I’ll never forget the first time I voted in a presidential election. It was in 2004, the first year I was able to. I was so proud that I left the voting booth with tears streaming down my face, truly believing that I had made a difference. That my vote mattered. That I was doing my duty in upholding democracy in the greatest country in the world.
I voted early on Wednesday. Suffice it to say, my feelings have changed. Feelings of pride and civic duty replaced by bitter disappointment and an overwhelming desire to just get it the fuck over with. At the last minute, I changed out of my Bernie shirt because it just felt too heavy on my body. So, I wore my “Vote For Pizza” shirt instead. Several of the poll workers chuckled and said they would vote for pizza if they could. Each time I forced a smile and offered some version of, “It appears to be the only sane option at this point!” Hesitant nervous laughter ensued. I wondered to myself if they were allowed to banter about voting for pizza.
Several times while I was there, a poll worker would call for everyone’s attention and yell, “We’ve got a first time voter here!!!” Everyone would stop what they were doing and clap half-heartedly. I wondered whether they were as proud as I once was to finally be of legal age to exercise their right, or if they were so horrified by this election process that they felt moved to finally register to alleviate their feelings of helplessness. My deeply sentimental and hopelessly idealistic heart desperately hopes it’s the former. My exceedingly skeptical realist mind implores it to be the latter.
Growing up, I believed that if you didn’t exercise your right to vote, you were not entitled to an opinion. That first time voting, not only was I moved by the fulfillment of what I believed to be my civic duty, but by the persistent idea that my opinions were finally valid and worthy of consideration. If my candidate won, any good that came of their time in office was a reflection of that vote. If their opponent won, I could absolve myself of responsibility for their mess.
George W. Bush won that election. I did not vote for him. So, I spent the next 4 years rolling my eyes every time his smug face graced my television screen. I spent the next four years mocking his idiotic mispronunciations. I spent the next four years focusing on everything that was wrong with GW, and exactly zero time focusing on how I could make any meaningful changes. Because none of it was my fault. YOUR GUY got us into this mess. Don’t blame me. I didn’t vote for him.
I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Hope. Change. First Black President. “Progressivism”. So, I’ve spent the last 8 years feeling righteous af. I’ve spent the last 8 years grinning ear-to-ear every time his handsome, charming face scrolls across my newsfeed. I’ve spent the last 8 years basking in his charismatic coolness. I’ve spent the last 8 years not criticizing Obama at all, and just reveling in my complacency. Because I’m responsible for getting this badass into office. MY GUY is killin’ it. Things are good. Of course I voted for him!
If this election cycle has taught me anything, it’s that I was wrong. About all of it. Each and every candidate is worthy of criticism when it’s warranted. Each and every candidate is worthy of praise when it’s warranted. And here’s what I’ve found that, for myself, is the most important part: Each and every candidate is worthy of intense scrutiny REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT I SUPPORT THEM, DON’T SUPPORT THEM, PLAN TO VOTE FOR THEM, OR CHOOSE NOT TO VOTE AT ALL.
The truth is, as a white, mostly straight, able-bodied, cis woman with a decent job that allows me to support myself, my life is probably not going to change all that much no matter who is elected. I cannot say the same for the many POC, LGBTQ, Muslim, immigrant, disabled, and poverty-stricken folks throughout this country. Not to mention, you know, the rest of the world that most people would be seemingly happy to bomb into oblivion.
Our collective refusal to hold “our candidate” (whoever that may be) responsible for the ways that they fail in either their commitment to marginalized folks or their overtly bigoted rhetoric is truly shameful and appalling. No one single person is going to align entirely with all of our views. That doesn’t mean that once we decide to support a candidate for whatever reason, we have to stop listening to valid criticism about that candidate and defend them at all costs, especially from those who stand to be gravely affected by their policies, silence, or inciteful hate speech.
And, for me, that certainly has meant checking my privilege, and refusing to shame other progressives with valid criticism about the lack of representation or acknowledgement of their personhood by the status quo into “voting the lesser of two evils”. That has meant refusing to shame anyone who doesn’t vote. That has meant refusing to shame people who choose to vote for a third party. That has meant taking responsibility for my complacency and tribalism over the last 12 years, and admitting to myself and to others that I had a part in this mess as well. Most importantly, that has meant making a commitment to myself to working diligently for causes and candidates that I can confidently stand behind, and also hold accountable when they undoubtedly fuck up.
I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries. I still #FeelTheBern hard. I hated his reluctance to take a firm stance on gun control.
I voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election. There are a number of things I can’t stand about her, from her commitment to White Feminism at the expense of WOC, to her reputation for hawkish foreign policy instincts, to her relative silence on things like #NoDAPL and corporate pandering. Not to mention the fact that I believe that Bill Clinton is a rapist, and the fact that she, progressives, and feminists alike refuse to hold him to the same standards they do when other women come forward and speak out against powerful men is truly shocking. “I believe women” shouldn’t be limited to “I believe women when they’re not accusing my husband” or “I believe women when they’re not accusing the husband of the candidate I love.” With that said, I’ll spend the next four years holding Hillary Clinton accountable for the progressive promises she HAS made, and spending my time, money and energy on candidates that more closely align with my views. Also, I give exactly ZERO FUCKS about those emails.
I think it goes without saying how I feel about Donald Trump, but I’ll go ahead and say it again anyway. He’s an overtly racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, xenophobic, Islamophobic, ableist, classist, white supremacist who was caught on tape admitting to sexual assault, and has also been accused of it by numerous women. I believe them. He is dangerously unfit for office, and a national embarrassment. There are genuinely no policy positions I can praise because they’re either completely absurd by literally every measurable standard, he’s changed his position so many times I have no idea where he actually stands, or he simply doesn’t have one. I could literally fill a book with all of the things I loathe about him. But, we all know all the shitty things, whether or not we choose to believe they’re important (Hint: they are).
At the end of the day, if Trump were to win, despite all of the fear mongering among progressives and Democrats that (whether you like it or not) maintains and upholds the current garbage status quo, the only people directly responsible for him being elected will be the people who actually mark that box next to his name. But, today, I’m also taking responsibility, and making a commitment to do everything I’m able to ensure we’re never in a mess like this again.