On Tuesday November 2, 2010, I began my day at the Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn. My coworker and I got there at 10 o’clock ready to get the order for our office kitchen done. I had the sniffles. Unfortunately, we didn’t leave until 3:30pm. The combination of combative white shoppers and poor minority service not only prolonged my day, it worsened my sickness. This isn’t a random race rant done for shock value. Retain that part as it underscores my argument. The galvanized trample the complacent, the indolent. Always.
By the time we left Ikea, I had a full on migraine (flashing-lights-i-probably-shouldn’t-drive-type) and labored breathing. I returned to work, but after 30 minutes at my desk, I decided to give up the fight and go home. Somewhere past the thick traffic in Williamsburg, the jay walkers and car-sized pot holes in Bed Stuy, the slow vans in Crown Heights, I realized I forgot to vote. Damn! And because I move so much, I always keep my job as my mailing address which means I walked right past my polling place, got in my car and drove all the way to Flatbush before I realized I didn’t cast my ballot. An entire borough away! What should I do? Should I go back? Or should I walk the ten feet to my apartment and get in the bed? I returned to Manhattan.
Unfortunately, approximately 40 million people who voted for Obama in 2008 decided to just go home and skip the polls. What the fuck people? Really? And this is why minorities will never actually get ahead and stay there. We have no staying power. We, very much like this Facebook, MySpace, Twitter age are a “NOW generation.” We don’t know how to hang in there for the bumps. We are fickle and when there aren’t concerts and cotton candy for us at the end of every ride, we get off and go to the next thing. Even worse, we go home and sulk. We boycott? Who the fuck boycotts an election? Where’d you get that strategy? Support no one? Why does that make sense?
This morning on NPR, caller after caller complained about Barack Obama with the same generic speech, “I’m just tired. Tired of politicians. Tired of this country doing nothing.” What the hell? So you stay home? Voting is a legitimate method even when you don’t “see” your one vote. It is a force, despite all the cries of stolen elections, of corporate oversight, of bought votes–it is a method of participation that far exceeds many other forms. I won’t regale you with stories of how people fought for you to have the right to vote. That’s a lame argument to me. But I will remind you how much energy was and still is invested in preventing your ass from voting. That is far more interesting. Let’s see…there was this thing called the grandfather clause, there is redistricting, there is felony conviction to name a few. But who would have ever thought there would be a time when these things wouldn’t even be needed to keep your ass from the polls? Cry babies!
I knew when Barack Obama got elected we were in over our heads. We were all too swept up in the rhetoric, the shine of a black leader, to actually help the man stay in office. To actually assist him in making this a better polity. I knew the scores of people it took to elect Barack Obama were going to be needed over the long haul because it wasn’t going to be easy for him. A lot of people were going to fight back. Fight back against all the “smart” youth, the newly-swaggerful black men who now had the audacity to think they could make it, the women. But you guys aren’t strong enough to hold it up. This man has been in office for all of five minutes and you are throwing a tantrum. Even worse, some of you are just at home, in bed. Mad because overnight gay people can’t marry, gay people can’t go kill other innocent folks, black people are still poor and uneducated, and cause your uncle still doesn’t have a job (even though his ass has been unemployed for eight years). What exactly do you all want him to do? Please check out, What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far? for a little clarity on what he has done and just imagine if all of this has happened in a year and a half, so much more is possible. At least it would have been.
I knew all my picks would win by comfortable margins but I still drove back to the city and voted. Voting isn’t the type of system you can treat like your local bodega or Walmart or Ikea when you are disgruntled. You can’t just stop shopping and think it will close down. You can’t boycott voting. The system is made to keep going even with the fewest participants. It doesn’t need you. If only to just keep the heat on their asses, you should be there. You can’t just stay home. Even when you are disappointed you gotta do something. Hell, just pick the lesser of two evils. Minimize the damage.
When I was in Ikea, I couldn’t help but notice that all the complaining customers were white and all those getting cursed out were colored. It is kind of inevitable. The structure of capitalism is dependent on this type of labor, this type of exchange. Folks getting put in their places. But the same people are getting checked all the time. Of course, I know labor politics come into play with my Ikea example. It isn’t like a cashier could just snap back and still be employed. But just think about it, the self-righteousness of those who complain, who want what they want, who complain even when the line is probably going to remain long, who still somehow get what they need even when it is terribly uncomfortable. And now think of those who leave, who walk out, or those who remain silent. These two people don’t often look the same. There won’t always be the promise of big change, of “the first black person to…” to excite us. Sometimes it is just the boring/mundane task of standing up. Hell, give us a sprint any day and we will leave you in the dust. A marathon, well that’s a different race. We don’t have that kind of gas in us to cover that much mileage.