This Election Is Not A Morality Contest. It’s the Opening Move in A Game of Chess.

Voting used to be easy. In 2004, fresh off to college and barely 18, I stayed up late with my friends in Boston’s Copley Square and watched as John Kerry, the candidate we’d supported unanimously, conceded the race.

In ’08, I stood with an Obama sign outside of a Hillary rally, determined not to let our country oscillate from one dynasty to the next.

And in ’12, frustrated by the failed promise of Obama’s administration, I cast my protest vote for Gary Johnson in a safely Democratic state.

But this year, there are no good options. Even Bernie Sanders — whom I voted for in the primary — was a little too old and white for my liking.

For months, I’ve been undecided, wavering between the appeal of a third party candidacy and the sobering reality of a Trump/Clinton race.

Sanctimonious screeds from know-it-all liberals push me toward Stein; the burn-it-all attitude of some leftists have me leaning toward Clinton.

As Phil Ochs put it satirically in 1965, “I read New Republic and Nation/I’ve learned to take every view.” Fifty years later, not much has changed.

“Vote third party,” my friends tell me. But what third party?

Gary “Uber Everything” Johnson, who isn’t worried about climate change because the sun will eventually burn us up anyway?

Jill Stein, a medical doctor, who thinks wi-fi is dangerous and courts the support of anti-vaxxers the way Trump courts racists?

Come on, people. If you want me to vote for a third party candidate, run someone with actual political experience and a legitimate platform.

The Greens simply do not have a functional political strategy. While they’re the only party that explicitly endorses a basic income (a cause that’s near to my heart), they’re all talk and no substance.

Contrast that with the Working Families Party — the only viable progressive third party in America — which has successfully run candidates in state-level races and has pushed Democrats (especially in NY) hard to the left.

After endorsing Bernie Sanders in the primary, they’ve shifted focus to offer a lukewarm endorsement of Clinton. They plan to “hold Secretary Clinton accountable to the promises she made in 2016 by continuing to organize in 2017. We cannot rely on any single candidate to deliver the change we seek, but we can build the power that turns promises into policy.”

(Here’s a neat hack if you want to vote for Clinton and vote third party: in Oregon, New York, and Connecticut, you can vote for her on the WFP ballot line. That way you can thumb your nose at the Democratic party without having to justify voting for a Green or Libertarian crackpot.)

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Ultimately, the most persuasive article I’ve read about this election is this one written by Democracy Spring:

Strategic voting and participation in elections, no matter how compromised or corrupt, is in almost every conceivable circumstance an absolutely necessary means of shaping the political terrain on which our movements fight. Voting for candidates who position themselves more closely to our movement’s demands will not by itself deliver any fundamental change, but electing them lowers the bar for the social force we must then generate to win.”

This election is not a morality contest.

It’s not a referendum on the trustworthiness, authenticity, or desirability of any two (or more) candidates.

It’s not a statement of your own goodness as a person, or a reflection of your identity or values.

Each election is simply the opening move in a four-year-chess game. It’s about setting up the game board so that we can win.

We get to choose whether we spend the next four years fighting on home turf or on enemy territory.

No matter how much further to the left you are than Clinton, how much you despise or mistrust her, we have one thing going for us that citizens of many countries do not: we get to choose our political adversary.

We get to set the difficulty level of this game. We can either face the most unpredictable, unstable boss in American electoral history, or one who has spent the last 20 years shifting slowly but steadily toward the left.

A strategic vote for Clinton is not an endorsement of her policies. It says nothing about whether you like or dislike her.

As Democracy Spring puts it,

“By voting for Clinton, we are not choosing a friend, a leader, or a champion of our values. We are choosing the better option among two possible political battlefields. Further, in advocating a strategic vote for Clinton, we are not endorsing her record, campaign, character, or corporate allies.”

Bernie Sanders, too, has issued a qualified endorsement:

“I’m not going to sit here and say to you that Hillary Clinton is going to be great on all these issues with absolute confidence…. [W]e’ve got to push her, and the day after the election, we will mobilize millions of people to make sure that we make her the most progressive president that she can be.”

Like Bernie, I’m not with Hillary. I’m against her.

But I’d rather spend the next four years working against her administration than against anyone else currently on the ballot.

This isn’t the time for protest votes. It’s time to vote, and then protest.

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If you haven’t yet, register to vote here. Learn more about the Working Families Party, and the other candidates they’ve endorsed, here.