November 6, 2018
When Dr. Roxane Gay spoke at UWM last month, she took a question from a disillusioned prospective voter. To paraphrase, the question was whether it is worth participating in democracy when everything’s so jacked.
Dr. Gay responded, “Oh, girl.” She went on to explain that the whole point of participatory systems is to participate, even/especially when things are jacked. She spoke kindly and thoroughly, true to her skill set as a professor of undergrads. Instead of shaming the questioner, Dr. Gay spoke with a “we’ve all been there” vibe, creating context for the struggle of participating in a system that disregards whole swaths of the population it purports to represent. She built up to her main point: despite the struggle, despite the corruption, despite the non-choicey choices, people died to make this system for us. People die to keep this system for us. People are still facing violence right now over the right to vote. So we gotta do it.
In the weeks since this conversation, it’s come to mind a lot. I am familiar with the rhetoric: we owe it to Sojourner Truth and Ben Franklin, to Bayard Rustin, Shirley Chisolm, and Harvey Milk to participate in this imperfect democracy. We owe it to them to vote, to talk about justice and how to correct injustice. We owe it to them to run for office, to write, or to create art about what matters to us. And I believe this. It isn’t hollow rhetoric to me. I believe that I am living in this time to learn from the past and to create a future where safety, respect, and comfort is for ALL beings.
Which is where I think this argument falls short. Aren’t we voting more for Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice than for our foreparents? Aren’t we voting more today for Shantee Tucker and Ciara Minaj Frazier than to pay homage to people who already did their work? More than for any particular candidate, I am voting for the justice and dignity denied Eric and Erica Garner, Mike Brown, Cecil and David Rosenthal, and the families our government separates.
Today, I am voting for the right to use the bathroom you need, whether you are a child in elementary school or a senior citizen at the movies. I am voting for the right for children to attend school without the threat of a mass shooting–or a single shooting. I am voting to hold all people accountable for the crimes they commit, including cops and judges. I am voting for the right to make decisions about my own body, and for everyone else’s right to do that, too. I am voting for the right to competent and affordable health care. I am voting to protect the earth for myself and for the six year-olds I know. I am voting for bail reform, and I am voting for the right to vote and have my vote counted.
As jacked as things are, I am voting for the future I want.
Voting for the future we want honors the sacrifices of those who came before us.
What are you voting for today? We would love to know your vision of the future.