On the first Tuesday in November, there will be many very close, hotly contested, contentious elections for among other things, control of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as several very high profile Gubernatorial races all throughout the country. These elections are said to be very crucial for the future direction of America. And of course, anything that is crucial for the future of America is also crucial for the future of Black people since America itself was built on the backs of the oppressed, with the most oppressed being people of Afrikan descent in America. This is only magnified by the fact that under the presidency of Donald J. Trump, the white supremacist agenda that has been so omnipresent historically has intensified, creating an environment of chaos and tension that I have never seen throughout my years on this earth. But even with all of the divisions being situated in the forefront of these tumultuous times, most of which were created by white supremacy, there is one division that shows itself to be alive and well, and always resurfaces during these times that doesn’t quite get the same attention; the division between “voter” and “non-voter” within Black society.
On one side you have those who are in the “voter” camp. Those in this camp tend to wave their finger disapprovingly and/or shake their head dismissively at those in the “non-voter” camp. Those in this camp tend to like to employ the well-used clichés intended to entice someone into engaging in the political process, such as “If you don’t vote you cannot complain”, or “The system isn’t perfect, but it’s the one that we have right now”, or “You have to use your voice and vote”, kwk. We’ve all heard these in one form or another throughout the years. Those in the “voter” camp tend to look down on non-voters as basically slackers, nihilists, or people who generally do not have an opinion worth considering seriously, due to their lack of interest in fulfilling what has been sold to us as a civic duty. But when the clichés don’t work, then comes the guilt/shaming tactics; “Our ancestors died for the right to vote, and if you don’t vote you are dishonoring/shaming/spitting in the face of the ancestors” is one often used. But although the guilt/shaming tactics are generally manipulative, and the clichés generally overly simplistic, sometimes disingenuously and irritatingly so, there is without a doubt some logic and truth in the point of view of those in the “voter” camp.
But on the other side you have those who sit defiantly in the “non-voter” camp. Now to be accurate, in my experience there are some in the “non-voter” camp who for sure would fit comfortably in the terminally oblivious and brazenly ignorant “don’t know/don’t care”, or “what difference does it make, anyway?” category. But in my experience, many of the people who make a conscientious decision to not vote are simply people who have come to the conclusion that voting is not the most effective way to bring about the change to society that they desire, and would like to focus on other ways to affect change that doesn’t rely on or put faith in a system that was not designed to benefit Black people in any way at all. The issues that plague Black people are far deeper than any issue that a new Congressman, Senator, Representative, Judge, City Council, Mayor, Governor or President, for that matter, can fix (a hard lesson that I personally learned during the Obama years). These are issues that can only be fixed through agitation, and proactive work on ourselves and the environment in which we live, and no politician or outside entity can equip Black people with the necessary tools or mindset to do this. Challenges have been issued to anyone in the “voter” camp to provide examples of oppressed people ever destroying the system that oppresses them by voting/participating in the political process set up by the oppressors, which is essentially feeding the system by engaging with it. I’ve never had anyone point out a real instance of this taking place. Score one for the “non-voter” camp, in my view.
So, in this tug o’ war, who is ultimately right? Well, this may sound like a fence sitting answer, but both have their merits. I completely understand the “use whatever power that you appear to have” mentality of the voter, as well as the “take control and attempt to eliminate the system through agitation, community action and self-work rather than electoral politics only” view of the non-voter. In fact, I don’t even believe that Black people voting or not voting is really the issue. The issue is Black people simply voting because they are shamed, or are expected to, or simply because it is their habit or tradition to do so, without having any discernible agenda that is supposed to benefit Black people, and not voting out of laziness, ignorance, passivity or indifference. There are far too many in the voter camp who vote just to say that they voted, while having no real idea of who they voted for, why they voted for them, what they stand for, or without attempting to accurately anticipate the impact that the election of the individual that they voted for would have on Black society. This is in my view very lazy, and even more dangerous than not voting at all, because this is in effect putting all of the power and trust into the hands of the system to attempt to assist Black people in our fight for justice in some way (if they are indeed in favor of justice for Black people), when the system of racism/white supremacy was set up specifically to do the opposite.
But on the other hand, there are far too many who use the “I don’t vote” cover as a way to excuse their lack of knowledge or interest in serious, life-altering matters, and their resolve to do absolutely nothing whatsoever about the horrendous state of Black society. Simply sitting on our hands while smugly judging those who are actually engaged in the fight for justice, regardless of how naïve you perceive them as, or how ineffectual you deem their tactics to be, is not and will never be effective in the fight against racism/white supremacy. The bottom line is that whatever camp Black people choose to identify with, we should make sure that the reasons that we have decided to take that route actually make sense and have some sort of science and logic behind it. And lastly, but most importantly, we have to make sure that whatever “side” we choose, we do so because we have come to the conclusion that what we are doing is the most effective way, not just what we think is the most convenient and easy way, to produce justice for Black people, and to eliminate the system that stands as THE problem for Black people worldwide, racism/white supremacy. The only time the idea that “my voice doesn’t matter so who cares if I voted or not?” makes sense is when there’s no purpose whatsoever in the vote casted. Whatever route we take, vote or non-vote, it must have the ideology of Black liberation in the center of the reasoning and logic, or else it is completely useless. Acting and reacting with no purpose is the equivalent of doing absolutely nothing.
Osei, 21st Century Race Man