Over the past week, I witnessed countless occasions that made my head shake with incredulity as talking heads, pundits and media darlings kept inundating social media and the public airwaves to beseech people to “get out and vote”. They often do so with a shrillness that is a mix of hysteria and demagoguery. This is par for the course given the age of hyperbole and outrage we live in; after all, grabbing news cycles is valued more than building a consensus to solve problems.
The most outrageous pleas I’ve heard thus far are people telling African-Americans that they must vote and to vote for Democrats at all cost. Now, before some think I’m about to delve into Kanye West’s gutters of lavishing praise upon Donald Trump, let me quickly disabuse you of those thoughts. Trump is an ego maniacal carnival barker who has the maturity of a toddler and the sagacity of a pumpkin. However, let us not pretend that Trump is the epicenter of all that is wrong with America and that Democrats are the magic elixir.
I’ve written plenty of times how both Democrats and Republicans are flip sides of the same corporate coin; they might differ on the margins but at the core the raison-d’etre of both parties is to serve the interests of the uber rich while throwing the rest of Americans to the wolves on Wall Street. What I want to focus on for this occasion is the way opinion leaders in media and politics are reverting to guilt shaming in order to harangue people into voting. The most vivid example is Oprah Winfrey traveling to Georgia to exhort African-Americans to vote using imagery of their ancestors being brutalized in the quest to gain suffrage.
The injustices felt by “black” Americans from the time of slavery, continuing through the Great Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation all the way to this present day can never be fully appreciated nor explained given books let alone one article. There are millions who are stuck in generational poverty and hopelessness; the trauma of being ripped away from a once home and rendered invisible by society is one that our nation has yet to address nor atone for. Instead of investing time and resources to ameliorate this legacy that haunts too many, the pains of the past are continually torn open in order to cunningly advance the political agendas of Democrats and nefariously used by Republicans to pander to their base by way of veiled—and increasingly open—racism.
For the record, African-Americans did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote so that we could become unquestioning loyalists of one party. African-Americans fought, bled and died to be heard and to be recognized as human beings. Having a vote was part and parcel of ensuring that they were not seen as invisible residents. What some are asking us to do is not to be seen but to be sheep who blindly vote without demanding better of those who pretend to be speaking for us. Let me reiterate, unlike some “black” pundits on the conservative side who get paid to bash Democrats in order to lure them to the Republican party, I make no distinction between either party nor is my aim to convert to any party or ideology.
Though one would think otherwise given all the pressure to take part in the election tomorrow, it is worth noting that voting is not an end unto itself. Voting is a process by which we gather political capital and ensure visibility as a community. The surest way to be rendered invisible is to vote without conditions and out of habit or allegiance. We don’t owe our votes to anyone; it is incumbent upon politicians to work for our votes and then follow through on their promises. Consequently, the burden of our broken government is not on voters, active or not, but on the people who run for office under the guise of service only to serve us up to the neo-gentry. There is nothing as counterproductive as blaming each other while praying for deliverance from the culprits.
We must put a stop to falling for the old playbook of divide and conquer and letting people splinter us by identities and ideologies. The fight is not with the person who is struggling like you, there is a consensus possible that could lead to a more representative government if we did not spend our energies bashing one another. I say this to all Americans who insist on treating politics like a sport and acting like fans instead of demanding that that our interests are fully represented.
It’s OK if we don’t see eye to eye when it comes to politics, my sister wrote an article this morning that I fundamentally disagree with. But reverting to guilt shaming people, especially by using the plight of African-Americans, women, gays or any other groups that have felt the weight of persecution in order to get people on your side of the aisle is reprehensible. If people are not voting, there is a reason for that, do not turn to emotional manipulation and insults if some refuse to partake in a shell game and sham elections. Click To Tweet
Nearly 70% of Americans don’t vote for a reason. It’s not because they are lazy nor is it because they are stupid. Decade after decade of a merry-go-round of hope, change and broken promises only to be stuck with policies that cater to a few at the cost of many have disillusioned a vast majority of Americans. If we feel as though our government is not accountable to us, it is because our government is not accountable to us. We could have 100% voter participation but if the system is broken—which it is seeing that two parties are colluding to monopolize power and given the approval numbers of elected officials—the outcome will be no different. Address the poisonous soil instead of planting new seeds and expecting a different harvest.
Until we start paying attention to the root causes of a broken government instead of being cajoled like Pavlov’s dogs to bark at the symptoms, nothing will change except for the increasing volume of hyperbole and hysteria coming from folks who gain through politics while the rest of us are reduced by it. The problem is not people who don’t vote but a political system that doesn’t listen to the will of the people. And therein lies the rub: the true travesty of justice is that all of us—irrespective of identity or ideology—are being disenfranchised and left with only symbolic gestures of resistance.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.