Pressure on the Wound: Why I Vote

It’s so easy to say that voting is “just a band aid.”

A better metaphor is that voting is “pressure on the wound.”

That pressure won’t mend the wound by itself, but it will buy time. It is one small, but necessary, step in a larger healing process.

The single biggest reason that I vote in every election is that the people I know, in real life, who are actively engaged in doing the work of organizing, activism, and building a better world every single day (from immigrant rights activists, to advocates for trans rights, to union organizers, to teachers, to racial justice educators, to survivor support providers, and beyond)– they all tell me that it matters.

They tell me that voting won’t save us, but also say that no single strategy can “save” us anyway, so we may as well use every tool we have access to.

Another thing that I’ve learned from the everyday organizers I’ve had contact with is something kind of nuanced. It’s the idea that we obviously can’t just fight for symbolic victories, but that the symbolic side of concrete victories really does matter. It’s not an either/or thing. Symbols matter because culture matters.

To that point, these kinds of get-out-the-vote posts are often supposed to be “non-partisan.” But nothing ever is. We can say that “both sides” run annoying TV ads, sure, but “both sides” are not engaging in Islamophobia, anti-immigrant fear-mongering, rampant misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, concerted efforts to disenfranchise voters, or dark money-driven disinformation campaigns.

That stuff is ugly, and violent, and will hurt people. We don’t have to love one candidate to want to defeat the other. We don’t have to love one party to understand the necessity of pushing back, forcefully, against the kind of creeping, straight-up fascism that those impulses represent.

This past week, we got word that the world was ending, again. The responses to that, as always, are understandable, if a little predictable: doomsaying (“we’re so screwed!”), calls for more individual responsibility divorced from a larger-scale policy context (“buy a hybrid car!”), and detached acceptance (“I know I should care about this, but it’s just too big!”)

All of those responses are natural; none of them are helpful. But you already know that. Just because the answer has to be bigger than one person’s individual actions, that doesn’t mean that action isn’t possible. It’s just about taking a different approach.

When people say that voting is not the most powerful way to build power and shift policy, they’re right. Real change is driven by mass movements– people organizing, engaging in direct action, and leveraging their power to force the issue. Climate change, though, is a great example of one of the issues for which voting really does matter. Because the issue is so big, and so time-sensitive, getting the right people in office can be a force-multiplier for that movement work.

The argument isn’t “do nothing but vote for Democrats because they’ll save us.” The argument is “build mass movements, and then ALSO vote for candidates who are more susceptible to pressure from those mass movements.”

This relates to other issues too. Voting doesn’t “fix” anything– it helps create the conditions under which more offensive, forward-thinking movement work can happen. The myth is that progressive activism gets “stronger” when bad people are in power; I think the opposite is true. When we can organize offensively rather than defensively, we can really shift both policy and culture.

I get that. Life is hectic. But with everything going on in this country right now, it’s a perfect time to get in the loop. And it doesn’t have to be that much of a struggle; area publications may have voter guides; even a quick google search for “your city/state + elections” or “your city/state + voter guide” can turn things up.

To use Minnesota as an example, here are a few links that have been useful to me over the years. That isn’t to say that I agree 100% with everything here; just that these links help me get a “snapshot” of what’s going on every election cycle. And if you’re not in MN, the odds are good that there are similar links/resources where you are.

  • A good first step is to find a sample ballot so you know what’s going to be on there. I found mine here.
  • Some of the basic info about eligibility, registration, how to vote, etc.
  • lets you kind of walk through the process, and includes a bunch of candidate info for people still doing research. Hat-tip to Pollen.
  • Naomi Kritzer’s blog features in-depth profiles of MN races/candidates.
  • TakeActionMN is a progressive organization that endorses candidates.
  • Wedge Live tweets about Twin Cities politics.
  • The Wrong About Everything podcast features advocates from a range of political backgrounds having conversations about issues.

