Vote Like Your Family Depends on It. A Lot of Ours Do

just-fucking-vote.jpg Voters In California Head To Polls To Cast Ballots In State's Primary Election - Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
just-fucking-vote.jpg Voters In California Head To Polls To Cast Ballots In State's Primary Election - Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

There are a lot of good reasons not to vote: skepticism (what difference does one vote make, after all), despair, apathy, rage. Maybe a sense that there’s not a big enough difference between the two major parties, or that a more fundamental change is needed if there’s to be any hope for humanity. Maybe voting just seems… pointless.

I get these concerns. I often feel despair about the direction in which our country is re-embracing white, Christian ethno-nationalism, with its valorization of anger, white grievance, and ignorance. And how so much of the country has abandoned fundamental values of science, truth, and rationality. I literally cannot believe that voters are going to put these people in power, especially because of bogus beliefs about crime (which is down) and inflation (which is lower here than in most other countries, and which is driven by corporate price gouging).

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It’s also personal for me. In addition to my work as a journalist, I’m a rabbi and meditation teacher. I’ve worked with people who aren’t just somewhat anxious or sad about the state of the world, but who are really, profoundly hurting. Many people personally in danger: women, trans people, people of color, immigrants, and others. In fact, the Republicans have moved the goalposts so far to the right lately, even I’m in personal danger again, as a married gay guy with a daughter whose family may soon be rendered legally invalid.

So I get it.  And yet, here are five reasons why you really have to fucking vote.

1.         Despair is a One-Way Ticket to Hell

Let me start with acknowledging that all those feelings are entirely justified. Women are in danger as never before. We’ve lived through the pandemic, and the attempted coup, and the spiraling economy, and nightmarish white responses to racial justice movements – and we’re living in the shadow of climate catastrophe and an Orwellian nightmare.

But despair is not your friend, it is not your Depression Kitty, it is toxic. So you need to do something, if only for your own sake. Of course, voting is only one of many ways to have efficacy – it pairs well with direct action in solidarity with vulnerable populations, or giving people rides to the polls, or direct activism of various kinds. But it is kind of the baseline.

Voting is part of picking yourself up out of the emotional gutter. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently said, “there are days when I get discouraged. There are moments where I am deeply, deeply disappointed. And yes, there have been moments where I have stopped and said: ‘Is this worth it anymore?’ And every time I do that, I lick my wounds for a while, sometimes I cry. And then I say, ‘OK. Let’s fight.’”

Fighting feels good, even if it’s a losing fight. It can actually be joyful, especially with friends of if you share it on social media.  Even if the bastards may win this round, I’ll be damned if I didn’t do my part to stop them.  You can do your part too.

2.         One Vote Isn’t Just One Vote

Okay, you might say, but how much can one vote matter anyway?

The answer is, it’s never just one vote. Voting is social. Like the clothes you wear and the music you like, whether you vote is largely shaped by your community, your friends, your family. So when you vote, and tell your friends about it, you’re likely to influence other people, and that ripples outward.

And we need a cultural change. Republicans discount people 18-30, because they know that that segment of the population votes less than any other. So, they cater to their older, whiter, more close-minded base, restricting women’s rights, denying trans identity, refusing to acknowledge systemic racism, and pining for days gone by (which were better for whom, exactly?).

That has to change on a collective level, but the only way that happens is if enough individuals vote, and vote publicly, to shift perceptions. By voting and telling people about it, you make voting part of what people-like-you do. It gains social status. So your one vote isn’t just one vote, because it influences other people to vote also. And that really does shift elections. (Check out Voters of Tomorrow, one of many groups doing this work with Gen Z in particular.)

3.         You Not Voting is What the Assholes Want

If avoiding despair isn’t enough motivation for you, try revenge.

If you’re under 30, or non-white, or queer, or an immigrant, congratulations: you’re one of the people the Republican Party is working really hard to prevent from voting – as well as you know, lying about your identity, denying your history, rolling back your rights, and empowering the white Christian nationalists who want to turn back the clock (as they’ve already done).

So fuck these people.   Fuck their lies about ‘wokeness’, their tax cuts for the 1%, their abortion bans, their election lies, their racist voter suppression schemes, their Don’t Say Gay laws, their know-nothing ignorance when it comes to climate change, Covid, evolution, or any kind of scientific information that disturbs them.

Vote your vindictiveness. You’ll feel good about it afterwards, and you might help save the world.

4.         Please Save the World

Which reminds me – please save the world?

This election is different from most because it is, in part, a referendum on the new Republican party, the one committed to Trumpist nationalism, to the racism-denying ‘1776 Project,’ to a stolen Supreme Court, and, above all, to the Big Lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent. As Larry David just put it, “you’ve got two political parties in America right now: the Democrats and the nuts.”

