Why I Vote On the Behalf of the Most Vulnerable People I Can Imagine
Thanks to my upbringing in the house of a service-minded single mother, who was in turn raised among nine siblings by an beneficent matriarch, I have always understood the importance of civil participation, and looked forward to the opportunity to exercise my right to vote. 2020 is my second opportunity to cast a vote in a presidential election. In 2016, shortly after graduating from high school, my 18th birthday just barely fell before the deadline for me to vote for the first time.
Four years later, I’ll be completing my master’s degree this December, and I dearly hope that my graduation month will be the last of the Trump presidency. Whether this hope is realized is in your hands and mine. Since the choice to vote is easy for me, and encouraging others to vote is what I live and breathe as the hours count down, I want to take the opportunity to explain why you should vote like I do, even if you don’t have the same experiences as me.
I vote on the basis of the outcomes I want to see brought to life, and I place my trust in the people who demonstrate that they are committed to realizing that change. I vote as, and because, I am a Black queer nonbinary person. I vote because that right itself is one this nation has denied my people since they shipped us here in chains. I vote because voting is a compromise, but to not vote is irresponsible. I vote because I am hopeful even when I have little reason to be. I voted in this election because I love my home state and I’ll be relentless until I am welcome here as exactly the identities that I am.
I vote for the most vulnerable people I can imagine. I vote for the people who are so marginalized in our country, who have so many challenges, that their stories aren’t even known to those of us who try our hardest to pay attention to the quietest voices. I want to help you pay attention, I want you to use that information as you lift your pen to exercise your power to fill out your ballot. It’s a little traumatic to recount how bad the state of things are, and how high the stakes are for this election, but it needs to be done. Let’s take quick stock of the issues, in no particular order, that are all devastating to so many:
- LGBTQ+ rights are under attack. Everywhere, all the time. For example, in the August primary, the woman that represents me in the Arizona statehouse just ousted a less extreme Republican senator, riding on a wave of propping up antivaxxers and submitting legislation targeting trans girls who want to play sports without having their genitals examined.
- People with disabilities are still intentionally deprived of their fundamental rights. They are structurally unable to be financially independent due to discriminatory red tape, burdened by social stigma, and forced to survive in an ableist society. There is so much work to do to transform our legal, cultural, and physical infrastructures from hostile to welcoming and inclusive for people with disabilities all across the spectrum.
- BIPOC people are being targeted by police and put in cages for calling for an end to police brutality and abolition of the system that upholds White Supremacy. In Phoenix, there is a malicious campaign going on to tear down Black organizers who have been on the streets protesting for change all summer, and long since before the police lynching of George Floyd.
- We are racing toward the point of no return with climate change, and the damage is already here. Thousands of homes on the west coast were destroyed in the recent ‘apocalyptic’ fires. Phoenix is getting hotter and hotter, resulting in more and more heat-related deaths, disproportionately affecting people of color and those experiencing homelessness, and there are no signs that things it will get better. (My home city is also an epicenter of crisis-level homelessness and lack of housing affordability.)
- Xenophobia, racism, and all brands of nationalistic hatred are alive and well. Candidates of color and of faith are fending off xenophobic attacks. Incidents of anti-Semitism are surging.
- Our national mental health crisis continues to escalate.
- Reproductive freedom is on the line.
- We’ve had no real reparations or reconciliation for the slave system on which this country was founded.
….Aaaaand all of these are worsening conditions that predate the pandemic.
- 231,000 dead in the U.S. as of publishing. More cases than ever. Records being broken, and families suffering.
- 8 million people, abandoned by our Congress, have fallen into a state of poverty since May of this year.
- All the while, the individual wealth of billionaires — the real “looters” that we all should be worried about — has exploded, as frontline workers are exploited.
…The list goes on. I cite all of these painful, true details because the perspective that I root my decision-making in has to be encompassing and empathic. For me, omitting anything is irresponsible. I don’t know what I don’t know, I don’t know the events on the next page, and I can let that make me retreat into fear, or it can inspire me to advance into hopeful actions.
It’s hard to think about all these dire events. En masse, they can become inhuman and abstract, even though their impacts are very tangible in millions of Americans’ lives. But no matter who you are or how much privilege you have, there are somethings you just can’t run from. These circumstances disparately affect the most marginalized people in our country, who have the fewest avenues of relief and escape.
In order to understand this, I advise you to imagine one person. Not just down on their luck, trying their hardest, but the weight of all of these American tragedies holding them underwater. Emptying their pockets, draining their emotions, breaking their backs. (If that describes you, you don’t need to be any more imaginative.)
A working mother trying to feed her family, balancing multiple minimum-wage jobs who is now an essential worker and a schoolteacher. A first-generation college student who is supporting his undocumented parents. A survivor trapped under the same roof as their abuser during quarantine. (Domestic violence incidence has skyrocketed in Phoenix and worldwide during the pandemic.)
Can you see what they see? Can you understand what stresses them out and keeps them up at night? It’s alright if you can’t perfectly, because you tried. With their experiences in your mind, commit to vote, and make your choices. Does filling out your ballot automatically make these problems go away? Of course not. Bubbling in your candidate of choice is not the resolution. It should be a commitment to see it through to the outcome you want built.
The fact is that millions of voters are disenfranchised. By the chance of where I live, residing in a state that will very likely be a key decider for the U.S. Senate and the Presidential races, my vote weighs more than others’ currently. During all seasons, my vote is an imperfect tool. It is not all I have. But it is far more than others have available to them, so I must use it.
My vote is an imperfect tool. It is not all I have.
Quite simply, our fate is on the ballot. Fill out that entire ballot because everything on it matters. Don’t give into apathy or despair and fail to show up for your people — everyone who lives in this country. Don’t disengage after you’re done voting. Organize, challenge, create, innovate, stay firm. Be a shoulder to cry on, because there will be a lot of tears in the next 72 hours. As soon as the polls close, figure out how to show up to hold local leaders accountable, because they are the ones who really are accessible to you. Elections are not all we have.
Vote not for yourself, but on the behalf of the most vulnerable and most marginalized people you can imagine, and for those you can’t even imagine, who have been so betrayed by the land we call home. Do it for them. Vote for the people who are pushed to the margins in this country because of who they are, where their ancestors were born, who they love, for their gender as their identify it themselves or as society ascribes to them, of because of the fact that they have to struggle to afford to exist here.
Most marginalized people have no reason to hope or to count on you, voter, to even imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes. If you’ve never needed to envision what it’d be like to have your rights taken away, that you could end up on the streets, that you could be brutalized by an agent of the state: abandon your urge to vote solely with your own interests in mind, and weaponize your privileges to advocate for others. We vote to make this country a true home for all. We organize to fix our systems so they actually work for everyone. The work is nowhere close to done. Using your ballot for good is only the beginning. Do the least, for us.
Go to iwillvote.com to figure out the voting information for your home state and make a plan to vote as soon as possible. Election day is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020. See you at the polls.