I think another big voter guide is on the way; will be sure to update this post when it drops.

Sure. But while that can be a disempowering reason to not vote, it can also be an empowering reason to do more than just vote. During elections, voting is the baseline; we can do more: we can mobilize our people: family, friends, networks, etc. Get ten people to vote. Share this post. Share candidate info on social media. Volunteer for a campaign. Donate to a good candidate. “Being involved” is so much more than just showing up to cast a ballot (although that definitely does indeed matter).

For example, I’m just one person and can only provide one vote. I can, however, also spread the word about some of the down-ballot candidates that people may not know about. Obviously, the governor’s race, the two Senate races (here and here), and other big state-wide races are important (and if history is any indication, we should NOT take them for granted; polls may show Walz and Smith ahead, but both are vulnerable, and regressive nightmare Wardlow has just pulled ahead of Ellison in the AG race); but there are also important local races this year:

  • Sheriff: my county is super progressive (relative to other counties), but we keep electing this ICE-collaborator and Trump supporter Stanek as sheriff. This year, Dave Hutchinson is also running, and is definitely worth checking out.
  • For County Commissioner, depending on what district you’re in, Angela Conley (district 4) and Irene Fernando (district 2) are both running. Those links go to their respective endorsement pages, which is one of things I look at first when considering candidates. There’s another district race (3: Greene/Redmond) too; an update on that one here.
  • County Attorney is a position with a lot of power, and swapping out Mike Freeman for Mark Haase can make a real difference. Check out his list of endorsements at that link, plus here’s a big story on him over at Pollen.

If everyone who reads this also checks out those races and spreads the word about them, it can have a real effect. To be even more specific, I know that I have friends who are excited about the opportunity to vote for Ilhan Omar this year (I am too). An easy “ask” is to say “hey you’re already going to be voting, so I hope you know about these other races too.”

Mariame Kaba (aka @prisonculture on Twitter) is one of the most consistently smart, principled, and practical voices on the internet when it comes to movement-building. This thread, in particular, is something I wish everyone would take a moment to read:

Just a word before shutting it down for the night… I think a lot about the fact that people spend a lot of time lamenting injustice and much much less time getting actively engaged to confront and challenge it.

I understand why this is. Folks are often busy trying to simply survive. Sometimes it’s that people feel paralyzed because the problems seem so entrenched and so big. Sometimes it’s because folks just prefer lamenting instead of taking action.

In the next few days and weeks, we’re going to be inundated with calls to VOTE. And there will be a parallel track of people yelling about voting not being enough. Both groups will have their own good reasons for positing these points of view.

Here’s what I’ll be doing over the next few days and weeks. I’ll of course vote. I always do. I don’t make a big deal of it. I do it not out of any civic duty. I do it because it’s a tactic that can make some difference at the margins and I believe in using all viable tactics.

I’ll be doubling down on local organizing and continue to build with comrades (new and old). I’ll be focused like a laser on trying to free more people from cages. I’ll be producing more tools to be used for political education to help move towards an abolitionist horizon.

I’ll be continuing to donate funds to projects and groups I think are doing positive work and I’ll continue to fundraise for those groups. I’ll be engaging in conversations with people in different parts of the country to strategize how we build more power.

I’ll be reading books and articles that provide me with mental nourishment and challenge me to be a better and more critical thinker. I’ll be encouraging my friends and family to do their own work to contribute to more justice.

I’ve taken the time to enumerate these things because they are actually unspectacular and mundane actions that anyone can take. They are things that are within our control to do. They are things that if we do them at a large scale every single day will help shift our trajectory.

I get that today has been incredibly tough for many people for many reasons. I understand and more than this I empathize. I want to suggest though that you are needed more than ever. That it is as important as it’s ever been to ACT with purpose and justice.

Those of us who want more justice and some peace in the world are not alone. We aren’t. All around us there are people who want the same things. All around us there are people working towards both. Actively so. Join us if you’re not already in the arena. Join us.