Yesterday was Election Day. Here are some highlights of what went down:
• Abortion rights were key yesterday and will set the stage for 2024, as Ohio voters approved an amendment that protected the right to abortion in the state constitution (AP News).
• Democrats won a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and took control of the Virginia legislature after campaigning to defend abortion rights.
• Philadelphia elected former city councilmember Cherelle Parker, the city’s first woman and fourth Black mayor.
• Dem. Gabe Amo, the son of West African immigrants, became the first Black person to represent Rhode Island in Congress.
• Exonerated ‘Central Park Five’ member Yusef Salaam, a member of the Central Park Five who was exonerated in 2002, was elected for a New York City council seat and now represents his hometown of Harlem (NBC News).
• Dem. Danica Roem became Virginia’s first openly transgender state senator.
• And many candidates backed by Moms for Liberty lost their races (Yahoo News).
But as we’ve seen, voting simply isn’t enough.
In Mississippi, nine precincts in the state’s Hind County, which is the largest county and predominantly Black, ran out of ballots in the statewide election yesterday, leaving thousands of voters waiting in line for hours (WLBT, Mississippi Free Press). Despite this, polls were only extended an extra hour, some two (AP News). In the past year, the number of voting precincts in the state has continued to shrink, with the addresses of 92 precincts found to be missing, incomplete, or incorrect, which poses a challenge for voters, especially since the state doesn’t provide an up-to-date, exhaustive list of polling places for the public (Mississippi Free Press, Mississippi Free Press). This makes it not only harder to vote but discourages folks from voting.
• Review the information to register to vote and make sure, if available, you’re ready for upcoming elections.
• Spend more time in conversation with your local and national representatives. Save their contact information for moments of crisis (like in Gaza) and send your opinions on their recent decisions (like the censure of Rep Tlaib).
• Support organizations and initiatives working to protect and eliminate voting barriers.
• Consider: who are the people in your city, state, or country that reflect your political views that aren’t candidates? You can think of community organizers, advocates, educators, or entertainers. How can you support them each election season?
Each election cycle, we are told that our rights and democracy hinge on the outcome of a particular election or candidate. Each time, we are told that we must “vote Blue no matter who” or “anyone but Trump” unless we want to find ourselves in some draconian society. This is not democracy. If the sanctity of our rights is constantly under threat of being reversed or revoked, then simply casting a ballot in such a system will not produce an equitable and just country. It does—and has—keep us in a cycle of having to plead why our humanity and needs matter and are worth protecting, only to be told it doesn’t. This past election was marred by disappointing political decisions, from the reversal of Roe v. Wade to blocked federal student debt relief.
Voting doesn’t always result in comprehensive change. And representation, in party affiliation and identity, isn’t enough.
This is why grassroots organizing is so important. Doing things like donating to a mutual aid fund or volunteering at your local community center can have a more immediate and lasting impact on the people who need help right now, and can’t wait for favorable conditions in the House and Senate for their livelihood to improve. And direct action like protesting, boycotting, and calling your representatives can create more immediate change than waiting for an election cycle to roll around, which is evident in how public criticism of the U.S.’ involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is shifting Biden’s messaging (NBC News).
Although voting might not seem effective, showing up to the polls does make a difference, no matter how small (Ignite National has a good breakdown). You should still vote – especially in local elections, where turnout is much lower than in national elections. But voting shouldn’t be positioned as an end-all-be-all solution. Calls to “take your criticism to the polls” are well-intentioned but often misguided, especially when it’s targeted toward communities disenfranchised from participating at all. More attention and advocating for the rights and dignity of others should take place within our own households and families. Casting aspersions against those who have been disenfranchised, deprioritized, and disillusioned by our so-called democracy is counterproductive, especially when members of your family vote against said rights. Lest we forget that white voters have largely voted Republican since 1968 and were instrumental in both Trump winning (2016) and subsequently losing (2020) the presidential election (Brookings, Reuters). Yet, minorities, specifically Black voters, receive the attention and ire for election outcomes.
Is it OK to not vote? Sure, if you want. But remember that voting is not just about putting candidates in office. There are ballot measures and amendments addressing issues like abortion, property taxes, and voting rights restoration that can have major ripple effects not only on a state and local level but nationwide.
Having criticism for your elected officials, even within your own party, is normal, especially when they legislate against our rights and falter on their campaign promises. Your affiliation to a political party shouldn’t keep you from holding officials accountable or cause you to resort to harmful, reductive statements. The hope, in a functioning democracy, is that such criticism is heard and appropriately reflected. When it isn’t, we must use our voting power to show our dissent and displeasure with our elected officials who routinely weaponize and dangle our rights in front of us each election.
We don’t have to rely on out-of-touch politicians to advocate for us. This is an opportunity for everyday people within our communities to either run for office or uplift and support those running. It often takes people from the community to represent and fight for the community.