My Thought Process Regarding the 2016 Election

Wanted to put this here so I didn’t have to re-type it in every argument, but even more so for friends and youth I work with who might be feeling frustrated or powerless when it comes to the upcoming election. The short version of this isn’t anything too surprising: real change comes from organized movements, and it makes sense to vote for Clinton in swing states in order to be able to continue that movement-building process. But I did want to share my reasoning, plus some links for further reading.

1. Maybe This Goes Without Saying, But Please Don’t Vote for Trump
It’d be easy to skip right over this point since almost everyone I know is either liberal or way-to-the-left of liberal. But it’s worth saying: Trump represents something ugly and dangerous, something that is already hurting people, and will only get worse if it is allowed to take root. I know that throwing the word “fascist” around is easy, but it’s been thrown at Trump so much this year because it truly fits. And that’s something we should all be taking seriously.

Read: Dawn Ennis: Black Lives Matter Labels Donald Trump a ‘Terrorist’ and a ‘Fascist’
Read: Amanda Taub: The Rise of American Authoritarianism
Read: Interview with historian Robert Paxton: Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

2. With Clinton vs. Stein, Let’s Start By Setting Our Egos Aside
I know smart, principled people who are voting for Clinton. I know smart, principled people who are voting for Stein. If we’re going to have a real conversation about the presidential election, it has to start there. Not every Clinton supporter is a DNC-brainwashed, talking-point-spouting footsoldier for neoliberalism (though yeah, some are), and not every Stein supporter is an ultra-privileged, holier-than-thou, former BernieBro with no tactical sense (though yeah, some are). There are valid, real-world, tactically-sound reasons for both positions; if you disagree with one or the other, remember that trying to shame people into supporting your candidate is probably not going to work. Erasing and/or using people of color as bludgeons (as both sides sometimes do) is also not going to work.

Read/Listen: Democracy Now Interview with Jill Stein and Ben Jealous
Read: Rosa Clemente: The Democratic Party Is Not What It Seems
Read: Andrea Merida: Why Dan Savage is Dead Wrong About Jill Stein and the Green Party

3. Change Comes From Movements, Not Politicians
I believe that the big problems in our society (including the ones that Trump has become a figurehead for) will be solved by organized, grassroots movements, not by politicians. No matter who wins the election in November, we will have work to do. No matter who sits in which office, it is up to the people to pressure them to do right. Change is the result of forces that are bigger than any single election. So organize. Join and/or support organizations doing the work. Use whatever power you have access to to push for change year-round.

Read: Ryan Williams-Virden: Electoral Politics in 2016; I Wanted to Believe
Read: Guante: Beyond the Benefit: Ten Ways Artists Can Help Build and Support Movements
Read: Guante: Resources, Links, and Readings Regarding Ongoing #BlackLivesMatter Protests

4. But Voting Does Matter
The previous point does not mean, however, that elections don’t matter. They do. Elected leaders are power bottlenecks. Electoral politics is about exerting some influence on the scene/stage/landscape. In other words, the actual battles will still be fought by organized movements, but getting one candidate vs. another in office may impact whether those battles are offensive or defensive in nature. Add to this the fundamental importance of local elections and referenda (especially here in MN), and it should be clear: voting is important. Go vote. Get your people to vote. It’s one of the easiest things we can do (at least those of us who haven’t been disenfranchised by a voter ID law or felony conviction), and can have a major impact on people’s lives.

Sign: NOC petition to restore the right to vote immediately upon release from incarceration
Read: Briana Bierschbach: A Preview of the 2016 Elections in MN
Read: Rachel Durkee: Ilhan Omar and Why We Need Legislators of Color (plus Ilhan’s website)

5. So For Whom Should We Vote?
When I am in the voting booth, the question that I will ask myself (in the context of the previous four points) is which choice helps build the movement?

Every election sees moderate liberals pressuring leftists and radicals into supporting the lesser-of-two-evils because “the other guy is really, really bad.” We can acknowledge that this is a tactic that serves to move the center of US politics to the right, while also acknowledging that it might actually be true sometimes. Trump is dangerous. So is Clinton, of course, but anyone paying attention to the conventions or the campaigns should be able to see that they are not “the same.”

Clinton is at least painted into a corner by the coalition that will get her elected, by her rhetoric and stated platform (which is getting more and more progressive, which also supports point #3 here: organizing works), and by us, the people who will hold her accountable. I may not trust her (not because of the misogynistic “she’s a snake woman” attitudes out there, but because she’s a politician and I don’t trust any of them), but I have more faith in our collective ability to organize offensively and keep building the movement under a Clinton presidency than a Trump one. There’s also the Supreme Court to consider.

That being said, I also hear my Green and radical friends who are saying that Clinton’s actual record should scare us as much as Trump’s unpredictability, and that Stein represents a chance to break from two-party politics and build a real alternative, not to mention that a strong show of support for Stein will draw Clinton (plus the 2018 and 2020 candidates)  further to the left. I also hear those who affirm that while Clinton’s policies will be better than Trump’s, many of them are still not worthy of our actual support.

So with all that in mind, here’s where I’m at with this.

If you live in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, or any other swing state, I would encourage you to consider casting a defensive vote against Trump and for Clinton. After hearing so many arguments on either side of this debate, this seems like one solid thing that just makes sense. Trump is worth defeating, and that will happen in those states.

Those of us in states that are safely red or blue may have more variables to consider (though, this year, I’d think critically about what “safe” means). Personally, I’ve yet to be won over by Stein (not so much in terms of the Green argument in general, but in terms of Stein’s campaign itself), and I’m sympathetic to the argument that Trump needs to be beaten badly, in every state, in order to send a message. But I refuse to outright dismiss people who disagree with me. I’m trying to read more, pay more attention, and stay engaged over the next few months (and beyond). I hope people check out all of the links in this piece, and feel free to add more in the comments.

In the end, I’d love if we could reject the kind of two-dimensional binary thinking that’s always so popular during convention season. After all, election time isn’t just about voting; it’s a time in which people are more engaged and interested in politics than usual. That’s a movement-building opportunity. No matter whom any of us vote for, let’s pay attention to down-ballot races, local referenda, and organizing efforts outside of the election. The challenges ahead of us don’t change. Keep working. Keep building.