“We have to do things for ourselves. That is why I don’t vote.” Here I am thinking that every person in this community is on the same page that everyone must vote. That was not the case for this gentleman. My hopes fell a bit as I discussed with him the value of the vote in a democratic society and how political agency can indeed lead to change, despite what he believed. He was persistent in his counterarguments telling me that politicians and the system as a whole only care about votes, not the people themselves. Going a little deeper into the identity politics of it all, here I was standing with a fellow Black man trying to make a system that quite frankly isn’t the kindest to either of us, sound appealing. So, I had a momentary existential breakdown of course. Why does this election keep bringing up all of these quandaries for me? How can I spend two hours canvassing in a place that echoes with the chains of slavery, Jim Crow, and outrageous economic stratification, telling people that although the system has continuously undermined people like us, it is okay to still take part? There is so much pain, distrust, and brokenness when looking at the relationship between marginalized groups and the US government, so I had no answer for him at the time.
Last week we went to a Ted Cruz rally (whose campaign I worked for in New Hampshire). To start, I will never go to another one again. The rally resonated with me in a rather unsettling way because for me it showed me what the politicization of shame has done and can do. As Phil Robertson (member of the infamous Duck Dynasty and possible political appointee to a Cruz administration…yikes) showed off his Bible on to the stage and demonized basically everyone who was not a straight, Evangelical white person, the past pressed play in my mind. I thought of the times I struggled with identity and how even to this day, I still have personal barriers to overcome because of the role shame has played in my own life. I grow tired of feeling and seeing these kinds of things. I grow tired of hearing about another inflammatory statement that certain GOP candidates have said that is full of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc. Even as I type this, I feel persuaded by that man’s comments to give up on the system as a whole and realize that no one truly cares to make all Americans feel like they have a part in this society. So I wonder, when will it feel like our votes as American citizens actually matter? When will it feel like the black vote is not being exploited simply for a candidate’s election? Questions like this are what we need to start demanding answers to, especially from those that inhabit the political realm because real leadership is accountability. This being said, it is also important that we practice that same concept and engage with the political process starting with our basic civilities. But, while insecurity and imbalance take play, I find the ability to have hope that we can change things. Fast forward to this week to something that serves almost as a somewhat antithesis of that situation, Hillary’s victory rally where she said, “We don’t need to make America great again; we need to make America whole.” When thinking about Clinton’s statement, I think about the juxtaposition of the different feelings I had at her and Cruz’s rallies. At one, I stood in a sea full of people who were all white, chanting Bible verses that celebrate the idea of condemnation, while promises of repealing all things that the current administration had put forth was applauded enthusiastically. Needless to say, I felt uneasy and marginalized. In the other, I was in a room full of people who both looked like me and did not. You could not only see, but feel the representation and inclusivity of the environment, and for that I felt grateful and affirmed. I want everyone to feel this feeling when we get into a discussion of our political system because to me that is what a robust system full of wholeness is like.
But being whole, being balanced. Idealistically possible, but seemingly impossible when thinking about the current culture of our political system. There is always a thesis and an antithesis. There is always a movement and a consequential countermovement. There is never interdependence, only zero-sum power goals. I choose to believe, that we can change. I believe that we can progress even further. I believe that we can continue to make things better because while there are many factors working against progress, resilience will always be our best weapon. Resilience will start to create that wholeness we yearn to see in the American people and the system as a whole. It starts with the vote. That is my answer to the skeptics, the pragmatist, and the unapologetically apolitical. That is also my answer to the disenfranchised and the discouraged. And to the man who allowed me to take about 15 minutes of his time, I cannot let you believe that it is okay to silence yourself. I cannot accept you thinking it is okay to tell your son that he should not take interest in the government because he needs to know that his voice is important too. And to all those who face the same struggles when they look at American politics, I know that it feels like sometimes even when we’re using our voices, it seems like no one is listening. However, we have to remember that we cannot waver in the efforts to push for change.