I wanted to set up a post sharing some resources on voting, and on engaging in electoral politics more broadly. I may continue to update this as November approaches; hopefully it can be useful; please feel free to share, or make your own version.
***UPDATE (10/14/20): Wrote a new poem that speaks to some of the stuff in this post.***
Pressure on the Wound: Why I Vote.
I’ve written before about my own position on voting (as someone who can vote; it’s worth remembering that it’s a right that too many people are denied). To summarize: I believe that change is driven by mass movements, not by individual politicians. That being said, elected leaders are power bottlenecks, and whether their policies are imperfect, bad, or catastrophic has a direct impact on the kind of movement-building that can happen in opposition to those policies.
In other words: Voting is pressure on the wound. Applying pressure to a wound doesn’t heal it, but it can buy time for the healer to arrive, for the real work to be done. That pressure, alone, isn’t the solution to the injury, but it can still be the difference between life and death.
That’s my reason, and I get that it’s not the best soundbite for a mass audience. I’ll share some better quotes from people smarter than me below. But first, let’s pause on the why and focus on the how.
Understanding the Process is Half the Battle: Resources on HOW to Vote
Getting out the vote is important. But I think it can be easy to focus on the persuasion side of GOTV work, and miss the fact that the most efficient, effective way to increase turnout isn’t convincing Trump-loving strangers on the internet to change their views—it’s about providing tools and pathways for people, especially convincible people in our lives, to make voting easier. A few resources:
- How To Vote In The 2020 Election: A state-by-state guide to voting in the age of COVID-19. Just click on your state to get the specific info.
- Vote411.org: a “one stop shop” set up by the League of Women Voters.
- Vote Save America: I dislike their website, for a variety of design/accessibility reasons. But if you’re web-savvy enough to navigate it, it does have some good resources beyond voting info, including their “adopt a state” program.
- For Minnesotans: TakeAction MN’s “Busy Voters’ Guide.”
Some of these sites are more overwhelming than others. I’m not planning on just sending these links to family and saying “check these out and vote!” Instead, I’m going to use them myself, to pull together more specific, more personalized, step-by-step guides that I can then share with friends and family. It might take a couple of hours to do that extra work, but it’s also a relatively straightforward, concrete action I’d encourage others to consider.
A general takeaway: Because of the pandemic + the ongoing bleeding of the postal service, the move this year seems to be to request an absentee ballot as early as you can, and return it as early as you can. This might look different in different states, but here was my process:
- Register to vote, or check that you’re registered (here’s the MN site for that; if you’re not in Minnesota, just googling “[your state] + register to vote” should get you to the right link).
- Request an absentee ballot and mail it in (here’s the MN link for that; details will vary in other states). OR show up-person to vote (whether on election day, or at early voting sites, again, depending on your state). Wear a mask.
Relationships Matter: Different Talking Points and Strategies for Different Audiences
Like I said, I think crafting our GOTV rhetoric and persuasion strategies probably isn’t as important as focusing on the voting process itself… but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth thinking about. More than facts and statistics, and even more than stories, persuasion is about relationships. Know your audience, listen to them (rather than just talk), and think critically about how your relationship with them might impact how/if they hear you. I’m not a campaign messaging expert (if you are, feel free to comment!), but here are some things I’m thinking about:
FOR NON-VOTERS, OR PEOPLE WHO DON’T REALLY FOLLOW POLITICS: Some of us are online every day, and we see every new Trump administration outrage as it happens; we may keep a list of them in our heads, and that list might be really, really long now (like this one). Most people don’t, of course, and “non-voter” has never been a monolithic group. So part of the work here might be thinking about who your audience is, and picking out just one or two of these outrages that might be most salient to them.
It could be something big, like the family separation policy, or the ongoing environmental collapse, or Trump’s on-the-record, recorded statements that he knew the pandemic would kill people, but downplayed it for political reasons. It could be something that speaks more to values than any specific policy, like Trump’s history of brazen lies. It could even be something more subjective, like “the last four years have just been so chaotic; we can do better than this.”
Again, persuasion isn’t always rational; it isn’t always about the most “important” facts, even when those facts have enormous moral and ethical consequences (although these kinds of conversations can also be opportunities to plant seeds that transcend electoral politics). Different people will respond to different arguments, for better or worse.
That’s all worth thinking about, but whether we use those tactics or not, I think the most important piece here is just asking. For some people, “I know you like to stay out of politics, but it would really mean a lot to me if you voted this year,” along with an offer to help navigate that process, will sometimes be more effective than any rhetoric.
FOR CONSERVATIVE-LEANING FOLKS: 2020 potentially presents an opportunity to reach out to people who may identify as conservative but are disgusted by Trump. If that sounds like anyone in your life, a useful resource might be the Lincoln Project’s anti-Trump ads. And look: I’m not a fan of the Lincoln Project, don’t want to ally with them, and think there’s danger in giving them too much attention or reverence. But this isn’t advice for the campaign; it’s advice for individuals. As a “tool in your toolbox,” there may be specific instances in which their videos can be useful—especially when we’re talking about this kind of interpersonal, talking-to-friends-and-family work, in the context of an election where a handful of swing states (and a handful of voters in those states) have disproportionate power.
