I used to vote with my conscience. Now I vote with my allies.
Like many young white progressives, I was a vocal Bernie supporter during the primaries. I hated Hillary the war criminal, and abhorred the idea of being forced to press the button for her. Back in 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader. Sure, his chances of actually winning were less than zero, but hey, I voted with my conscience.
My conscience has since learned to embrace empathy, pragmatism, and folks who don’t look like me. My conscience is also 110% clear in voting for Hillary, and the key factor in my change of heart is the constant battle to check my own white privilege.
I saw the writing on the wall watching Bernie speak at a packed rally in St. Paul. The “political revolution” was in full swing, and the rapt audience waxed ecstatic about the electricity in the air. Our messiah struck an incendiary tone, long on inspiration and steeped in egalitarianism, but the stage-managed diversity of opening act Keith Ellison and a Muslim student who spoke to condemn bigotry couldn’t mask the bald facts: This crowd was whiter than a Klan summit. As the hours passed, the vibes turned sinister as I studied the monochromatic audience. This was not the revolution I wanted.
I could really smell the manure when the primary demographics started rolling in. Hillary ended up winning 75% of the African-American vote. My friends were stunned that black folks couldn’t see why Bernie was the best candidate for them. I mean, Bill’s crime bill decimated African-American communities, right? Maybe black voters just didn’t know enough about Bernie to know that he was the better candidate!
This, of course, is pure racist condescension. Black folks know full well what is best for their communities, and it was not a Bernie Sanders presidency. But why?
Well, I’m not in the habit of speaking for folks of color, but I can assure you that every reason I’ve heard is absolutely legitimate. You can do your own homework. Ask those black friends you swear to have. Ultimately, the reasons don’t matter in terms of my voting decision. A “political revolution” that doesn’t include folks of color is no revolution at all.
This is far from the first time African-American voters have been promised the moon by a white politician. It’s no great surprise that he lost, as his policy proposals sound crazy to most Americans (even though other nations’ examples may validate them), but that’s exactly why young white voters love him — we have the luxury of voting for the candidate who most accurately represents our beliefs without any concerns about electability, because our lives won’t really be affected if he loses. Our white privilege lets us “vote our conscience” by insulating us from the negative consequences that other minority groups will face if the other guy gets elected.
And this year, the other guy is beyond the pale.
Not a fascist in the Bush-was-a-total-fascist sense. Like, a real live fascist. Like, the litmus test by which our grandchildren will judge us when they ask, “Where were you when fascism came to America? What did you do to stop it?”
We will need a better answer than, “Well, sweetie, we were all #BernieOrBust back then.”
How could I look my black friends in the eye and tell them that it was more important for me to “vote my conscience” than it was to protect their rights and strike down a demagogue who wants to ramp up police militarization and brutally crush the BLM movement? You can’t say “Black Lives Matter” and march in the streets as an ally of the movement while pissing on your ballot by voting for an unelectable third party candidate who plays a tactical role in opening the national doors to organized white supremacy.
You’re not the ones who will wake up the day after the election to find your place of worship under surveillance and your foreign family members unable to visit you because of their religious beliefs.
You won’t wake up to federal agents kicking down your door to throw you and your children on a bus to a detention center filled with people of your ethnicity before being shipped “back” to a country that your children may have never seen.
This shit is not a joke. Minorities are staring down the barrel of Trump’s gun while you amble through policy proposals on third party candidates’ websites, trying to find your perfect ideological pin-up with no thought given to the direct violence that people who don’t look like you would face if he gets elected.
Yes, we need a multi-party system in America. The two major parties have too much concentrated power, and ballot access needs to be broadened to make third parties more viable. But this will never be accomplished by just voting third party in presidential elections and sitting on our asses for the three and a half years in between. That’s a pretty poor schedule for a long-term people’s movement.
More importantly, this is just not the year for it. It will either be Hillary’s America or Trump’s America next year, and we can’t afford to gloss over the stark differences between those two countries. Third party ballot access and progressive ideological purity are not as important as basic human rights. People of color and Muslims don’t have the luxury of voting their conscience. They are voting for survival, and if we claim to be their allies, we will vote with them.