Alternate title: I NEVER NOTICED BEFORE HOW CLOSE HALLOWEEN IS TO ELECTION DAY
2022 edit 1: here’s a new performance video of this piece.
2022 edit 2: for MN friends, check out TakeActionMN’s voter guide & endorsements; for everyone else, Vote Save America is a useful starting point for both putting together your own voting plan and getting involved in other ways.
I wrote this for Voices for Racial Justice’s online Get-Out-The-Vote event, where I performed alongside Erin Sharkey, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Sun Yung Shin, Essence Blakemore, Anaïs, and Kevin Reese. Check out the video of the entire event (including the following poem) here.
Also, if you’re reading this before election day, here’s my post sharing some links and resources on the process and why I think it matters. I’d also point to some other writing on this topic:
- Kelly Hayes: In the 2020 Election, I’m Casting a Ballot Against Full-Blown Fascism
- Ricardo Levins Morales: Tactical choices in tough times
- Tish Jones: For Our Families. For Our Community.
The poem itself is really just me trying to write something for my 18 year-old self, illuminating the various arguments I’ve heard, from organizers over the years, about why and how voting matters. It’s very rarely “vote because you have to!” or “vote because it’s the only way you can have a voice!” The best arguments, or at least the ones that have been most persuasive to me, are more nuanced than that. Not that nuance is always my thing as a poet… but here’s the poem (and a link to an IG version):
TO THROW A WRENCH IN THE BLOOD MACHINE: Five (Season-Appropriate) Metaphors for Voting
by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre
VOTING AS PRESSURE ON THE WOUND:
After the battle against the killer robots, I become aware that my leg is bleeding. And I know that applying pressure does not, on its own, heal the wound, but it will buy time for the medic to arrive, for the healing to begin.
VOTING AS FIRE EXTINGUISHER
When the haunted house catches fire: a moment of indecision. The house was, after all, built on bones, and blood, and bad intentions. Everyone who enters the house feels that overwhelming dread, the evil that perhaps only fire can purge. It’s tempting to just let it burn. And then I remember that there are children inside.
VOTING AS THIS ONE SMALL THING
I’ve tracked the werewolf to its lair, deep in the basement of the old doll factory just outside town. Upon entering, I have the option of flipping the light switch from off to on. Either way, the battle will be difficult. Either way, victory is not guaranteed. But the werewolf can see in the dark, and I can’t. So I will do this one small thing. I will summon what light I can. And I will keep going.
VOTING AS HIGH GROUND, CLEAR SIGHT LINES, AND MULTIPLE ESCAPE ROUTES
It’s been said that during the zombie apocalypse, the undead are not the biggest threat, that the real monsters are the human survivors who will hoard resources, betray one another, and fight endlessly amongst ourselves. And it’s true: survival is about so much more than just not getting eaten by zombies. But not getting eaten by zombies is still an important part of the plan.
VOTING AS WRENCH IN THE BLOOD MACHINE
Our village has existed in the shadow of Dracula’s castle for years, and has been the site of many battles against him. Now, he’s running for mayor. His platform: rather than turning into a giant bat to hunt his victims one-by-one, he will take control of the village’s resources, its watchmen and bureaucratic machinery, creating a system that will more efficiently identify victims and supply him with fresh blood.
Will defeating Dracula at the polls end his reign of terror? No. But what it will do is deprive him of one specific set of tools that he will otherwise use to hurt people. It will allow us to think offensively rather than defensively, because when the forces of darkness are not knocking on our doors, it frees us up to go knock on theirs.
And yes: there is always more work to be done. There is always more horror beyond that which is right in front of us.
And those who study monsters are right: if we only think short-term, we lose.
But those who fight monsters have taught me: short-term and long-term thinking are not mutually exclusive. We use every tool we have access to, every opportunity to shape the terrain of battle, every advantage we can seize. We don’t split up. We don’t leave anyone behind. We don’t wait for some hero to save us, whether a knight in shining armor or an opposition politician. We fight the monsters. And when the sun rises, we do the work of creating a world in which there are no monsters.
We win. For the fallen, for our families, for the fact that dawn is not promised, it is carried—in this blood, still hot, still coursing, defiant, inside us.
This poem has gotten a few thousand shares in the last couple days, with all of the good and not-so-good that comes along with that. As you can probably tell, it’s not a poem written for a mass audience; it’s making a specific argument to a specific group of people (a group I consider myself part of, usually): the cynical.
And I know metaphors aren’t everyone’s thing. So at the risk of “explaining the joke,” so to speak, let me just say that the big takeaway from this poem is that voting is NOT the only answer, NOT our only power, NOT the end-all-be-all of civic engagement. It’s a tool in the toolbox. And it’s a tool that the vast majority of real-life organizers I’ve known, the people doing the on-the-ground work year-round, have been pretty clear about the importance of.
I want to reaffirm that point. To me, the argument isn’t some abstract or intellectual debate about a theory of change. My perspective is influenced and shaped by activists, people I know and have worked with in real life, who have their hands dirty with the work of building a better world. None of them say that voting is the only way we can make a difference; almost all of them say that it’s worth doing anyway. If only because it’s relatively easy (for a lot of us, at least). If only done tactically or defensively. If only to create a bit of breathing room that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
We already know that status-quo loving liberals aren’t going to save us. But for organizers, having a status-quo loving liberal in office is materially different than having an open fascist- especially when it comes to trans rights, reproductive justice, climate, and other issues where there is real daylight between the two otherwise-aligned capitalist parties. Elections aren’t just about choosing your allies; they can also be about choosing your opponents. It’s that point about defensive organizing vs. offensive organizing.
The point is more nuanced than just “do it because you MUST” on one side, and “nothing matters at all” on the other side. Not everyone is going to agree, and that’s fine. But I hope it’s some food for thought. And I hope we’re all also thinking about what we’ll be up to after election day too.