To Vote Or Not To Vote?

It must suck to live in a swing state right about now.

There are, in fact, people in this country who exercise their right to choose NOT to vote. My mother is one of them. It drives me batty that she doesn’t, but she chooses not to encourage the system. Small form of personal protest, and all that. There are indeed people who protest the system by not being a part of it – or, at least, by not engaging in the voting part. There are other excuses, “my vote is just one vote, so it won’t make any difference,” and “they’re all the same candidate anyway – bunch of lying bastards.”

These are all somewhat true things.

The system sucks. I hate it. I want a variety of candidates. I’m tired of having to choose between rich white Old Boys, because that’s not much of a choice at all.

What’s not often known is that there were at least two major camps of suffragists coming out of 1848 and moving into 1920. There were the radicals like Elizabeth Cady Stanton who were talking about universal childcare, free love, critizing the system of marriage (when she got married, she insisted that the word “obey” be dropped from the vows), and even created a “Woman’s Bible”.

Then there were the conservatives: the Susan B. Anthony type (which is why you hear more about Susan B. than Elizabeth – she and Sue were best friends, but Susan had to basically banish Liz from the movement because she was seen as being a “divider.” Her later-year treatise about revolutionizing motherhood and womanhood were freaking out women who were quite proud and happy to stay at home and mind their husbands as per the men’s version of the Bible, thank you very much). Sue ended up being more focused than Liz: in the end, she put all of her eggs in the voting basket, and campaigned for that as Liz got increasingly unpopular among conservative women.

Revolutionizing the system would have meant that radical, liberal, and conservative women would all have needed to come together and fight for a revolution: instead, the only thing the bulk of women could agree on was that if “ignorant black men” had the right to vote, *they* should have the vote too (oh yea. It was totally couched in racist language – likely because Sue was pissed at the audacity of those organizing for black men’s suffrage continuing to exclude women’s suffrage from the fight. As I recall, Sue and some of her more conservative contemporaries were also incredibly leery about allowing *black women* to join the women’s suffrage movement; which is a great fuckup, and assists in making sense of the race division of the women’s movement today).

And, of course, there was the upheaval in the 1930s caused by the Great Depression, which was likely the time in our history when the US has come the closest to switching over to socialism or marxism. The depression was seen as the “death throes of capitalism,” and if Roosevelt hadn’t coaxed America through it, I might have free healthcare right now. I wouldn’t be making as much money (it’d all be taxed), but the public restrooms would be clean and there wouldn’t be as many people hacking their lungs out on the train (this isn’t an anti-Roosevelt rant. I have a deep respect for any guy that gets elected to three terms and whose character and presidency were so well liked that we had to pass the 22nd amendment to limit a president to 2 terms; he also managed to keep his country intact and running when the whole world was going to hell. I have a deep respect for Castro for similiar reasons). Instead of bloody revolution, we got more public works projects; a lot of dams, clean-up of some really backwards poor places, and – as I recall – some better railroads. We also got Timberline Lodge. How cool is that?

But we kept our electoral college. And as elections moved into the television age, it became increasingly important to be a rich, telegenic candidate (Roosevelt was no pauper, of course, but he also spent most of his time in a wheelchair – I don’t know how that’d go over in the 80s).

In any case, our presidential voting system has more-or-less operated the same way for 200 years (election law changed in 1800 – electors were supposed to cast votes for both president and vice president, without saying which was which, so the person with the most votes was president, and the second most votes was VP. Jefferson and Burr were… tied). There have been some twitches (there’s the potential for “rogue” electors, too), but we’ve stuck with the “may the richest man win” philosophy, and unlike the French, we don’t change our constitution every five minutes, so we’ve become a conservative morass of pointing fingers that seems to be more interested in barring same-sex couples from signing legal agreements and penalizing women for allowing themselves to get pregnant (as women are wont to do).

Knowing all this stuff, I understand why people exercise their right not to vote. I can see all the bloody frustration, the being-pissed-off at a system that doesn’t include you and doesn’t want to talk to you. Not voting is the anarchist’s “fuck you” to American government.

And it really makes conservatives happy.

My big question is this: should Liz have just withdrawn from politics all together? Knowing she was being shunned by conservative women, knowing it was a far stretch of the imagination to get all women on board to revamp divorce and marriage laws and put domestic abuse laws into place for women, should she just have stopped talking? Why fight for the vote when you’re not going to revolutionize the system?

Perhaps it was best said by one of the suffragists who campaigned in the years leading up to the 1920 vote. She said something to this effect, “We were so excited to get the vote. We really thought it was going to change everything. Everything was going to be different…. but, really, it didn’t change things as much as we hoped.”

I have a vote. Have I changed the system with it?

There are some things I can help change, sure. I can vote democrat and protect abortion rights and protest against warmongering. On a purely selfish note, I’d like to be able to travel overseas again without knowing I’ve got a president who’s a fucking idiot acting as the Face of America.

But the really big stuff? The universal health care? The civil rights? That stuff has to be done from the ground, because the Old Boys aren’t listening. A president’s going to lead from the middle. It takes a strong backbone to pull a Lyndon Johnson, who said, after he’d signed The Civil Rights Act, Johnson said “I think we’ve delivered the South to the Republican party for your lifetime and mine.”

And he signed the damned thing anyway (I could add other reasons Johnson signed this bill that have nothing to do with taking a moral stand [particularly his personal campaign against the KKK, which he believed was beginning to threaten the US government] but I’m going to go with the really nice moral integrity idea, because it’s just so pretty. Let me have some hope for good in the world).

To vote or not to vote.

That is the question.

My personal mantra?

When in doubt: vote.

You can always piss on a politician later.

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