Vote Shaming: Privilege, Conscience, and Third Parties
Over the years, I have often been either annoyed or indifferent to the election cycle. Elections are more or less something to be endured. Time and time again, I watch from the sidelines as two capitalist puppets duke it out over just how shitty the country gets to be over the next four years. It is sort of a Punch and Judy Show. No matter if Punch or Judy wins, the work is always the same. The difference each election makes tends to be who and how many people show up to activist events.
One unique characteristic of this election, however, is the amount of shaming there seems to be against those who do not support Hillary. I have seen various articles which argue that people who vote for third parties are selfish and privileged. This seems to be a very popular argument this election cycle. Generally, the argument goes that only those people who could weather the storm of a Trump presidency, could possibly consider voting for a third party. Anyone with something to lose must chose the lesser evil. It is a privilege to vote for your conscience. It is a privilege NOT to vote for Hillary. Those privileged folks who vote for third parties are really all about themselves. They are selfish. Their individual identities are more important than the social responsibility of voting for Hillary. This rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons beyond simply being called privileged and selfish.
I certainly have privilege and my selfish aspects. I am privileged by being white. I am privileged by my education. I am privileged because I do not have a disability. I am privileged because I am single and child-free. I have a tremendous amount of freedom. I am privileged that I am not obese (which is shamed in society) and not too ugly (again prejudiced against). The list could go on. Yes, I do have privilege. But, my privilege is not a function of my politics. If you decrease x (x=privilege) it does not increase y (y=democratic party support). I have been a socialist for around fifteen years. This was before I had completed a college education. I was a socialist while on food stamps. I was a socialist through major episodes of depression. I was a socialist when working at a hotel. I was a socialist for the 10+ years that I didn’t have health insurance. At no point did my support of the Democratic Party increase as my desperation increased. I imagine that if I became homeless, disabled, unemployed, or any other major drop in my privilege, I would continue to support socialism. While arguably, certain privileges allowed me to become a socialist to begin with (exposure to different ideas, the intellectual wherewithal to make sense of political theory, living in an area where there was a socialist party, etc.), my politics do not change when I have more to lose.
On the other hand, if my privilege is not a function of my politics, perhaps selfishness is. I don’t know how selfish I am compared to other people. I write blogs…about myself. I shamelessly take selfie photos. I forget birthdays. I lose contact with old friends. I don’t always compromise and do what other people want me to do. Sure, I have my selfishness. I genuinely enjoy doing helpful things. I live in a house with a food shelf on the porch! Next summer I am building a free garden in our yard so that strangers can just take vegetables! I try to be involved in my community. I have done AmeriCorps three times (making less than minimum wage). I’ve worked with homeless youth, at-risk youth, and survivors of domestic violence. I think that as a whole, I am probably a mixed bag of selfishness and selflessness, like anyone else. It is true that being a socialist shapes my identity. So there is some “me-ness” involved. But, I became a socialist because I was upset with the suffering in the world. I was deeply upset by poverty and war. I feel angry when I think about the way in which most people live in this world. This comes out of a place of empathy.
Let’s suppose that I am privileged and selfish, which has caused me to vote for socialists all these years. I certainly don’t think that this would be true of other third party supporters that I know. I am not a Green Party supporter, but generally speaking, I have never met a Green Party supporter who I thought was particularly self-involved or privileged. In Mankato, the Green Party tended to be well-meaning older adults on fixed incomes. In Duluth, those who support it tend to be life-long activists who have tirelessly worked on various campaigns often without reward or recognition. In Mankato, I found that the anarchists were also nice and pretty dedicated to working for political change. They tried to work with other groups. They certainly weren’t that privileged, as they worked long hours in service industry jobs…and ate food from dumpsters. This week, I even met a nice Libertarian who spent the day picketing anti-choicers with me. As for my own Socialist Action party members, they tend to be hard working, intelligent people, who are also life long activists…who again have worked tirelessly trying to build social movements across the decades. Is Adam selfish and privileged? He works as a janitor cleaning up poop and disease. He spends his money to fund a food shelf on our porch! Is my friend Mike selfish and privileged? He enjoys working low paid jobs at group homes as he is passionate about helping people with disabilities. Socialist Actions VP Candidate Karen Schraufnagel is brilliant, kind, and has dedicated herself to fighting Islamophobia and promoting Palestinian rights! The point is, in all actuality, within my party, but across other political groups, there are nice, selfless people, who want to better society…and who devote their lives to doing this. Calling their dedicated work for social change selfish and privileged is offensive to me. Rather than critiquing these alternatives to the two party system on the basis of their principles, it reduces politics to ad hominem attacks. Finally, everyone has some privilege. There are privileged Democrats. Many of the least privileged people in society may vote for Trump. Rather than witch hunt privilege across parties it is more constructive to focus on the ways in which systems of privilege could be dismantled. But…that is beyond the scope of two party politics.
No, my politics really aren’t about my privilege and my selfishness. I simply have a different vision of the political world. In my world, it truly doesn’t matter if Trump or Hillary win. In my world, the Punch and Judy show really isn’t where change is made. In fact, it is a distraction from where and how change happens! Politicians grant nothing that hasn’t already been won in the streets. Woodrow Wilson did not GIVE women the right to vote. This was WON through 80 years of struggle in social movements. It was WON by millions of people in the streets demanding this. So it is with the labor movement, environmental movement, or Civil Rights movement. The Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, OSHA, and Equal Employment Opportunity Act were all passed under Nixon. This wasn’t because Nixon was a progressive guy! It is because there were social movements at the time. Change is something that is won through struggle. It is not something that kindly politicians give us from time to time. I believe in the power of the people. History is a history of people struggling for their rights. This is why I am not afraid of Donald Trump. We have nothing to fear if we mobilize. Nothing is made or moved in this country without workers. We have a tremendous amount of power, but lack the vision and organization to use it.
Part of this short sighted vision is the excessive focus on elections! Elections are a coconut game where everyone is a loser. At least from a socialist perspective, Trump and Hillary are both representatives of capitalism. We all lose under capitalism. Sure, there are some qualitative differences between them. But, imperialist wars will continue, Blacks will be killed by police, carbon will saturate our atmosphere, corrupt banking will continue, pipelines will be built, immigrants will be deported, and abortion rights curtailed no matter who is in office. The pace and extent of these miseries is not a function of the party in power, but the people in motion.
Let’s suppose though that Trump is elected and things truly suck. Rest assured, I will go out and protest every injustice. I cannot substitute myself for a mass movement, but I can do what I can in my capacity as a human being to fight for a better world. This is something I try to do already and something I do no matter who is president.
With that said, the shaming will not change me. My political world view is based upon the power of people and critique of capitalism. Elections play a very small role in true social changes. When the elections come, there will be people who don’t vote. That’s okay. There are voters who will vote for third parties. That’s okay. Voting is not a holy quest through which one purges themselves of evil. Yes, people died so I could vote. People also died so I could have safe work spaces, they died to protest imperialist wars, they died in those wars, they died to end slavery, they died for basic democratic rights, they died in failed revolutions…people across the world and across history have died for many movements. Movements are the key. The right to vote was won by a movement. Voting was attained, but the story doesn’t end there. Voting was not the end of history. The act of voting is not the highest and holiest act, but one small expression of democracy and the realization of a singular demand. Voting is not self-immolation before the altar of lesser evils. It is victory, not an idol. Because my goal is the liberation of oppressed people, my eye is on victories greater than the promises of capitalist politicians….the sort of victories that won’t be won in elections.