I confess that I’ve never been particularly into politics.
I take issues seriously and engage in discourse and social action, but American politics—especially as it exists currently—is a freaking mess. The inherent divisiveness of the two party system is completely unpalatable to me, and is in itself the source of so many of our country’s problems that I won’t justify its existence by endorsing any part of it. The history of party platform switches and George Washington’s warnings about the pitfalls of partisanship—which we have SOOOO obviously fallen into—should be enough to make anyone rein in partisan passions, frankly. My faith also prohibits affiliation with political parties, which is an injunction I increasingly view as a gift.
I have a deep pool of thoughts on partisan politics that could take up an entire post, but I just want to make this clear from the get go: This post is not about partisanship. I don’t affiliate with any political party and never will.
I do, however, participate in elections. I vote, and I put a lot of conscientious thought into how I vote. I read my voter pamphlet, I listen to candidate speeches, I seek out arguments for and against different measures and weigh them as fairly as I can. Casting a ballot is a right and a privilege that I hold dear.
And in my years of participating in elections, I’ve come to understand an important truth that informs how I make those decisions.
I belong to a demographic that is one of the last to be directly affected by the outcome of elections, one way or another. As a white, middle-class, middle-aged, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, American-born citizen, I benefit from institutions steeped in white supremacy, I am largely protected from the kind of persecution that causes people to flee, my right to my identity is never legislated on, and I don’t worry about whether I can fill our cupboards or pay my bills.
It would be easy for me to sit out most elections because I rarely have anything personally and immediately at stake. That’s the position of privilege I’m in and I know it.
So I don’t vote for me. I vote for the people whose voices have been drown out by unequal representation in government, whose safety and security have not always been protected, whose happenstance of birth put them in a position behind the starting block in some way, and who are asking—in every way they know how—to be seen and heard.
I vote for my black and indigenous friends who are terrified and tired of the constant battles they have to fight against racism.
I vote for my Jewish friends who keep sounding warnings informed by experience that keep going unheeded.
I vote for the vulnerable populations for whom climate change will have the most immediate and dire effects, since the rest of us won’t see the worst of it until it’s far too late.
I vote for the unborn by voting for candidates who support comprehensive sex education and easy, affordable access to birth control, as that’s the only proven way to reduce abortion rates.
I vote for my transgender nephew and my LGBTQ friends and colleagues who deserve to feel safe and respected.
I vote for the mom whose spends thousands of dollars a month to keep her son with a chronic disease alive and who will never be able to crawl out from under her medical debt.
I vote for my tax dollars to be spent on building schools before scud missiles, bridges before walls.
I also vote for decency and character, kindness and compassion, science and reason, justice and equity.
And I vote for the women who sacrificed their livelihoods, their reputations, and their safety to fight for my right to vote so that I could have the choice of whether or not to exercise this privilege.
I know some will call this “identity politics,” but I have to ask: Is there any other kind? “We the people” are what make up the citizenry that participates in politics. “We the people” are a diverse group with diverse identities, needs, and life experiences. And yet “We the people” have been led by mostly old, mostly wealthy, almost entirely white men, who gained and consolidated power by literally enacting identity politics, for most of American history.
You’ll pardon me if I think it’s perfectly acceptable to push for a government that more accurately represents and serves the needs of its full range of citizens before anything else.
So that’s who I vote for in every election—the people who have had to fight just to have their voices heard, much less represented, for far too long.
I wish more of my fellow Americans would do the same.