Voting Isn’t Enough

But it Better Be Your Bare Minimum If You Live in a Swing State

I recently took a job doing electoral work in my city, Philadelphia. It’s not my first time knocking on doors and talking to voters, but it is the first time I’ll be getting paid to work on a long-term campaign that organizes volunteers and reaches out to unlikely and unregistered voters all year long. Doing campaign work as a commie has got me thinking about why some people on the Left choose not to vote. They commonly say that voting legitimizes a profoundly racist and violent system, that the two parties are beholden to lobbyists and billionaires, and that the Democrat Party expects the votes of working class and minority voters but rarely delivers on its promises to them. They’re not wrong. But I think we should vote anyway.

Especially in Pennsylvania.

Trump stands in a crowd full of white people. One of them holds a sign that reads, "Thank you Lord jesus for President Trump."

For me it comes down to this: there are too many people I care about (myself included) who would suffer a loss of civil rights and an increased risk of violence if the fascists were to gain more power. I think of my friends’ kids and the world they will inherit, how a few electoral victories for Trump supporters is all it would take to roll back the few environmental and labor protections we do have.  Trump supporters are not the majority, but they are well-organized. They are hungry for a dictator and will enthusiastically throw their money and votes behind a charismatic strongman. A quarter of Republicans believe that the Qanon conspiracy is true. The vast majority of Republicans believe Whites face as much descrimination as Blacks. Conservative think tanks have already written and dispersed their policy recommendations at every level of government: they are just waiting to get elected to turn them into law. 

As of now, the best tool we have to prevent fascists from gaining more power is to vote. The Left does not have the resources, infrastructure, or anything approaching a coherent message that could bind together a mass social movement. We are atomized and fixated on purity, debating each other to death online while trying to have the hottest take. We are focusing ever more inward. Meanwhile the Republicans have built a big tent full of Christian dominionists, white supremacists, libertarians, and conspiracy theorists. I spent twenty-five years seeking out a leftist mass movement or organization to belong to – a political home from which to organize and engage in struggle for the long term. Believe me when I say I want such a movement to emerge and I grieve its non-existence.

Living in a swing state means that I cannot take living in a big blue city that embraces diversity and bodily autonomy for granted. I cannot just assume that other people will vote and everything will be fine. 76% of Philadelphia voters are registered Democrats, but that number starts dropping in the surrounding counties and then plummets everywhere else in the state until you get to Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania’s four million registered Democrats have a high voter turnout in presidential elections, but that declines significantly in the midterms – when the governor and a bunch of state and federal reps are elected. Because of this it is easy for conservatives to win elections in Pennsylvania. It also makes it easier to hand an electoral college victory to an unpopularly-elected presidential candidate. If anyone asks why the minimum wage in Pennsylvania is still $7.25/hour and Philadelphia is legally barred from raising its own minimum wage, they can look directly at the Republican majority in the PA State General Assembly standing in the way. It does not take a political science major to imagine why they don’t want a majority black city to have that power. And of course Pennsylvania Republicans are advancing a constitutional amendment to restrict abortion access. When fascists and their sympathizers stick together, they really get a lot done.

As of early September, we are nine weeks away from the 2022 general election. The Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, is a proud Christian nationalist, Qanon supporter, and a leader in the attempt to overthrow Pennsylvania’s election results in 2020. He was at the January 6th insurrection. His Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, is a basic Democrat, but what makes me want to vote for him is that he exposed the massive cover-up of pedophile Catholic priests in Pennsylvania when he was the state Attorney General. Pennsylvania will also be electing a new US Senator. The Democratic candidate, Lt. Governor John Fetterman, is a progressive Democrat who is pro-choice and anti-filibuster – a significant departure from the Trump-endorsed GOP candidate, Dr. Oz. Neither Josh Shapiro or John Fetterman are going to deliver us from the evils capitalism, climate change, or fascism. We still have to fight. But if you care at all about protecting reproductive freedom in PA, preventing a Christian nationalist from becoming the governor, or having another US senator that believes in science, I encourage you to take an hour out of your time to vote on November 8th (or thirty seconds via mail-in ballot). And then let’s think about how to build the movement we need.

We Need Radical Self-Love for This Fight