As 2016 rolls on, the upcoming presidential election is shaping up to be a showdown between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and bigoted billionaire Donald Trump. For left-leaning voters who don’t find the prospect of another Clinton presidency appealing, or who are disillusioned by the entire two-party system itself, skipping the polls on November 8th appears to be a better alternative.
Fusion’s Terrell Starr recently chronicled the growing anti-voting sentiment among young Black people, and their reasoning is, in fact, solid. Aside from frustration with the choice of presidential candidates, the ever-present corruption within state and local politics (like the Laquan McDonald cover-up) has not been lost on these young folks. But to disregard voting in such a politically fragile year as this one would be to deliberately empty one’s toolbox of an important tool.
To be clear, voting is not the only way in which individuals can hold their elected officials accountable. Whether it’s organizing a protest outside of a sitting mayor’s home or dropping banners around the city, Chicago organizers have shown the world that accountability can—and should—be exercised constantly, and not just during election season. But in making a decision to forgo voting, these individuals are disregarding the fact that voting has not been used to its fullest capacity.
The problem lies within voter turnout for less sensationalized elections, including mayoral and state’s attorney races, and even off-year congressional elections. Voter turnout in last year’s Chicago mayoral elections dropped to a meager 33 percent, while turnout in the 2014 midterm elections hovered around 36 percent—the lowest rate in 70 years.
But something different occurred on the March 15th election day. The Chicago Election Board reported over 50 percent turnout, partially due to the emphasis organizers placed on the State’s Attorney election through the #ByeAnita demonstrations. Organizers in Cleveland employed strategies of their own to ensure the ousting of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty. It was a powerful reminder of the fact that protest is in fact a form of politics.
Imagine the same type of fervor for every local, gubernatorial, congressional and senatorial race. Imagine an extended early voting period and national voting holidays to increase voter participation from poor and working class communities. It would be naive to think that high voter turnout would be the sole key needed to dismantle inequality and injustice, but it is quite clear that it cannot be achieved with the alternative.
As the slew of anti-trans and anti-choice continues to rain down in state legislatures around the country, one wonders just how elected officials can so brazenly pass laws that defy numerous constitutional rights. That is, until one recalls that they were placed in those positions to do just that. Through its grassroots approach to elections, the Tea Party has successfully rocked the polls in statewide and now national elections—so much so that a blatantly xenophobic, racist, ableist, and misogynist hack actually stands a chance at becoming the next POTUS. To borrow a phrase from Sheryl Sandberg, the Tea Party leaned in while voters on the left leaned out.
For those who desire a multiparty political system (or just one in which Jill Stein could be treated as a viable contender) it’ll take political pressure. Pressure that does include, but is not limited to electoral support. What good is launching a third party if no one will vote for it?
2016 is more than just a battle for the White House, it’s a battle for elected officials who will fund local schools and social services, not corporate welfare and private prisons. It’s a battle for elected officials who won’t poison us with lead-laced water, or cover-up police killings. With so much on the line, staying home all but ensures that we lose.
Image via Erik Hersman