By David Henninger
Yesterday was the New York Democratic primary. For the past year we have been inundated with ads, dialogue, and debates. There have been marches, rallies, and protests in support and defiance of certain candidates. Just two days ago Bernie Sanders’ campaign publicly endorsed CDCJ’s call for divestment from fossil fuels while Hillary Clinton claimed to carry hot sauce in her bag. Yesterday, it seemed, many of these claims and arguments came to a head here in New York City as the New York Democratic primaries took place.
Countless people have asked me whether I voted yesterday. There were at least five Bernie Sanders canvassers outside the gates at 116th all day hounding students, staff, and faculty to vote. On my newsfeed there were dozens of statuses and photos of people wearing their ‘I Voted!’ stickers saying things like, “Go out and vote! It’s your civic duty!” or “Vote today and exercise your right to democratic process!”
I wonder, within the repressive state apparatus that is US federal government, what it actually means to ‘have a civic duty’ or ‘exercise rights’. Especially since the US government has come to outline voting as a privilege rather than a right.
One of my favorite sayings is “Love yourself because the state doesn’t!” The federal, state, and local government systems ignore, devalue, silence the voices of marginalized individuals like myself. The processes this country was founded upon were inherently racist, sexist, and classist, meant to keep women, people of color, transgender people, and people with disabilities out of the voting booth.
Today many people like to think of the US democracy as much better, more accessible, and the best option we have to enact change. I’d like to challenge that.
Those who are able to vote in federal elections have an inherent access to certain resources and standards of living. What about the people who can’t vote? What about the people this society deems ‘unworthy’ of voting? The people the state has disenfranchised? The people who can’t vote as their gender? The undocumented people? The people who are detained and incarcerated? The people with disabilities? People living here on a green card or visa?
What about the millions killed by the state or at the hands of the very people up for election?
Why is it we fetishize the act of voting while completely ignoring the revolutionary, transformative work of community organizers and abolitionists? The fetishization of voting is simply another way of privileged individuals placing the burden upon marginalized individuals while glorifying themselves for supporting so-called positive change for the future. Fetishizing the act of voting prioritizes one act over decades of organizing and abolition work. The Democratic National Chair Deborah Wasserman even said that unpledged superdelegates “exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.”
Last Saturday I saw hundreds of people marching in Greenwich Village to support Bernie Sanders. Most of them were white and most of them were young. I wondered: where are you when trans people are murdered or wrongly incarcerated and we protest to protect our own lives? Were you also marching over a year ago when Eric Garner was murdered by the NYPD? Are you working to mobilize your community for actionable transformative changes?
So what about those of us who were not in the minds of the white men who wrote the rules we are still expected to abide by? The truth is, we were never meant to vote. We were never meant to be part of the democratic process. We were never meant to have a civic duty or exercise a right to democracy because we were never meant to be part of the democratic process. Voting doesn’t generate democratic legitimacy in a state that is built upon the active delegitimization of millions and millions of people and it never will.
Ask what it means to vote, what it means to organize, what it means to take part in a process that is not and was never meant for us.
David Henninger is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in women’s and gender studies. They are a queer, non-binary student, artist, and community organizer. Find them on social media @davidlhenninger.