The dangers of hard-line idealism in a time of fascism
This is a difficult piece for me to write. I’ve got a lifetime of campaign experience, at every level from small city commission races all the way up to being state-level senior staff on Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign in 2008. I’ve worked for inspiring and brilliant leaders with whom I also vehemently disagreed on many issues. The truth is my personal politics have always run far left of the standard Democratic platform, and the internal balancing act I’ve had to perform has often left me wondering where the line between compromise and hypocrisy truly lays, and how many times I’ve been on the wrong side of it.
Personal justifications are easy to come by when your position is one of privilege, and in that regard, I’ve hit the jackpot: I’m white, male, cis-gendered, and heterosexual. For a long time in my life that afforded me the room to play the role of radical hard-line activist unwilling to accept anything short of what I viewed as revolutionary and progressive.
It became part of my identity; a badge I wore to both show how aware of my privilege I was and how willing I was to use it as a club in the righteous fight. That identity also served as cover for me to hide from the many ways I failed the same people I claimed to be fighting for as time and again I put my ego and intellectualizations ahead of the reality of their day to day lives.
Elections matter. The people we put in power, at every level of government, ultimately make decisions that impact our lives, the environments we raise our children in, and the ways in which laws are enforced. What I’ve just written isn’t an original thought, but what gets left out is that elections matter considerably more for some people than others.
Few things seem to invoke the ire of radical/progressive (particularly non-Black) thinkers more than the concept of “harm reduction”. It inevitably inspires lengthy diatribes about how voting for any harm at all is antithetical to true progress and proves how broken our system is. In a vacuum, they’re not wrong but we do exist inside of this system, although not all in the same space.
I’m raising four Black children in the United States in 2020. I’m married to a Black woman. This is the space I find myself in, inside of this system, and reducing the chances of harm coming to them is my number one priority at all times.
To suggest abstaining from voting is the moral or revolutionarily correct thing to do is to say you’re willing to sacrifice the safety of my family and Black families all over our country for your ideals; there is simply no other way for me to see it. It also absolutely reeks of privilege in the worst sort of way.
I’m in no position to question any BIPOC person’s choice to vote or not vote. Particularly in a world where they’ve been marginalized, had their vote suppressed, or outright denied, their unwillingness to participate in a system that is rigged against them can be understandable. Despite that fact and the painful amount of disservice heaped upon them by both political parties, we see Black Women time and again leading the charge for change at the voting booth.
It is the hubris of white “progressives” thinking they know better how to effect change than the actual people they claim to fight for that is most galling. It is frequently one of the most damaging dynamics inside of movement spaces as well. If our goal is to be allied with oppressed people, we must listen to oppressed people when they give us solutions, and overwhelmingly they are saying we must reject white supremacy and fascism at every opportunity, including the ballot box.
This election is not theoretical. It is not an abstraction or case-study. Pontifications about the inevitable decay of late-stage capitalism, the two-party system, the modern efficacy of the electoral college, or any other intellectualization may be interesting, but do nothing to fight the resurgence of white supremacy we face today.
We cannot “think-piece” our way out of the place we find our society in. Emboldened neo-Nazi’s, fascists, and white supremacists truly believe they represent a majority of American thinking, and why wouldn’t they? One of their own holds the highest office in the land. We must re-marginalize these movements, and voting our their leaders is part of that process.
All candidates are flawed, have histories, and will absolutely fail all of our purity tests (yes, Bernie too). What we must not do is make all flawed candidates equal. The magnitude of their shortcomings or outright prejudices has staggering implications for the most vulnerable members of our society. It is the responsibility of all of us who believe in a more progressive and inclusive society to use our vote to do the absolute least damage.
Everyone hates the idea of voting against something. We all want to vote for something, but the sad truth is that will not always be an option. When it’s not, we must use our vote to protect those in the most danger, even if it feels like you’re only voting for the lesser of two evils.