I am not voting. I say this even though the statement is sure to draw the ire of many who have been convinced that voting is a civic duty and a responsibility that all Americans must exercise every election cycle. Those who don’t risk being labeled slouches and by extension get blamed for the dysfunction of our political system and the ills of nation writ large. But in this rush to vote at all cost, we have lost sight of the underlying problems that gnaw at our nation; the drumbeat of outrage and sensationalism has numbed us into compliance when it comes to the root causes of injustice only to be left to partake in token gestures of resistance and socially mediated protests.
Let me say this from the outset, I don’t write this article to convince others that my point of view is the only one that is right nor is my intent to galvanize others to think like me. I’ve tried my hand at being a political organizer in the past, that path is one I shall never revisit for I understand the folly of thinking that change will come from the top. However, given the tsunami of stories that will climax into a crescendo of divisive bickering next Tuesday, I find it necessary to speak my mind and present a modest proposal.
Perhaps I am too much of an idealist, perhaps what I am seeking is beyond our reach. But I know one thing to be true above all, the only way to overcome human suffering is if we find a way to think beyond the narrow confines of self and see our wellbeing through a collective lens of humanity. I learned this lesson only when I hit rock bottom and saw that hardship and tribulation do not differentiate based on labels or ideologies.
There is a connective tissue that binds most social ills as one. A “black” child in Georgia who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, a “white” father in Iowa who struggles to pay the rent, a Latina mother who has to work three jobs to feed her children, a gay white collar worker who is but a few paychecks away from losing his suburban home, a liberal in Seattle who can’t find a job out of college, a conservative in Kentucky who is about to lose his farm—all of them are struggling apart even though there is a common denominator to their strife. Alas, we are blinded by labels to understand our shared plights. Economic inequality is a blight that is eradicating hope for millions throughout America and billions around the world.
Yet, given this reality, our politics has swerved into the gutters of reality showism where we are transfixed on one clown while whistling past our own economic graves. The whole of our politics has been reduced to a carnival where Trump occupies the minds of his loyalists and haters alike—“us versus them” has never been so potent and so powerful in stirring up animosity and discord among the citizenry. There are few calm voices of reason to be found in media or government, mostly firebrands and demagogues are given the stage as their rhetoric and antics are amplified by a media landscape that thrives on rancor and discontent.
However, it would be misleading to present mainstream media as the only culprits and the source of friction in America and beyond. The chasm between the few at the top and the vast majority who are falling behind has ruptured into an abyss; the “elites” lead lives of uber-privilege while the bottom 90% have become indentured servants of the corporatocracy. Our politics is broken for the same reason that mainstream media has devolved into a circus, the incentive is to segregate society based on demographics and then cater to one side while presenting the other side as the villains—opinion leaders have turned injustice into a business model. This is a soft form of apartheid where people are segmented based on social identity and political dogmas.
What we are witnessing in our time is a most lethal form of divide and conquer—the perfection of sectarianism. If you pay attention to almost every candidate running for office, they all speak in ways that pander to their base while demonizing their opponent. There is a reason why our political discourse has reached a nadir and has become utterly poisonous, animus is being injected by those who flourish through division and being consumed by those who languish in between states of economic anxieties and/or financial insolvency.
This is not to disparage every candidate running for office nor is it my aim to paint with a broad brush and present every wealthy person as the next coming of Caligula. The issue is not the people running for office, the problem is the very foundation of our political system itself. What we have before us is not so much a democracy but a brilliantly disguised kleptocracy where two parties have colluded to monopolize power throughout America and eradicated true competition from encroaching on their jealously guarded turf. This two-faction cartel has made it that much easier for a wealthy fraction of the world to dictate economic and foreign policies while leaving us the crumbs of wedge issues to fight over.
Sadly, we are so focused on personalities that it is hard to take a step back and see the broader implications of a political system that has been commandeered by two parties and co-opted by the influence and affluence of the neo-aristocracy. Henry David Thoreau once said “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” We have been rendered a nation of branch hackers as we train our eyes on the symptoms while we look past the disease.
The disease when it comes to our politics are the Democrats Inc. and Republicans Inc. themselves. Although the two parties diverge when it comes to their approach and differ when it comes to hot button social issues, at the core both parties are identical when it comes to the way they enhance the fortunes of the plutocracy while they pay lip service to their base. The middle class is getting decimated, the working class is being relegated to a life of wage slavery while the poor are multiplying on a year by year basis—this trend has been going on irrespective of which party is in power in DC. If we do not find a way to break the monopoly that both parties are exerting and make our government responsive to the needs of everyone instead of chasing the checks of the neo-aristocracy, we will keep running full sprint into a dystopian nation of have much and have little.
