I’m going to say something now that will make me unpopular with some people – even a few people whose opinions I care about sometimes – for about two days, or until I post a dope food pic again or whatever.
I’ve said before that I don’t really tell people how to vote. I’ve also said that I don’t really engage people who opt out of voting. The reason why I qualify those statements with the word “really” is for moments like this, when I just have to get something off my chest so I can get back to watching barbecue videos and listening to Prince records.
I don’t like it when people assume my motives behind a random statement about voting. I get that I’m not always forthcoming about what I think people should do in terms of voting. While I have been known to announce a personal vote, I prefer to build and educate toward the world I want to see and let people make up their minds based on the evidence. I’ve done my time as a non-voting citizen of conscience and revolution. I’ve done the “my ancestors died for my right to choose, not use” time. I’ve done the “Electoral College is a cabal” tour of duty. I didn’t change up my position on whether or not to vote because I became less revolutionary. I changed it because some of those ideas weren’t the iron-clad political strategies I thought they were and overall, not voting was severely non-pragmatic.
We mess voting up by talking about it like it’s a destination when it’s a path. Voting isn’t supposed to be a big deal. It’s supposed to be downright mundane, a given, a Tuesday morning coffee run. The fact that you traffic in more political power with a daily Facebook regimen than with any single vote you might take doesn’t mean “Don’t vote;” it means “Vote, then go do the other one hundred things you could be doing.”
Most of the people I see calling for people to vote understand that. We have to stop interpreting people who lobby for voting as shiftless. Most of the people I know who lobby for voting are relentless volunteers. Some are admittedly annoying about it, and lord knows I’m not here for anybody whose response to my Black life mattering is “go vote.” But aside from those aberrations, the people in get-out-and-vote camps are doing all manner of things to contribute to the formulation of an actual, functioning democracy besides posting memes on the internet. They’re in organizations, they’re part of community meetings, they own businesses with mindful missions…they contribute. We can and should debate those contributions (my Saturday night jam of choice), but it is not only unfair but incorrect to suggest that most people who actively lobby for others to vote don’t try to make the world better. They may do it wrong, but we can fight about that. What we can’t fight about is no work, no contribution, no moxie. I can’t write this essay more than once. It takes away too much bandwidth from my ability to tweak and build the world I want to see with people who at least have shown a tendency to put in some kind of work.
Voting is literally the least you could do and still claim to be active in the political system, but that’s not even the thing I’m here to say that will anger some of you. That part actually looks like this: If you want to do something other than have an impact on the political system, then fine, go start a colony, but you ain’t abolishing anything from afar. Even if everyone who genuinely supports abolishing every bad American system had the will, you don’t have the power to abolish. The systems you’re fighting are too massive and ingrained to defeat from an external (outside of the system) force of your size. What you do have the power to do is secede, migrate, or build. Anybody who’s telling you that, given enough time, money and blood, you’ll be able to survive confronting, then defeat, then dismantle, then legislate, and then, on top of all those bones, rebuild – with everything there is to know about this country over the last 500 years and how it responds to even the suggestion of change of that magnitude – is selling the equivalent of an ideological suicide pact. I can tell you right now that, based on the rate at which America razes Black people alone, we may not survive such leadership as a group. We’ll be woke, but we won’t be alive to talk about it.
I speak from some experience here. I got tired of telling my city it did not have or respect homegrown culture. I was exhausting myself constantly trying to convince people who worked in culture circles how to do it in a way that wasn’t politically destructive. Their idea of change either did not go far enough, or didn’t align with a productive way of life, or was a pittance. So I bought land and built my own institution. I generate the culture I want to see. I set its values. I pay its creators. I garner genuine support for genuine outcomes. I take only the meetings I want. I rarely engage their grant cycles.
When I could not reform without losing my soul or my people, I turned away. When I realized I couldn’t abolish the system by myself, I built a new one from scratch. My board is more productive than traditional boards, my needs are scalable, and when I engage the old systems, I set the rules of engagement or I walk away. Worldwide pandemic aside, so far, so good.
To be clear: If you want to leave the American political system, fine. If you want to change the system while still on the grid, fine. Somewhere in the middle? Fine, if the plan is good. I’m not against any of those things in theory. The way someone wants to accomplish those goals, maybe. But abolishing something is a different ball game. It’s not a mission I’m against, but if you want to expend that much effort, you may as well start over fresh. That’s not fear; that’s pragmatism. If you want to go build Wakanda, let’s go build it. But let’s not build it on these bones.
So all of this is about not voting, but not really. It’s about not making voting the goal, and understanding that when people suggest it, they’re not necessarily saying “only” voting. In essence, this is all about the work around voting, or alongside voting, or on top of voting, but I can’t get back to that until I talk about not voting. I also get that I’m not talking to some huge segment of eligible voters. If everybody left of center would work to dismantle voter suppression I wouldn’t even have to write this. But for those moments when someone comes at me and confuses the popularity of a sentence about voting here or there with me beating a drum and writing stump speeches for candidates I haven’t talked about all year, it needed to be said.