Now, I’ll be honest: I’ve never liked the Republicans. I opposed their wars in 1990 and 2002. I hate their love affair with fossil-fuel companies. And as a gay man, I remember quite well that just about every one of them voted to deny me the right to get married, because I was around when they did it, and protesting then too.

But this is different. These election-denying, conspiracy-theory-mongering wackos are taking aim at democracy itself. And they could well win. If they take the House this year, they’re going to impeach President Biden and possibly Attorney General Garland as well. If they take the Senate too, they’re going to pass a national abortion ban. And if they take the presidency in 2024, all bets are off. There are serious, non-bullshit plans for a new constitutional convention to make America officially a Christian nation. That’s real, actual fascism, homegrown and served on white bread with mayo.

Our country really is at a precipice. I know people say this a lot, but again, as a relatively old person, I can say that this is a more terrifying time than after 9/11 or 2008. One-third of the country lives in a parallel media universe where freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. This isn’t a simulation.

5.         But Suffering is Real

Finally, there’s a popular meme going around urging you to “vote as if your skin is not white… your spouse is an immigrant… your sister is a victim of gun violence,” and so on. There’s a lot to that. There are millions of people who are being harmed by Republican policies right now, and if you’re not one of them, good for you, you’re privileged, and you have a responsibility to help.

Is there really a difference between the two major parties?  Yes.

Guns. Democrats want background checks and age restrictions, Republican officials oppose them; they blame mass shootings on mental health, or on people not being religious enough.

Abortion. Democrats are pro-choice, Republicans are almost all anti-abortion rights and have now enabled the government to control women’s bodies in several states.

Race. In Congress, non-white members are 83% Democratic, 17% Republican. But it’s not just a matter of representation. In response to Black Lives Matter, Republican politicians demonized the movement, now running on ‘law and order’ and ‘back the blue,’ and misleading the public on crime while denying the reality of systemic racism in our country, opposing affirmative action, and, in many cases, embracing white nationalist extremists among their own supporters.

Voting Rights. House Democrats passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would outlaw voter suppression techniques being used across the country. Republicans filibustered the bill to death in the Senate. In general, Democrats want to make it easier to vote, while Republicans want to make it harder.

Climate. Democrats passed the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history, the Inflation Reduction Act. Almost no Republicans supported it. Climate denial is still routine in the mainstream Republican party.

Immigration. While the Democratic Party’s policies on immigration are hardly progressive, they’re dwarfed by the Republicans’ xenophobic and hysterical lies about “invasions” at the border, immigrant crime, and other non-realities, and the Trump administration’s inhumane policies of child separation and turning away refugees from violence and war. Believe it or not, ‘illegal immigration’ is among the top concerns of Republican voters.

Taxes. Under Trump, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, Republicans have repeatedly slashed taxes for the richest 1% of Americans, starving the government of revenue and leading to most lopsided distribution of wealth in American history.

Minimum Wage. Democrats voted to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour, Republicans stopped it.

LGBTQ. Democrats support trans rights, Republicans oppose them, while lying about ‘groomers’ and kids who identify as cats. Democrats have tried to pass a national ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ to protect marriage equality. Republicans are almost universally opposed.

Conspiracy Theories. Again, like Larry David said, the 2020s Republican Party is just nuts, from QAnon to Anti-Vax nonsense to, most recently, the insane conspiracy theory that Nancy Pelosi’s husband was just attacked by his gay lover (really). Oh, and if the GOP gains control of the House, expect President Biden to be impeached, Attorney General Merrick Garland to be investigated, and Hunter Biden’s laptop to be all over your news feed.

Democracy. Uh, Democrats don’t lie about elections, make up insane stories about mail-in ballots and voting machines, and support violent insurrections. Republicans…

I’m not saying that the Democrats are perfect by any means. They’re a broad coalition of centrists, liberals, and a few leftists  and that is frequently annoying. They miss a lot of opportunities and often fail to connect with voters. But the other party is batshit crazy, hell-bent on turning back the clock on civil rights of all kinds, and in bed with fossil fuel companies.  People may be voting for them because of inflation, crime, and immigration, but what they’re going to get is a truckload of crazy.

At the end of the day, I want to really honor the despair, apathy, disengagement, and non-inspiration that many of us are feeling. But I also want to emphasize that many of us are profoundly unsafe right now. Our communities are being targeted, lied about, and threatened. Our healthcare is being taken away, even criminalized. There’s no “both-sidesing” this election. One party sometimes sucks, but the other party has gone full-on authoritarian, Christian nationalist, and insane.

So if all else fails, think of those of us in danger. Will you please fucking vote now?


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