On The Morning of the Election (Or, "Your Abstention Will Not Protect You: Voting and Radical Black Feminist Politics")

November 6, 2012
By

By C. Riley Snorton and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

Today marks the conclusion of the voting period, which will settle numerous electoral decisions, including various seats in the Congress, local and state referenda, and most notably, the Presidential seat. Yesterday, we read a number of eloquent arguments about why some people are choosing to abstain from voting. And while we respect our friends and the decisions they are making, we are troubled by the suggestion that abstention from voting marks a step toward an ethical higher ground. In our view, this is simply not the case.

Voting, in and of itself, is neither wholly system-changing nor inherently conciliatory; it is one available gesture in the series of actions through which those of us committed to an anti-oppressive politics live our lives. Therefore, we wanted briefly to sketch what might characterize the relationship between voting and having black feminist (progressive or even radical) politics. This is not some last-ditch ploy to get our dissenting friends to the polls. We simply want to clarify that voting is not a declaration of an apologist or accommodationist politic. Rather, it is a strategic action that makes up a small part of a full political life.

Today, on the morning of this election, we find it crucial to make three central points:

  1. We do not need to agree with everything a political candidate espouses to cast a vote in her favor. Voting is not an unequivocal endorsement—of a particular candidate or of the systems that structure our participation as “citizens.”
  2. Voting is participating in a process that allows us to select figures with whom we would prefer to engage.  That is to say, voting allows us to have some say in the parameters of future political struggle.  It lets us decide with whom we want to struggle. And struggle we must.
  3. Voting is not an end, or even a means to an end. Black feminist politics are far more expansive than electoral politics. They’ve had to be. Black feminist politics are what allows us— as young black queer and trans feminists—to fight to have liveable lives, to cherish our own survival and delight in the miracles of making it to the next year, day, hour. Voting does not interrupt our black feminist politics any more than it vanquishes the myriad structural and sociohistorical inequities that make those politics necessary.

In other words, to vote is to practice a strategic embodiment. It is to lodge one’s body in a deeply flawed system as part of a larger commitment to developing a world we all might be better able to live in. As feminists of color, we know that politics neither begin nor end with the casting of the ballot. But, for us, right now, the ballot must be part of the process. And so, when the dust settles on this particular moment in history and the two of us return home from the polls, we know that we will continue to voice dissent, to engage in acts of self-care, and to practice a set of politics anchored in the belief that liberation is something we must fight—in all possible ways—to attain.

 

———-

C. Riley Snorton and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan are Editorial Collective members of The Feminist Wire

For more, please see past posts from TFW’s Forum on Voting, organized by collective member Heather Laine Talley: http://thefeministwire.com/2012/10/introduction-to-tfw-voting-forum/

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28 Responses to On The Morning of the Election (Or, "Your Abstention Will Not Protect You: Voting and Radical Black Feminist Politics")

  1. Moya on November 6, 2012 at 8:32 am

    “Voting, in and of itself, is neither wholly system-changing nor inherently conciliatory; it is one available gesture in the series of actions through which those of us committed to an anti-oppressive politics live our lives.”

    I really appreciate this line. I imagine that this hold true for not voting as well, right? That not voting is an available gesture in the series of actions…

    I really really hope once today is over we can spend some more energy on these other actions which people who decide not to vote are engaged in too.

    Love y’all!

    • Mecca Jamilah Sullivan on November 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Moya, yes, absolutely. There’s much room for more conversation, collaboration, and critical engagement here. Looking forward to building. Love back to you!

  2. Moya on November 6, 2012 at 8:32 am

    “Voting, in and of itself, is neither wholly system-changing nor inherently conciliatory; it is one available gesture in the series of actions through which those of us committed to an anti-oppressive politics live our lives.”

    I really appreciate this line. I imagine that this hold true for not voting as well, right? That not voting is an available gesture in the series of actions…

    I really really hope once today is over we can spend some more energy on these other actions which people who decide not to vote are engaged in too.

