’re better than them,” is often employed. I’d like to believe I’m voting for someone, rather than against – and yet, here I am, about to cast a bunch of votes
to stave off an onslaught, not because I’m down with the increasingly muddled aims for a party.

I dream of a better democracy. One with informed, passionate citizens, a million Erwin de Leons demanding accountability and better government, an end to the idea that some of us need to be contented with half-loaves, while others feast.

But until that day comes, it looks like this vote is just to buy some time.

Because I’m still wondering – if we get his back, who has ours?