To Vote or Not to Vote?

By Kwesi P. Dean

Posted September 8, 2020


For all its faults, Facebook has given me the chance to interact with people I would not normally meet. That’s especially true as quarantine is perfect for my inner hermit and I no longer need an excuse for not leaving the apartment. Because I live in an economically mixed area in Europe, working-class, social housing, and a new colony of urban professionals, there are 3 grocery stores within a 5-minute walk. If you don’t see me between the hours of 0800-0900 on Saturday morning at one of those stores, chances are you won’t see me at all.  

Facebook is the exception. I’ve spent the pandemic immersed in the thoughts and opinions of friends, in the American sense, who share things we normally wouldn’t talk about in the superficial friend zone that encompasses the vast majority of my circle of nearly 1,500. I’ve learned I am only one degree of separation away from COVID deniers, anti-vaxers, blue lives matter supporters, white supremacists, Trump supporters, never Trumpers, conservative Christians, conservative nihilists, and Republicans of all stripes besides the normal bunch of Democrats to radical lefties among those who post political opinions.  

The announcement of Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party candidate for Vice President brought me in contact with a group of pissed off young black progressives who felt the former prosecutor and attorney general was too conservative to support. They began to talk openly about the taboo topic of not voting at all. Cue the firestorm.  

Any black person talking openly about not voting is taken by some as a betrayer of 400 years of racial struggle. It’s as if slaves desired the ability to participate in the political system that enslaved them above all other options. We know that’s not historically accurate as black people went to great lengths, including supporting foreign invaders, for freedom from the white people who controlled every aspect of their lives before the legal end of slavery.  

The notion of voting as a responsibility in the black community is in direct response to the efforts taken to keep black people from voting after the 15th Amendment. Taxation without representation is very profitable and second-class citizens have little protection against the whims of those in the first-class anywhere in the world. In the US, acts of terror were acceptable for those seeking to maintain the centuries-old status quo of one white man, one vote.  

According to Pew Research projections, black people make up 12.5 percent of the US electorate in 2020. In a winner-take-all election system, minority status creates another form of powerlessness in the electoral process. Outside of a few communities, blacks were and are voting minorities whose power is in inverse relation to the unity of the voting majority. This reality is the basis of modern gerrymandering as stacking blacks in one majority-black district to make their political participation insignificant in 3 others, helps to ensure hegemony and a general lack of interest in issues more specific to the black community.  

Why should black people vote to legitimize a system that routinely ignores or minimizes their interests? What are the alternatives?  

Non-violent, direct action seems to bring a higher level of attention to interests outside of the mainstream as long as it in some way disrupts the routine of life of the target audience. The more disruption, the less it is like a polite request, and the more it becomes a demand. Forcing the larger community to devote stretched civic resources to manage direct action costs money. Boycotting endangers businesses directly as a slight dip in business can lead to being unprofitable in low margin companies. 

What about rioting and looting? Something about wide-scale destruction and theft of property by black people touches something deep in the American cultural DNA. Maybe it harkens back to the threat and reality of slave rebellion, a constant challenge to the white power structure prior to the end of slavery. CNN conservative pundit Amanda Carpenter posits that in her circle, the current presidential election comes down to the pandemic vs. protests. She explained that the people she talks to in Michigan see events in Portland and Chicago and wonder if they are next. Talk about massive false equivalency! I’ve had Facebook commentators openly defend killing rioters and looters who threaten property alone. It’s rare to hear that “kill them all” rhetoric after sports teams win or lose and mostly white people destroy property for fun. No threat to the social order is perceived.  

What is it that makes property that can be replaced more valuable than a life that can’t? In America, property equals a certain way of life so completely that it can be confused with life itself. Property originally determined which white man could vote and which white man couldn’t. Property today determines who has access to power beyond the vote and who doesn’t since the US seems generally disinterested in curbing backdoor corruption in the form of campaign contributions and in-kind support through political advertising. Property equals free speech. Property equals influence and influence equals agency in a capitalist society. The value of ideas for capitalists is in direct relation to their ability to generate more property. As Gil Scott Heron said in “Work for Peace”, “The only thing wrong with Peace, is that you can’t make no money from it.” Maybe that is why the US has been at war 93% of the time since 1776.  

So, when it comes to gaining influence in minority communities, the brick may have more social impact than the ballot.  

There are risks in damaging property, not only to life and limb when facing off with police and vigilantes but to offer justification for the callousness of the write-off mentality. Capitalists make mistakes all the time. Businesses large and small make big mistakes and walk away from them when they can. Segway anyone? As the President floats the idea of walking away from centers of black population by abandoning Democrat-controlled cities (a dog whistle if there ever was one) he is tapping into an accepted belief system. If something costs you more than it is worth, stop investing in it. When he’s speaking to communities that don’t value black citizens in general, it doesn’t take much to secure their agreement.  

One disappointed young progressive told me he wasn’t going to vote. He explained it can’t get any worse with a second Trump administration versus a Biden administration. I don’t have a crystal ball, but Trump’s track record and history say otherwise. My progressive acquaintance is on to something though. Maybe the answer to the question of voting or not is to be found in answering the question “What best supports the revolution?” That’s a much more powerful analysis than which is the best among bad choices. 

A more revolutionary option can be found in the Fred Hampton approach. Before he’s was murdered by Chicago police in 1969, Hampton was working to build a coalition beyond race with people who had the same interests as the black community he served. Hampton connected with people others had written off. His coalition of Latinx and white organizations to improve the lives of poor people confirmed it was possible. Actions, including putting their lives on the line, prove that people outside of the black community have interests in common with black people today. Connecting people with common economic and social interests offers the most direct threat to a system designed to control the majority of people in service to the property and power of a clear minority. Maybe to vote or not to vote is simply the wrong question? 

Pew research American electorate 

Amanda Carpenter 

https://edition.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/08/28/trump-rnc-se-cupp-amanda-carpenter-unfiltered-from-home-intvu-vpx.cnn

USA at war : https://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/50473

Trump retweet’s “let them rot”: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-twitter-democrat-cities-rot-retweet-a9674106.html

Fred Hampton: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/fred-hampton-black-panthers-rainbow-coalition-poor-americans

https://assets.teenvogue.com/photos/5d371a1e283d550009da960f/16:9/w_1280,c_limit/00-social-fred-hampton.jpgBlack Panther Fred Hampton Created a “Rainbow Coalition” to Support Poor Americans | Teen Vogue On December 3, 1969, 21-year-old Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, led a political education class, had some dinner, and talked to his mom on the phone. http://www.teenvogue.com

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