We’re just about at the part of the 2020 US presidential race where the cacophony of vote or go to hell messaging is at its zenith. At this point in the election cycle, nearly every form of popular media one can consume is plastered with exhortations to vote, vote like your life depends on it, vote because this is the most important election anyone has ever lived through – ever. And then, even if you take a media sabbatical to get away from it there, in your day to day life you still have to navigate the same minefield of asks and demands and threats to VOTE – vote you selfish piece of shit – in everyday conversations with co-workers, family, friends, and Tinder matches. It’s exhausting.
Think about all the time, resources, labor, and capacity that are poured into the US electoral process. Billions of dollars and millions of hours and millions of people all activated and mobilized around this spectacle. Judging by those figures one would assume that some significant wins that would improve the day to day conditions of the masses of poor and working class people were at stake. Something like measures to address the crisis of mass evictions spreading across the US as moratoriums expire in state after state. Something like universal healthcare to make sure people have access to preventative care, medicine, and quality emergency medical treatment as they struggle to live through one of the worst global pandemics in human history. Something like comprehensive criminal justice reform that would demilitarize, defund, and hold accountable police forces that are murdering African and colonized people on American streets and deploying chemical weapons against diverse crowds of people speaking out against it. Orrrrr something like a long-term national disaster relief and recovery plan to actually address the wildfires that are engulfing a bigger and bigger portion of the Western half of the United States every single year.
But alas – neither of these two racist European men with poor boundaries, diminishing mental capacities, and a great antipathy towards Africans and the peoples and nations of the global South is offering any of those things. We’re being told we MUST choose between them or terrible things will happen but neither is really offering anything beyond jingoism, platitudes, and half-measures. Indeed, their primary political strategy at this time of deepening crisis appears to be much more about using the global platforms provided to them to hyperfocus on their distinctions without difference in increasingly catty and absurd ways than it is about making the lives of their constituencies better or even survivable.
The reality of the 2020 election, and the reality of nearly any US presidential election, is that the things that actually matter – the things that will actually make colonized poor and working class people’s lives better on a day to day basis – aren’t on the table. And they’re not ever going to be. The United States is a capitalist empire built on a model of extraction, theft, exploitation, and violence that requires the constant presence of growing permanent underclass in order to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of rich people and multinational corporations. This empire is a for-profit entity where no profit means you die. The myth of the national electoral process depends on a belief that the United States is somehow something other than what it is and always been – something noble but just out of sync right now. Something with good intentions but struggling execution. But that’s a lie.
From the very first days of it’s birth – born from a wave of African and Indigenous blood – the United States has built its empire on the backs of the masses of poor and colonized people inside and outside of its borders. As J. Sakai puts it in Settlers, “It is the absolute characteristic of this settler society to be parasitic, dependent upon the super exploitation of oppressed peoples for its style of life. Never has Euro-Amerikan society completely supported itself.” The US empire has invaded, raped, stolen, looted, bullied, and lied it’s way to global dominance. It has done this with the support of all major political parties in power and there has never been a point in US history where this approach was pursued without the full consensus of all representatives of the US government from the president on down.
That’s why Biden will call Trump’s approach to handling COVID malarkey, but will still outright refuse to consider universal healthcare or a rent freeze with real teeth and why the bulk of his COVID-19 platform focuses on businesses and “the middle class” while the folks suffering the most severe impacts of the pandemic are poor and working class colonized people. That’s why Trump can call Biden a socialist that hates police and Biden responds by essentially saying, “no you!” while offering police $300 million dollars in additional funding and saying we need to hire more in the midst of a global uprising against police terrorism. That’s why both candidates seem to be competing for who can threaten countries like Venezuela and Iran – and also ignore Africa in foreign policy speeches while quietly committing to loot and drone the fuck out of it – the most.
It is frustrating to understand that you live in an empire built on genocide and the enslavement of your ancestors – an empire that has never at any point in it’s history moved to change the fundamental nature of it’s relationship to you and your people – and have folks tell you the best way to address this is to engage that empire’s electoral process. African, Indigenous, and colonized nations trapped within the US are surely the only oppressed population in the world who are still being told that the empire that enslaved, slaughtered, and dehumanized them somehow holds the key to our salvation. That a militant strategy of national liberation is a pipe dream and the best way to get along here is just to fall in line with the empire. Like who the fuck else is getting that? Who else is being denied their fundamental right to win liberation and self-determination by any means necessary? What other colonized people are being told just vote for the entities killing you or die? The fuck?
Though I find the reality of national level electoralism within an empire absurd and depressing, I do find solace and also inspiration in the fact that the majority of poor, working class, and colonized people living in the US aren’t really having it either. More eligible voters abstain from presidential elections in the United States than all the folks who vote for either party (or a third party) combined. Quite literally over a hundred million people living in this country who could vote choose not to. Every election! And while a lot of time and energy is spent straight up berating them across all forms of media for being selfish, lazy, apathetic, privileged, and somehow immoral WHY they are choosing to abstain is never really addressed. Thankfully, it’s obvious. Over a hundred million people in the US understand that there is nothing they will gain from engaging this process that will improve their day to day lives so they’re saying, “I’d rather not.” Why on earth would anyone stand in line for eight hours on a work day (bring a bagged lunch the DNC says, not let’s open more polling places) to cast a vote for a person who doesn’t give a fuck about you, doesn’t give a fuck about people like you anywhere in the world, and is playing in your face about it? Who would do that? For free? LOL! Non-voters are the only group involved in the situation that are making a rational decision.
If you’re one of the vote or die people (hi!) this is probably the point in the piece where you’re like well what are we supposed to do then? First I have to say: we’ve already answered that. We’ve been answering that. And second I have to say: believe in the masses of poor, oppressed, and colonized people as hard as you believe in the Democratic Party.
There is no way anyone can vote in this election that’s going to stop the rise of fascism in the United States. It’s here. The US – and global ruling class – is choosing fascism, so we’re getting fascism. Get ready. There has never been a point in history where the people of any nation have successfully voted out fascism. The only thing that has ever stopped it has been the organization of the masses of oppressed and working class people rising up to fight it and stamp it out. That kind of organization isn’t going to happen at a ballot box – and truth be told the way electoral campaigns suck all the air and resources out of the room is a direct hindrance to the organizing we need to be doing to survive what’s coming. That’s truly why the vote or die shit is so demoralizing – some folks with a little sense pay lip service to the idea of a both/and approach where engagement with electoral politics is ostensibly pursued alongside radical and revolutionary strategies of liberation. But in practice it’s like a 90-10 split, with 90% of the effort going to engagement with electoral politics and the remaining 10% of effort going towards revolution with even that mostly being centered around rhetoric and aesthetics. It’s rough. And dangerous. But again – fascism is coming, fascism is already here, and stopping fascism – and the future of life on this planet – depends on our building the colonized, poor, and working class people’s movement required to kill capitalism once and for all. Nothing else matters. So I’m focusing on that.
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