In the wake of police brutality videos flooding the public purview, a common retort is not just abolition or defunding, but some version of “why didn’t they just comply” and “they should have…”. Responses like these, with and without malice, are not new, especially when the injustice or violence disproportionality affects a marginalized group. The conservation turns from holding those seeking justice to victim blaming. And as policymakers continue to revoke the rights of millions in the U.S. and pad their enforcers with the means to defend them, remarks like “just move” or “it’s more important than ever to vote” by people far-removed or not dealing with the full brunt of these decisions are socially insensitive. Reductive statements in political and social discourse don’t help resolve these injustices but further uphold a broken, inequitable system. They obstruct meaningful dialogue and organizing and must be excluded from any call to action.
• Contribute to the Service Worker Reproductive Fund providing service workers reproductive and basic preventive medical care.
• Contact your state representatives and demand they restore and protect the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
• Support the Rev Up Campaign helping to protect and eliminate voting barriers for people with disabilities.
• Donate to bail funds that help support protesters and reunite people with their communities.
“Don’t Complain if You Don’t Vote”
The 2020 presidential election saw the highest voter turnout in 120 years, “history-making moments for diversity and representation,” and the eventual Democrat control over the House, Senate, and Presidency, yet promised reforms and initiatives have unraveled along with rights (Newsweek, Business Insider).
Now, this isn’t meant to dissuade anyone from civic engagement. Involvement in local and state elections has more impact on our daily lives than federal ones, particularly regarding the legal system (American Progress). But responding to people who are consistently losing rights, dealing with voter suppression and gerrymandering, inaccessible polling stations, and weakening anti-discriminatory voting laws with “get out and vote” is out of touch. And condemning people who didn’t vote or were unable to does not take into consideration how immigrants, minors, and former or currently incarcerated people are barred from voting but are still impacted by these outcomes.
In 2021, 33 laws that made voting harder for Americans in 19 states were passed (Brennan Center). Even with expanded voting access with mail-in ballots, people with disabilities are twice as likely to experience voting barriers (Election Assistance Commission). Young people and people of color, specifically Black and Brown voters, are often the targets of voting initiatives. And despite overwhelmingly voting for Democrats, including in the 2020 election (Pew Research, Vox), they often are the ones dealt a bad hand no matter how they voted, thanks to this deeply flawed voting system.
Besides, strictly relying on voting to protect fundamental rights is counterproductive when nine glorified, life-serving policymakers decide which freedoms they want to preserve, weaken, and overturn next. None of whom the populace voted into power.
“Move Out of Red States”
Telling people to leave their homes to flee discriminatory laws comes from a place of privilege and is the opposite of building solidarity. Not everyone has the means to move or the desire to leave their families, nor should they be compelled to choose to have rights and humanity. Advocating for people and businesses to leave red states, subsequently pulling resources and support, harms marginalized people and those in poverty who tend to be disproportionally affected by these laws.
While “policy-induced migration” is not new, it does not resolve underlying issues. The 20th-century Great Migration saw millions of Black people relocate from the South to the North for economic opportunities, freedom, and to escape from racial violence (History, Aljazeera). However, that did not mean they were relieved from overt and systemic racism; they were only presented with racism in new forms.
Anti-Blackness is not just a symptom of the South. Xenophobia is not just an issue at the borders. And homophobia is not just the plight of those living in the Bible Belt. A zip code change doesn’t guarantee a person won’t be plagued by discrimination or inequality, but it does help make the country more “geographically polarized” (NPR).
“Groups of like-minded people tend to become more extreme over time in the way that they’re like-minded,” author and journalist Bill Bishop said (NPR). “They are still sorting themselves in ways that end up that places are increasingly Republican or increasingly Democratic. Then you can see that playing out in Congress. There are fewer people in the middle. And so politics becomes less about solving our problems anymore. It’s about cheering for our side. And so we’re stuck.”
“Don’t Harass Politicians at Home/ Restaurants”
When electrical grid failures left millions of Texans without running water and electricity, Senator Ted Cruz and his family were vacationing in Cancún, Mexico, to escape the winter disaster (Texas Tribune). As health clinics were calling patients to cancel their appointments after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Justice Kavanagh attended dinner with his wife (Washington Post, CBS News). The comfort and security of policymakers whose lives are rarely impacted by the legislation they pass, the harmful rhetoric they unleash, and their inaction amid emergencies are not the only consideration. And protests, boycotts, and strikes will not always be civil or polite.
Politicians are not immune from criticism and shouldn’t have a reprieve from outrage at their dangerous decisions and policies that affect millions. They pass anti-protest legislation to silence discontent regarding the violence put on communities but quickly “beef up security” when confronted (NBC News, DCist). Decorum went away with our rights.
No—you can’t eat in peace—your politics are an attack on us all. Your votes are a death wish. Your votes are hate crimes.”Smash Racism D.C., an anti-fascist organization, following a protest at a D.C. restaurant Sen. Cruz and his wife were attending after his Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (Facebook).
• Reductive statements come from a place of privilege.
• They place the onus on vulnerable people to fix an inequitable system.
• Structural changes come from solidarity action, not socially-insensitive statements.