We are just a day away from the end of the most important election in recent history.
In some ways, this election has been unlike any other, with a pandemic destroying lives and communities and an incumbent bent on doing the same. In others, it’s much the same as ever – set against a backdrop of racial grievance, police violence, and voter suppression, all aimed at limiting the voice of Black Americans and all people of more color.
Every day, we see examples of suppression designed to limit Black voters and Black votes. Every week, we see a new rise in cases of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disproportionately harmed communities of more color. Every month, we see another national story of a Black man or woman killed by police, and many which will not have the same nationwide spotlight. Every year, we go to the ballot box to call for change that too often comes too slowly, or not at all.
All of this structural oppression and subsequent inaction, the systemic injustices that persist across administrations, the idea that things never change and never well – they have, in the past, led people to become disengaged, either to not vote or to cast a so-called protest vote against all major candidates and against the system itself.
I understand that. As someone who’s spent a lifetime fighting against these systems, I have felt that same degree of fury and frustration at the lack of progress or of solutions bold enough to meet the wide scope and the deep roots of our problems.
But in this election, even more than any other, a ‘protest vote’ is not a stance against disenfranchisement as much as it is a metric of its success. The forces of greatest oppression, those who embrace white supremacy and reject racial equity, take heart and victory from our disengagement.
When George Floyd was murdered on camera, people took to the streets across our city and country.The protests have continued as injustices have, including this week when Walter Wallace Jr. was shot and killed by police in Philadelphia, in front of his family. The pain is fresh and recurring, the outrage ever-mounting. We are not okay, and so the protest continues against a system that is okay with that, a crisis that will not be alleviated after November 3. It’s true that voting is not the solution to all of the structural forces of oppression, that the system cannot simply be repaired when it is working how it was designed.
But you can know that the system is unjust and still utilize it to fight for justice. You can believe that the economy is rigged for the wealthy and still recognize the need for a job and salary. You can know that binary elections are flawed and that voting is not a cure, but still cast a ballot. We do not need to exist in a space whether you either support the structures in place or reject the very idea that they can be shifted, or ideally, uprooted. And right now, the best way to reduce harm for vulnerable communities is not to become less engaged, but moreso. Not to cast a protest vote, but in protest, to vote.
In protest- vote. Vote in opposition to the open oppression, ignorance, cruelty and indifference we see every day, and for an opportunity to demand progress through protest, and demand those protests be heard and acted upon.
Vote not because it is the only way to create change, but because it is a tool in that effort. We can vote for elected officials and then protest against them, to make their actions and decisions represent and reflect our communities. creates the path to push further, do more, move forward. Dr King said that “if you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl – but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” I don’t believe that this vote is likely to set us aflight, but it’s part of what can keep us from standing still, or moving backward.
We are prevented from progress, too often, by having to face an immediate crisis while – to constantly be in triage while being unable to get sustained, long-term treatment. Donald Trump is only inflicting more pain, causing more harm. To have hope of moving forward, together, we have to stop him, and stop the bleeding. Vote not because our support is “deserved,” but because our change is demanded.
Voting is not a magic wand, and no matter who wins this election, we must continue to push – as weary as we are, we cannot rest. We cannot sit out – we have to stand up.
For Donald Trump and his enablers, it’s an election about fear – fear of an America where people and communities of more color gain power, and fear of our communities voting at all. It’s why he and others have worked so hard to make voting even harder.
Voting is a protest against those who would deny it.
On Election Day, join me in realizing Donald Trump’s worst fears by voting against all he represents and supports.
The next day, join me back out on the streets, in protest.
Jumaane Williams is the New York City Public Advocate