    Love y’all!

    • Mecca Jamilah Sullivan on November 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Moya, yes, absolutely. There’s much room for more conversation, collaboration, and critical engagement here. Looking forward to building. Love back to you!

  3. Moya on November 6, 2012 at 8:32 am

    “Voting, in and of itself, is neither wholly system-changing nor inherently conciliatory; it is one available gesture in the series of actions through which those of us committed to an anti-oppressive politics live our lives.”

    I really appreciate this line. I imagine that this hold true for not voting as well, right? That not voting is an available gesture in the series of actions…

    I really really hope once today is over we can spend some more energy on these other actions which people who decide not to vote are engaged in too.

    Love y’all!

    • Mecca Jamilah Sullivan on November 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Moya, yes, absolutely. There’s much room for more conversation, collaboration, and critical engagement here. Looking forward to building. Love back to you!

  4. Moya on November 6, 2012 at 8:32 am

    “Voting, in and of itself, is neither wholly system-changing nor inherently conciliatory; it is one available gesture in the series of actions through which those of us committed to an anti-oppressive politics live our lives.”

    I really appreciate this line. I imagine that this hold true for not voting as well, right? That not voting is an available gesture in the series of actions…

    I really really hope once today is over we can spend some more energy on these other actions which people who decide not to vote are engaged in too.

    Love y’all!

    • Mecca Jamilah Sullivan on November 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Moya, yes, absolutely. There’s much room for more conversation, collaboration, and critical engagement here. Looking forward to building. Love back to you!

  5. kwame on November 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Well we had “bodies” long before someone told us that voting=democracy so that the most compelling analogy in my view. Our problem is that whenever Africans in America have sought to do for self the US government has viciously undermined our efforts. There are many ways to be politically engaged there is nothing magical about voting. Organizing and mobilizing is far superior to voting in a hopelessly corrupt system. kzs

    • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I beleive it is a both/and. Use your right to vote and your body to organize.

      Seven

      • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        *believe*

  6. kwame on November 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Well we had “bodies” long before someone told us that voting=democracy so that the most compelling analogy in my view. Our problem is that whenever Africans in America have sought to do for self the US government has viciously undermined our efforts. There are many ways to be politically engaged there is nothing magical about voting. Organizing and mobilizing is far superior to voting in a hopelessly corrupt system. kzs

    • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I beleive it is a both/and. Use your right to vote and your body to organize.

      Seven

      • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        *believe*

  7. kwame on November 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Well we had “bodies” long before someone told us that voting=democracy so that the most compelling analogy in my view. Our problem is that whenever Africans in America have sought to do for self the US government has viciously undermined our efforts. There are many ways to be politically engaged there is nothing magical about voting. Organizing and mobilizing is far superior to voting in a hopelessly corrupt system. kzs

    • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I beleive it is a both/and. Use your right to vote and your body to organize.

      Seven

      • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        *believe*

  8. kwame on November 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Well we had “bodies” long before someone told us that voting=democracy so that the most compelling analogy in my view. Our problem is that whenever Africans in America have sought to do for self the US government has viciously undermined our efforts. There are many ways to be politically engaged there is nothing magical about voting. Organizing and mobilizing is far superior to voting in a hopelessly corrupt system. kzs

    • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I beleive it is a both/and. Use your right to vote and your body to organize.

      Seven

      • Seven on November 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        *believe*

  9. Maurice Clark on November 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I tend to agree with Kwame on this issue…voting can and should be used as a secret weapon. The problem with voting and particular in regards to the African in America agenda, is that we are not mobilized to act out and accurately purport what that agenda may be…the grave concern of our time is as Malcolm attempted to make foremost in the consciousness of Blacks is that we must understand “OUR” need, which cannot be reduced on an individual basis. Individualism is the greatest enemy to Black progress in America, and it is sad to say it is a disease we easily attract, under the guise of a newly found freedom. Voting, was understood by are ancestry as a collective weapon and not a single isolated act. I cannot encourage a flawed statement, though very eloquently put, such as this:

    “It is to lodge one’s body in a deeply flawed system as part of a larger commitment to developing a world we all might be better able to live in.”

