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The Need for Electoralism+
Voting is necessary but not sufficient. Accepting that is key to moving forward politically.
In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, social media has erupted in a fury of volcanically hot political takes. A common refrain is this demonstrates the worthlessness of voting, given the Democratic control of the presidency and Congress. On the contrary, this happened because of the lasting consequences of prior elections going horribly — Trump appointed three new justices. However, we cannot rely simply on voting to solve our problems. Twitter might try to turn this into a dichotomy of electoralism vs. anti-electoralism. What we need is what I am calling electoralism+.
In 2016, I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and was unenthused about Hillary Clinton as a candidate. However, people correctly pointed out it was critical to vote for her anyway in order to secure the courts. That take has aged like a fine wine in its accuracy — and like a cheap boxed wine in its consequences. In a situation such as the 2016 election, the electoralist+ recognizes that voting is not supposed to solve everything, but that it is important the least bad viable outcome be voted for at every turn. This does not mean wishfully voting for a third party in a First-Past-the-Post system.
Many express they are tired of being told to “just vote” — and the incidence of the “just” being included seems greatly overstated. Voting alone can only accomplish so much, but it is an important baseline for not just affecting change but protecting what progress is already secured. Even if a vote for Clinton in 2016 did not represent meaningful progress for your goals, there was value in protecting rights and legislation we took for granted — like Roe vs. Wade.
Pointing to the Democratic control of Congress also overlooks the gridlock in the Senate. Senators Manchin and Sinema are largely uncooperative with the greater Democratic caucus, which, even if they are, only bring the total to fifty. Though Kamala has powers as Vice President to break ties in Senate votes, the filibuster prevents it from ever reaching that point in the first place. Until the filibuster is repealed, the Senate increasingly just becomes a roadblock to anything being done in Congress.
The common anti-electoralist refrain is that voting is what got us here and we thus should try something different. The electoralist+ correctly recognizes that without the electoral victories we did receive, the position we would be in would be even worse. Anti-electoralists frame this as being “held hostage” by the system, which is an incredibly selfish and, frankly, lazy view. Voting is not some massive investment of time and energy. Since the pandemic, many jurisdictions have made it significantly easier to get mail-in ballots. People spend more time and energy kicking and screaming about not voting than it would take to vote.
This is like feeling “held hostage” by regular check-ups when so many people wind up getting seriously ill anyway. The check-ups can only discover and prevent so much — but the time and resources necessary are relatively low and do at least prevent a substantial amount of problems later. There is an utterly ludicrous perception among anti-electoralists that things could not be any worse, an attitude often born out of privilege or naivety about the added suffering that would result.
This is not a demand to heap praise on Democrats but simply to be mature enough to realize voting provides a great return on the time and energy invested — with the understanding that the time and energy is not particularly great. Anti-electoralists ask if they are being asked to do some immense labor of exhausting proportions and not check a few boxes on a piece of paper. Those checks might not save the world, but they can prevent some of the horrors that might befall it.
Accomplishing what cannot be done through voting — which is far more of an investment of effort and time — will be far easier if elected officials are at least somewhat sympathetic to the concerns being raised. The fight against Alabama declaring gender-affirming care for minors would be dead in the water without the help of the Biden Department of Justice, which has intervened and is suing the state. Right-wingers largely seem to understand this even when presented with non-ideal candidates. Better anyone who might be helpful later on, even if not now.
While Biden was not some great panacea to the problems of trans people, his administration serves as a bulwark against the reactionary forces that seek to make them worse. Executive order policies from the Trump administration like giving medical professionals the right to deny care — even emergency care — on the basis of religious convictions were reversed, making navigating crises safer for trans people. Let us also not forget he was one of the first mainstream politicians to affirm trans rights back in 2012. As trans people, we deserve more, but we should not throw away what protection we can reliably secure with voting, even if what we can secure is not everything.
Democracy is rarely sexy or exciting. Stop expecting it to be. Recognize voting for what it is: a civic duty that is not even particularly burdensome that can help somewhat. Anti-electoralists spend more time trying to justify their own nihilistic apathy than they do creating positive change outside of the ballot box. Only through electoralism+ can elections not feel like an imposition and focus placed elsewhere, because as soon as you define your politics around never voting, you have ensured it is electoralism that will define your politics through your rejection of it. Be fluid in your strategies and realistic in your expectations and, over time, we will go far.
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