No amount of sloganeering or speechifying can change the fact of what our nation has become. Democrats make a show of being different than Trump as they inveigh against his bluster, Trump and his fellow Republicans crank up their braggadocio—all of it is nothing more than a smokescreen that prevents us from realizing we are all being screwed over by a system that values ambition above self-sacrifice. Look at spending bills that this Congress has passed since Trump has been in power and you will witness stunning acts of bipartisanship as both parties cooperate to advance the interests of the military-financial complex. Forget bombast, follow the money—budgets reveal priority.
Vacillating between the lesser of two evils every election cycle only to be fleeced by way of fiscal or monetary policies—no matter who wins power—is not a strategy for change but a practice of irrationality. If we are to force our government to be more accountable to us, we must change the way we view and approach politics. There are only two ways that the gentry change, one is by way of the gun and the other is by way of unity. A violent revolution is one that only leads to more carnage and births another cycle of ruthlessness. Our only hope is to somehow overcome the divides and erase the false constructs that feed tribalism and unite on the basis of our common humanity. This might seem too lofty of a goal, perhaps my admonition can be dismissed as the fancies of an idealist, but as long as we keep giving our hand to sectionalism, we will keep suffering apart. The more the economic pie shrinks and the less opportunities we have, the more tensions will roil as social unrest continue to multiply.Voting for the sake of voting without addressing these underlying issues that gash at our society is nothing more than a symbolic act and a form of consent with the status quo #ChooseHumUnity. Click To Tweet
A vote must be earned not given out of compulsion. Being forced to vote for the lesser of two evils is the most effective way of working against the common good. We must stop being fooled by rhetoric, say no to the optics of slick ads and talking points, and pay attention to policies. Above all, we must refuse to be divided by politics.
There are some who will try to guilt people into voting by bringing up imagery of ancestors who were treated with vicious oppression or forefathers who migrated to America for the right to vote. This is nothing more than emotional manipulation by the political class in order to grease their own paths to status and power. Our ancestors did not bear tribulation or endure suffering so that we could be used as political mannequins and become unthinking stage props. We vote to enhance our interests not to further the interests of politicos who only speak of our struggles to cultivate their political and financial fortunes.
I know that some will revert immediately to accusing me of either being a nihilist or blame me for be a defeatist. Not voting is akin to giving up and submitting to the status quo they will say. To this I ask, if an election is effectively rigged so that only one of two parties have a shot to win and both parties are equally negligent in safeguarding the interests of the citizenry, what good is my vote going to do other than to ensure the victory of some politician who will break their promise on day one and serve the interests of the plutocracy. Every election cycle is presented as the most important vote in history, hysteria always ginned up so that we get led by our emotions instead of rationally assessing a better outcome than the paradigm before us. How many times will we keep falling for the same gimmicks before we say enough?
As I noted at the beginning of this article, I am not presenting myself as a guru when it comes to these pressing issues of our time. Though I know what the problem is when it comes to our politics, I have no idea what the solution is beyond this one belief that I have in my heart. The only way we can truly make a difference is if we manage to overcome the innate nature of tribalism that resides deep in each one of us and think of community instead of me first. Our politics, unfortunately, has morphed into a circus of “me”; until this disposition changes, WE will all suffer for it irrespective of our differences. Justice that focuses on just us is the womb that births injustice.
Putting on a “I voted” sticker on a lapel and watching MSNBC/Fox News will not change these facts any more than changing the decorations on a Christmas tree that is on fire. It is high time we pay attention to the system instead of being transfixed on the symptoms. In the end, we can’t outsource our interests to politicians while in-sourcing animosity among ourselves, the price we pay for disunion is the government we have before us.
We do not have to walk in the lanes that are drawn for us neither do we have to accept a system that is inherently flawed. More than 60% of Americans don’t vote, Congress has an approval rating south of 10% and the president is detested by a plurality of Americans. This is a time that calls for imagination and a new way forward instead of voting for two equally malevolent choices and thinking we have made a difference. If enough people refuse to partake in this shell game of politics and galvanize around the idea of shared struggles and shared success, we can finally reclaim our government. Or we can keep voting and getting the same results. The choice is ours, the consequences will be ours as well.
A vote of false choices is the falsest choice of democracy::
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.