I saw this spray painted on the sidewalk yesterday morning as I walked to work. It is painted in front of a church, which today served as a polling place. Usually in the mornings the homeless take cover on the steps of the church, and the planters around the trees on the sidewalk next to it play host to grocery carts full of blankets and meager possessions. This morning, the homeless were missing. Well-dressed youngish professionals milled around the tree instead, all of them sporting I voted! stickers with tangible pride.
I will paint you a picture of the person who left this graffiti there on that sidewalk, and I would wager this portrait would prove accurate if there was a way to hunt down the artist. This was done by someone young, probably around twenty-three. This was done by a man – a cisgender man who has never struggled with his gender identity but may vaguely know that some other people kind of do. This guy likely has at least a couple of years of college under his belt, even if maybe he didn’t finish, and he’s straight, but you know, totally not narrow. He’s young and unattached, no kids, parents probably in another state. He is able-bodied, and likely in decent mental health, all of that because he’s had consistent access to halfway decent healthcare which he likely takes for granted. And he is white. Lily-white. Snowblind white.
Look, I know this because I know this kid. I have crashed on this kid’s couch and fed him leftovers. This kid is an anarchist or a socialist or both or neither. In any case, this kid believes himself to be the vanguard of the impending revolution. And maybe he is. But my point is this kid is white, and has a safety net, and he has the free time to go painting political manifestos on the sidewalk where homeless folks are trying to get through the night.
What I’m saying, and I say this from a place of personal experience, is that this kind of disdaining lefter-than-thou tagging comes from a place of deep and unchecked privilege. Because in this election the only kind of person who would think that the outcome of Romney being elected and the outcome of Obama being reelected would be the same shit is someone who doesn’t stand to lose all that much one way or another.
If Romney is elected, it will not be the same shit for people of color, or those trapped in poverty, or people who need reproductive choices, or queer folks, of gender variant folks. Shit will be dire. Shit will get deadly.
So full disclosure: I’m totally a socialist. I’m so deep in this that my kid has two middle names, and one of them is Marx, I shit you not. It’s on the kid’s birth certificate and everything. And I have spent a lot of time heavily involved in leftist and ultra-leftist politics in this country. I’m now old enough to have lived through three presidential elections: in the first, under the twin pressures of the party line and youthful indignation, I voted for Ralph Nader even though I have always kind of hated him. In the second, caught in a woefully self-absorbed navel-gazing crisis of conscience, I couldn’t bring myself to vote at all. Within my Marxist group, I’d spoken out against endorsing Nader again. I likened him to a vampire come to leech the nascent thrummings of revolutionary consciousness from the masses every four years like clockwork, a characterization I still stand by, but I was overruled. It left me frozen and indecisive.
Four years is a lot of time to grow. This time around I voted for Obama, though put more accurately, I voted against Romney. In the last four years, I’ve broken from the organization in which I once held a national leadership position. I refocused my politics. The revolution will come, but it’s not coming tomorrow. The revolution will come, but not because a bunch of white kids in college somehow know better than the poor and the exploited. The revolution is coming, but in the meantime a lot of people are just trying to survive.
On the left, there is much discussion of the two-party system as a set of lesser evils, and this is true. That’s what this white anarchist dudebro was getting at here. But the thing is that there are no good candidates – it’s all a set of lesser lesser lesser evils nested like political matrushka dolls. Look, even if there were good candidates out there, I wouldn’t vote for them. Not now. Because this ‘protest vote’ mentality born out of lesser evilism arguments completely ignores two very pertinent facts:
1) If you are able to cast a protest vote at all, you are in a position of massive privilege. You’re not being targeted by voter suppression. You have the means to get to a polling place. Your polling place is in a location where really shady shit is likely not going on.
2) Obama and Romney are both drenched in capitalism, yes, but the evil that will be meted out by Romney is worse for a lot of people by a wide margin than the evil that will be meted out by Obama.
What I’m saying is that I don’t feel right casting a protest vote when I know for a fact that there are people of color who are trying to vote for Obama and are getting their votes stolen. What I’m saying is that if you really want to be the vanguard, you have got to have the humility to listen to the people you assume you’re going to lead. Maybe all these poor people of color aren’t brainwashed; maybe they have thought it through and think for truly valid reasons that their lives will be just that little bit easier to lead if Obama stays in office. And maybe my lily-white ass should listen and respect that if I want to live the anti-racist anti-classist values I spout off all the time.
Obama’s not a socialist. This election is, in so many ways, a farce. But I will be damned if I had anything to do with Romney getting elected.