    We must do for ourselves the major work needed in order for our participation in the “flawed system” can have any effect .

  10. Maurice Clark on November 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I tend to agree with Kwame on this issue…voting can and should be used as a secret weapon. The problem with voting and particular in regards to the African in America agenda, is that we are not mobilized to act out and accurately purport what that agenda may be…the grave concern of our time is as Malcolm attempted to make foremost in the consciousness of Blacks is that we must understand “OUR” need, which cannot be reduced on an individual basis. Individualism is the greatest enemy to Black progress in America, and it is sad to say it is a disease we easily attract, under the guise of a newly found freedom. Voting, was understood by are ancestry as a collective weapon and not a single isolated act. I cannot encourage a flawed statement, though very eloquently put, such as this:

    “It is to lodge one’s body in a deeply flawed system as part of a larger commitment to developing a world we all might be better able to live in.”

    We must do for ourselves the major work needed in order for our participation in the “flawed system” can have any effect .

  11. Maurice Clark on November 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I tend to agree with Kwame on this issue…voting can and should be used as a secret weapon. The problem with voting and particular in regards to the African in America agenda, is that we are not mobilized to act out and accurately purport what that agenda may be…the grave concern of our time is as Malcolm attempted to make foremost in the consciousness of Blacks is that we must understand “OUR” need, which cannot be reduced on an individual basis. Individualism is the greatest enemy to Black progress in America, and it is sad to say it is a disease we easily attract, under the guise of a newly found freedom. Voting, was understood by are ancestry as a collective weapon and not a single isolated act. I cannot encourage a flawed statement, though very eloquently put, such as this:

    “It is to lodge one’s body in a deeply flawed system as part of a larger commitment to developing a world we all might be better able to live in.”

    We must do for ourselves the major work needed in order for our participation in the “flawed system” can have any effect .

  12. Maurice Clark on November 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I tend to agree with Kwame on this issue…voting can and should be used as a secret weapon. The problem with voting and particular in regards to the African in America agenda, is that we are not mobilized to act out and accurately purport what that agenda may be…the grave concern of our time is as Malcolm attempted to make foremost in the consciousness of Blacks is that we must understand “OUR” need, which cannot be reduced on an individual basis. Individualism is the greatest enemy to Black progress in America, and it is sad to say it is a disease we easily attract, under the guise of a newly found freedom. Voting, was understood by are ancestry as a collective weapon and not a single isolated act. I cannot encourage a flawed statement, though very eloquently put, such as this:

    “It is to lodge one’s body in a deeply flawed system as part of a larger commitment to developing a world we all might be better able to live in.”

    We must do for ourselves the major work needed in order for our participation in the “flawed system” can have any effect .

  13. M.M. on November 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Am horrified to read this from the Feminist Wire.

    The vast majority of people not voting aren’t not-voting because they think its radical politics not to vote when the system is broken.

    They’re not voting because one of the people on the ballot is a war criminal and should be tried at the Hague. He’s the one that won the election. Under him, a new Jim Crow is alive and being entrenched. Troy Davis was executed in his tenure. The war-on-women and working class families is alive and well with him in office. The other one promises to instruct even worse war crimes.

    People aren’t voting to be radical. They’re not voting just to stay sane, to not be complicit in war crimes and severe oppression at home.

    When you make statements like this, “We do not need to agree with everything a political candidate espouses to cast a vote in her favor,” without spelling out in your argument that in this specific instance, either candidate you end up voting for will instruct slaughter on other societies in the name of empire, and in the name of American citizens, your argument becomes … horrifically negligent.

