To The People Telling Us To “VOTE.”
To the men who are my peers and colleagues (and plenty of other people in my spaces):
I’ve seen a lot of “VOTE.” lately, especially since RBG died. While I’m excited you’re all (theoretically) taking your civic duty seriously, I also know that for some of you, this is what constitutes activism. For some of you, this is how you check that little mental box of being a good feminist or an activist or someone who’s doing the work.
I’ve seen a lot of “VOTE.” lately, and it’s easy to understand why. When you’re used to the system working in your favor, when you’re used to your requests being granted, it’s easy to assume the best way you can help the people around you is to reach upward and ask. But if that’s how you think the marginalized get rights in this country, by asking politely and waiting for the system to work, you might want to go refresh yourself on some history. Go back and look at how suffragettes and Civil Rights leaders and rioters at Stonewall were treated at the time. Go back and see how reluctant everyone was to give up power.
I’ve seen a lot of “VOTE.” lately, but “VOTE.” doesn’t help the lives that will be at risk between now and November or now and January. “VOTE.” doesn’t make sure the people in your networks who are barely scraping by in a pandemic have food to eat. “VOTE.” doesn’t make sure the educational institutions you hold tenure at will actually prepare your students to fight oppression in their fields, and “VOTE.” damn well doesn’t protect your marginalized students or make them feel safe in your care. “VOTE.” doesn’t erase the years you’ve spent sitting idly by, claiming to listen to your most vulnerable students and friends while doing nothing to make them any less so. Your “VOTE.” doesn’t lessen that harm.
You know what your “VOTE.” does? The bare minimum. Because if you are privileged enough to “VOTE.” on your comfort without worrying about your rights, or on others’ rights without risking your own, your “VOTE.” only proves you’d deign to lift a single finger, to sacrifice part of a single day, to help the people around you who have less. Your “VOTE.” acts as though you can in a single day undo what has been enshrined into law, culture, and practice for years. Decades. Centuries. Your “VOTE.” has value, but that currency starts and stops in politics. It does not extend to your communities, your schools, your professions. It does not mark you as a good person or an ally. (Most of the men who have most negatively impacted my life think they are allies. Some claim to be proud of me, as if they have the right to any part of my success.)
Your “VOTE.” does not redesign your curriculum to include marginalized identities, a feat which my jazz professors told me was complicated but certainly could have been manually implemented in the five intervening years. Your “VOTE.” does not provide masks to community members in need, free of charge, like my mom does. Your “VOTE.” does not speak up in board meetings when others are misgendered. Your campaign donations do not fill bail funds. Your vaguely political Facebook post every six months does not help those who have so little social and financial capital that all they can do is get very, very good at talking about their oppression in the hope that someone with more privilege than just a “VOTE.” will decide to do something more than step into a ballot box on November 3rd.
Don’t tell me to fucking “VOTE.” when me voting won’t fix you.
Because like it or not, a “VOTE.” is not a guarantee. So if you’re going to play activist, you better start making plans for what you’re doing after that.
And some of them better not depend on who wins.
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for RBG. may her memory be a blessing.