FOR LEFTISTS AND RADICALS: I mean, this is me, and I’ve already shared some of my own thoughts above. But here are three pieces of commentary that have helped me wrap my head around the specific choices we face in 2020. They’re all written by smart, principled activists whom I have grown to trust, and acknowledge the complexities (and dangers) of engaging with electoral politics, or putting too many eggs in the Biden/Harris basket. They’re nuanced, thoughtful takes, and all three are definitely worth a read.
- Kelly Hayes: “In the 2020 Election, I’m Casting a Ballot Against Full-Blown Fascism”
“I also hope my brokenhearted co-strugglers will remember that their politics are much bigger than a single ballot. Many people in the U.S. do not participate in the work of movements, or even pay particularly close attention to the policies enacted by officials. Elections are largely about branding and political theater, and people whose political presence involves little else often build their electoral choices into identities. But for those who live much fuller political lives, full of organizing, protest, and work that has material impacts, voting is just one tactic. It’s a maneuver some make periodically, sometimes to gain an advantage, but often, just to limit the damage. Sometimes the difference may be negligible. But I do not believe this is one of those times.”
- Angela Davis: “Dems & GOP Tied to Corporate Capitalism, But We Must Vote So Trump Is ‘Forever Ousted'”
“Both parties remain connected to corporate capitalism. But the election will not so much be about who gets to lead the country to a better future, but rather how we can support ourselves and our own ability to continue to organize and place pressure on those in power. And I don’t think there’s a question about which candidate would allow that process to unfold.”
- Bree Newsome Bass: “2020 election is about making strategic choices…”
“…regarding landscape of oppositional forces we face in 2021 at local, state & federal levels when we’re still facing all the issues we are now & the power structure is clinging to status quo. It’s not either/or b/w voting & uprising. I highly advise a massive turnout that forces Trump out of office b/c it will further fracture & cause crisis within the bipartisan white power structure. It’s not about believing that a Biden admin will address our issues. It’s about choosing the form of your opposition.”
I like the links above because they also illustrate how, no matter who our audience is, trying to SHAME people into voting isn’t going to work. Voting for Biden might seem like the most obvious thing in the universe to you, but brute force rhetoric like “just suck it up and vote” or “if Trump wins it’s your fault!” simply isn’t effective; if we want to get out the vote, we have to do the work of building relationships, or at least knowing our audience, not just screaming on social media.
This point is especially important considering the baggage this ticket brings with it. I’m not going to tell a survivor that they “must” vote for Biden. I’m not going to tell an abolitionist that they “must” vote for a ticket with a combined record on criminal justice that is extremely concerning. The arguments in the three links I just shared have helped me come to terms with the choice in front of me; they won’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. Move those who can be moved. Respect (and don’t get hung up on) those who won’t.
Voting is Only the Beginning: How to Turn One Vote into a Hundred (the Legal Way)
I feel very fortunate that the people who engage with my work and read my writing come from a lot of different places, in terms of their experience with movement-building work—I’m also on my journey. And I think the phrase “voting is only the beginning” can mean different things for all of us, depending on where we’re at. For example:
- Some of us might consider really committing to this work for the next two months: volunteering for a GOTV organization, joining a campaign as staff, etc. Vote Save America has some resources on that, and getting in touch with local organizations who do campaign work might be a good first step. Don’t forget that 2020 isn’t just about the president; there are a ton of local races that are going to be super important.
- Another good resource: check out the “No Regrets” Guide to Taking Effective Action in the 2020 Election”.
- GOTV stuff can also be more informal than joining a campaign. The aforementioned creation of individual-specific voting guides could easily become a letter-writing project, or a Canva project for social media, a poetry prompt, etc. How can we best use our platforms and our networks?
- This is the same thing I say every election year, but once again: what happens on (and before) election day matters. But what happens after matters even more. Some thoughts/resources on getting involved with activism outside of election seasons.
A final thought: It’s worth remembering that we’re not just voting for individual leaders—we’re voting for platforms. Biden was never my first choice, but even I have to admit that there are some legitimately good things, things that will make a material difference in people’s lives, in the Biden/Harris platform. There are a some not-so-good things too, and he’ll need to be pushed, because all politicians need to be pushed. But the evolution of the Dem platform, just over the past 12 years or so, is testament to the fact that activists and organizers are making a difference.
More broadly, I’ll never be a cheerleader for the Democratic party. But I have yet to hear a convincing argument countering the fact that Trump (and the movement he represents) is a unique threat, and that removing him and his supporters from office should be a priority. It’s not the only work we need to do, and it’s not going to change everything on its own, but it’s an urgent, necessary step on the road to where we really want to go.
I don’t always open my comments on this blog, but they’re open on this post. Feel free to share other strategies, tools, or perspectives.