“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To my jaded contemporaries who think they aren’t voting today. Let me apologize to you on behalf of this country. I’m sorry that this country has so disenfranchised you that you’ve relinquished a part of your political being to the activity of silence. It’s perfectly understandable, given the continuous crimes committed by this country. Even the eminent W.E.B Dubois acquiesced to the activity of silence after being continuously disillusioned by our imperfect two-party system. Yes, being in America, remaining hopeful for this country, is an unyieldingly contradictory enterprise that often leaves the most marginalized of us reeling in a schizophrenic haze. As my grandmother used to say, “we all ain’t able.” So perhaps, in a moment of trying to grasp at a semblance of agency, you retreated to an eloquent silence. A silence of articulate disengagement, or what you might think is a particularly novel mode of resistance. Now, there are many who did not or could not vote because of the reality of circumstance, but for those of us who actively chose the eloquent silence—I am sorry. I understand, but I disagree.
Voting is not the only means of being politically efficacious, nor is it perhaps the most effective means. But it does retain, if nothing else, a symbolic and social significance that I will not diminish due to any sort of intellectual egocentrism that I wish engage in. I vote, not because I expect the person I vote for to be perfect, but because I realize that I am a being of history in the present. I vote, because there was blood spilled and hearts broken so that I as a Black man could prove to this country that I have the humanity to participate in the political trajectory of this country. I vote because the system is not just about me. My vote represents that I stand for the rights of women in the country, for the rights of queer individuals to at least begin to have the same legal rights as heterosexuals in this country. I vote because this is a changing country where no longer appealing to the vote of working-class white men is enough to garner an election. Does my vote really matter? Maybe not. Is the system broken? Of course it is. But my vote is a willed decision to hope, to exercise optimism, and to respect the people in this country both past and present who understand that their vote represents their right to matter in this country.
“You’ve drank the kool-aid,” you might say to me. Perhaps I am crazy. But I’d rather be crazy with the individuals who deigned to believe in a country that was destroying hundreds of thousands of lives everyday without even knowing it. I’d rather be crazy with the individuals who fought just so that I could have the option not to vote. I’d rather be crazy and fighting in an optimistic delirium than languishing in an eloquent silence. So to my friends who actively chose not to vote, please know that silence, no matter how elaborate, now matter how eloquent, no matter how complex—is just silence. And rest assured, you did vote. Don’t think that just because your fingerprint didn’t dance along a check box on a computer screen that you resisted the system. No, you sent an emphatic approval for the system, a loud and brazen vote to the status quo.