In the aftermath of the recent U.S. Presidential election, we are encouraging our essayists to write and share their own pain and to also remind us all of our responsibility to be restorative and loving in how we respond to people who wished for the outcome we are seeing. This is the second in the series.
I’m tired of being told to vote for candidates and political parties who don’t do much of anything to markedly improve the lives of the marginalized
by Gregg Hunter
When I was 16 years old, a friend and I planned to become U.S. senators. We figured that was how we could make change in the country and in the world. I was more naïve then, I didn’t understand myself as a racialized person. I would just read the news and observe all the awful things that seemed to be happening around me. The more I read, the more disenchanted I became with anything changing. Nine years later, I’m still disillusioned. War, poverty, racism, sexism, any “ism” you can think of still runs rampant. People talk of justice but don’t enact the policies that would make restorative justice a reality. I’ve heard “seasoned” Christians say, “Just have faith, everything will be fine; God is in control”; I’ve seen activists protest but I often question their revolutionary zeal. I’m dissatisfied with the “just have faith crowd” and skeptical of the revolutionaries; I want to believe that change can and will come, but I don’t think there’s a moral arc bending the universe towards justice.
I’m tired of being told to vote for candidates and political parties who don’t do much of anything to markedly improve the lives of the marginalized. The laundry list of reasons ring increasingly hollow, the message falling on deafening ears. Why bother to vote when “Blue and Red America” want nothing to do with the poor and disadvantaged?
Colin Kaepernick has recently come under fire for his comments regarding the election. When asked if he voted, he simply responded, “No.” ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith criticized him, calling him a “flaming hypocrite” and saying that he is now “absolutely irrelevant”. Others have criticized him for sending the wrong message to the young athletes that he inspired that “it’s not important to vote for the president of the United States, that the election process is overrated.” In these circles, Kaepernick has lost credibility and his voice no longer carries the same weight it once did when he initiated his protest and the dialogue that followed.
I understand to a degree the criticisms that people have thrown his way. Voting is a civic duty, a way to participate in the affairs of the nation; democracy only works when the demos, the people, actively participate. Voting on the policies and people running for non-federal offices like governorships, state attorneys general, state and local legislatures and the like are almost as, if not more, important than the presidential election; voting on down-the-ballot issues affect the lives of the citizenry in ways that the presidential election can’t. To not vote despite the sacrifices made by millions of African-American people so that people of color had equal access to the ballot one could understand as a slap in the faces of those martyrs’, living and dead. To not vote when you’ve taken such a controversial stand and have no say in the future of the country is not a good look clearly.
Yet I, as a fellow non-voter, want to speak in the defense of him and other non-voters. I have received flak from some family members and friends for not participating in the electoral process. I’ve been called ignorant and foolish. I’ve been told, “It’s disappointing to hear you didn’t vote.” While obviously, I lack the platform of a Colin Kaepernick, it still hurt to be ridiculed for my decision. I didn’t make the decision lightly and I do care about the present and future of the United States of America. This is my home, for better or worse, and I want to make my home the best possible not just for me, but for everyone who lives and wants to live here.
To choose between two evils, to hold our nose and pick the one that smells the least odorous is not empowering, it is demeaning
However, what it comes down to for the non-voter like me is that I didn’t see myself as a part of the” Red” or “Blue” U.S. Republican and Democrat as a whole, up and down the ticket, don’t fully represent the interests of poor, disadvantaged people, people of color and those not in positions of economic, social or cultural power. Since that is my perception of the reality of the U.S., and arguably since the beginning of the nation, that to vote means to merely participate in maintaining a status quo where those of us who care about the oppressed are bit players in the national drama while those in power keep the major roles to themselves. I have come into that understanding over the last few years as I politically and socially awaken and Colin Kaepernick has reached the same level of disillusionment with the reality that voting in elections won’t substantially change the lives of people on the margins oppressed by a political system established by both sides in which one doesn’t care at all and the others pay lip service.
I didn’t vote because I’m struggling with disillusionment towards people and institutions and their capacity to transform the world into a more just place. My appetite for the fight has gradually waned and it’s turned into an internal fight to reawaken it. While I battle inside to remain engaged in the fight for justice, Kaepernick has stayed on the battlefield. He might be disillusioned with the political system, but that doesn’t mean he’s not invested in the persistent evils that continue to marginalize people of color and the poor.
People on the margins deserve more than a rock and a hard place
He made his choice, a legitimate choice, based on the reality that neither side of the political spectrum has the political or moral will to radically alter the conditions of what Howard Thurman called “the disinherited”. Kaepernick has not only talked the talk but involved himself in the community by donating money and his time. He’s done more than just remain on his platform but actively engage himself beyond mere dialogue. He’d rather invest his time and energy helping people on the ground and supporting those engaging in the work to bring real, substantive change to the community and country.
Those who criticize him for not voting, those who now say he’s an illegitimate spokesperson for the cause must consider those people our age have come of age in a time of war, economic recession, mass shootings at schools, the recorded destruction of black bodies; we came of age in a time of steady crises, seemingly one after the other. Turmoil has shaped our perspective. When war and rumors of war, recession and rumors of recession, more gun violence, more state-sponsored violence are the norms and the government consistently fails to address these ills, can you blame someone for distancing themselves from a system which refuses to evolve? Kaepernick looked at the choices presented to him and concluded that neither one truly understood him or people that looked like him. Since neither one truly stood for him, why should he stand with either of them?
To choose between two evils, to hold our nose and pick the one that smells the least odorous is not empowering, it is demeaning. People on the margins deserve more than a rock and a hard place. They deserve better than putting their trust in politicians who take their vote every couple of years and proceed to ignore their best interests; these same politicians then expect the voters to continue voting because they know the other side also won’t work in their interests at all. They essentially say, “Well, at least you’ll know we’ll try to help you out and if not for those dastardly (insert political party name here), we’d have justice.”
We’ve heard it before and I’m sure we’ll hear it again. Thing is, Kaepernick, I and other non-voters are tired of the same tired message. Until there’s a reason to start listening, we’ll do other things to make a change. Maybe it’s a time for a different message from our political parties.
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Photos by Christopher Flowers, Noah Dobin-Bernstein and Viktor Hanacek