Photo credit: Flickr/Jared Polin
Very little, if anything, has been appealing or ideal about this election cycle. In fact, determining a nominee to support has, oftentimes, felt like choosing between a colonoscopy with a mild sedative or being sodomized with a splintered broomstick while called a racial epithet. Watching the Republican and Democratic national conventions, respectively, offered more transparency while simultaneously illuminating the sheer contrast between the two presidential candidates.
In short, viewing the RNC was like witnessing a train wreck -- in slow motion. There was the presidential nominee's wife's plagiarized speech of the current sitting First Lady, what appeared to be a Nazi salute, and the convoluted assertion no other "subgroup" had contributed more to the world than Western civilization. Add to that a host of mediocre, disillusioned speakers topped off by Trump's quasi-apocalyptic, fear-mongering, divisive speech, after which one could wonder "if the sun [would] come out tomorrow," as the song goes. While the DNC had its own proverbial bumps in the road -- or, shall we say unyielding Bernie supporters -- it was the brilliant, even majestic, speech by the First Lady that was a turning point. It was the first grand gesture that left an indelible mark, offered hope, and painted a grossly different picture and, indeed, political and personal, historical and contemporary, patriotic and inclusive American tapestry. From that moment on, I was finally convinced.
While multitudes of folks were equally moved and compelled, others are reluctant. A proponent of voting in state and local elections, Nick Cannon, host of America's Got Talent, vocalized he would not vote in the presidential election which he considers ceremonial; and, when called to task by news show host Roland Martin, Cannon noted he would write in a name or, in other words, issue a protest vote. Bow Wow, entertainer and former rapper, problematically disassociated himself along a skewed racial line: somehow a connection with Civil Rights and the need to vote does not resonate with him on the basis of his being "mixed" (his words). God bless and help millennials like him.
Ashley Williams, a graduate student known for interrupting a Clinton fundraiser and asking Hillary about her criminal justice platform, expressed ambivalence about (simply) voting: "I'm 23 years old, I'm black and I live in the [U.S.] south... I have not seen the powers of voting materialize" in ways that organizing impact "people power". "I don't think that we are being dismissive" of voting, Williams maintains, rather "we're acknowledging those things, but we're also saying it's going to take something else. We like to say in the movement 'voting is not going to get us free...voting is not going to abolish prisons." And others like Cornel West and Marc Lamont Hill are intent on voting for, that is, the highly unlikely third party candidate Jill Stein, whose chances of winning the election are about the same as that of a greyhound being the champion of the Kentucky derby.
What does it mean not to vote? What does it suggest when a non-Independent Party voter goes the third party route? In this particular election cycle, there are real and palpable consequences and, yes, danger in not voting or in casting a vote for a third party, especially for Democrats, given the numerics of electoral politics and elections. Not voting is, essentially, casting a vote for Donald Trump. Voting third party is, again, like casting a vote for Donald Trump. We could only fathom what a Trump presidency would mean given he is unfiltered, unhinged, inexperienced to the point it is criminal, as, too, is his inciting and perpetuating racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and hatred. Also, he lacks basic skills -- communicative, policy-oriented, or about governing in a manner that unifies; rather, he is deliberately divisive and contrarian. Such characteristics might not be so bad were he auditioning for a reality television show instead of running for President of the United States of America.
Before considering not voting or going the third party route, then, "think really, really hard." As author, activist, and cultural critic James Baldwin put it best, "People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction." Democracy at its best and at its very core does not operate off of passivity, nor does it advance from willful resignation. The presidential candidate choices may not be ideal or perfect, but perfection is no prerequisite for democracy. Consider, too, the ramifications of not voting, as well as those brave women and men who marched, died, were beaten and bloodied so that all people -- regardless of race, gender, class or creed -- might be enfranchised and allowed to exercise their right to vote.
Can we vote for Hillary Clinton and hold her accountable? Absolutely yes. In fact, we should hold Clinton and all public servants -- whether Congress or local, state or national politicians -- responsible to correct whatever previous infractions, gridlock, or inactivity to better advance our society and our nation. When we do otherwise, we fail to exercise the full extent of our democracy, the nucleus of our nation. After all, that is the story of America: its confronting its own historical wrongs and shortcomings -- not without pressure or protest -- to strive for the manifestation of "a more perfect union." And that is, in part, precisely what makes America great.