    What can you say after writing something like this to the numerous Iraqi women forced into sex-work services to American invasion forces just to put food on the table, or to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi mothers who watched 500,000 children die under US sanctions, a legacy that the elected president continues to erase, and one that he extends through policies that instigate more blood lust and violence, the consequences of which as you know fall heaviest on women?

    I’m without words.

  14. M.M. on November 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Am horrified to read this from the Feminist Wire.

    The vast majority of people not voting aren’t not-voting because they think its radical politics not to vote when the system is broken.

    They’re not voting because one of the people on the ballot is a war criminal and should be tried at the Hague. He’s the one that won the election. Under him, a new Jim Crow is alive and being entrenched. Troy Davis was executed in his tenure. The war-on-women and working class families is alive and well with him in office. The other one promises to instruct even worse war crimes.

    People aren’t voting to be radical. They’re not voting just to stay sane, to not be complicit in war crimes and severe oppression at home.

    When you make statements like this, “We do not need to agree with everything a political candidate espouses to cast a vote in her favor,” without spelling out in your argument that in this specific instance, either candidate you end up voting for will instruct slaughter on other societies in the name of empire, and in the name of American citizens, your argument becomes … horrifically negligent.

    What can you say after writing something like this to the numerous Iraqi women forced into sex-work services to American invasion forces just to put food on the table, or to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi mothers who watched 500,000 children die under US sanctions, a legacy that the elected president continues to erase, and one that he extends through policies that instigate more blood lust and violence, the consequences of which as you know fall heaviest on women?

    I’m without words.

  15. M.M. on November 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Am horrified to read this from the Feminist Wire.

    The vast majority of people not voting aren’t not-voting because they think its radical politics not to vote when the system is broken.

    They’re not voting because one of the people on the ballot is a war criminal and should be tried at the Hague. He’s the one that won the election. Under him, a new Jim Crow is alive and being entrenched. Troy Davis was executed in his tenure. The war-on-women and working class families is alive and well with him in office. The other one promises to instruct even worse war crimes.

    People aren’t voting to be radical. They’re not voting just to stay sane, to not be complicit in war crimes and severe oppression at home.

    When you make statements like this, “We do not need to agree with everything a political candidate espouses to cast a vote in her favor,” without spelling out in your argument that in this specific instance, either candidate you end up voting for will instruct slaughter on other societies in the name of empire, and in the name of American citizens, your argument becomes … horrifically negligent.

    What can you say after writing something like this to the numerous Iraqi women forced into sex-work services to American invasion forces just to put food on the table, or to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi mothers who watched 500,000 children die under US sanctions, a legacy that the elected president continues to erase, and one that he extends through policies that instigate more blood lust and violence, the consequences of which as you know fall heaviest on women?

    I’m without words.

  16. M.M. on November 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Am horrified to read this from the Feminist Wire.

    The vast majority of people not voting aren’t not-voting because they think its radical politics not to vote when the system is broken.

    They’re not voting because one of the people on the ballot is a war criminal and should be tried at the Hague. He’s the one that won the election. Under him, a new Jim Crow is alive and being entrenched. Troy Davis was executed in his tenure. The war-on-women and working class families is alive and well with him in office. The other one promises to instruct even worse war crimes.

    People aren’t voting to be radical. They’re not voting just to stay sane, to not be complicit in war crimes and severe oppression at home.

    When you make statements like this, “We do not need to agree with everything a political candidate espouses to cast a vote in her favor,” without spelling out in your argument that in this specific instance, either candidate you end up voting for will instruct slaughter on other societies in the name of empire, and in the name of American citizens, your argument becomes … horrifically negligent.

    What can you say after writing something like this to the numerous Iraqi women forced into sex-work services to American invasion forces just to put food on the table, or to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi mothers who watched 500,000 children die under US sanctions, a legacy that the elected president continues to erase, and one that he extends through policies that instigate more blood lust and violence, the consequences of which as you know fall heaviest on women?

    I’m without words.

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