Take Freedom. Burn the Ballot Box.
November 6, 2018, Election Day. Many people were, all over the country, engaged with urgency about the vote. Pics were posted of people or their children or their dogs graced in “I voted” stickers. “Black Votes Matter” was plastered across scores of pages. People wore tees for the candidates who could represent for them the future they want; unfortunately, I don’t believe that even one of those candidates will actually help to usher in that desired future.
Now, it’s not that I don’t believe any of them want to help; I do. I believe that many candidates want and may even intend to create a better future for us all. And for some, “all” even includes “Blacks.” This inclusion is significant because “all,” for these “some,” is not the all referenced in the U.S. Constitution that said “all men are created equal,” but absolutely didn’t mean Black men, who were at the moment of its composition enslaved; nor did “all” include indigenous men, who were at that moment being reserved out of sight; nor did “all” include women at any level of society, who of course are not men; and certainly “all” did not include any women who were not attached to white men which, legally, only visibly white women could be. Again, for these “many,” all is more than the all that is referenced in the Pledge of Allegiance which is particular about who should be on the receiving end of liberty and justice, even if that particularity is unspoken.
Yes, I acknowledge that for many of Election Day’s candidates, the “all” envisioned in the desired better future includes those of us whom this ‘Great Nation’s’ founding documents didn’t recognize. In this case, “all” includes the people whose children are gunned down by its officials; or caged; or forcibly taken from their families; or reeducated; as well as the people whose women are raped by its contractors; or raped as undocumented contractors; or raped as dark exotics; and whose men are also politically and socially castrated and targeted to be incarcerated. The “all” of these candidates includes the all that is left out in “all lives matter.” But I didn’t vote for any of those inclusive hopefuls. I didn’t vote at all.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.”
What does freedom look like? For many, freedom is only perceived in the context of capitalism, and so freedom is jobs. Education that will help us get jobs. Jobs so we don’t commit the crimes of poverty. Jobs that will provide social security. “A job for everyone,” I hear people say. Who is it that has so many people foaming at the mouths for jobs? From my estimation it seems to be the solution that almost every politician offers. But who supplies us our so-called ‘viable’ political candidates if not the job creators who make money off of the labor of those of us who are citizens, and also those of us who are not. For example, there are the job creators of the fossil fuel industry and there are the job creators of the prison industry. There are the job creators of the coal industry who, in spite of the impact on the lungs of its job receivers, still has many people fighting to keep that industry going — all for their dangerous, killer jobs!
Furthermore, there are the job creators of the college industrial complex; of the city infrastructure industry; of the war industry; of the auto industry, of the exploding non-profit industrial complex. Those who control these complexes are all working to convince the people with great success that jobs are the point, and that jobs are freedom.
When I hear “a job for everyone” what I hear is, “Let’s secure freedom for everyone by enslaving everyone.” I hear this because I know that jobs are not a source of freedom, but instead a source of access. Jobs are a way that we sell our labor, that we rent ourselves out for access to food and shelter at the very least; but as soon as we get that, we add to it some socially approved self-esteem in the form of name brands and tailor-made suits. This access is made possible through money, a purely human construct of ‘nothing’ commodified into ‘something’ through centuries of deliberate social engineering that is controlled by the very individuals who have stolen land and space from what is truly “we the people.” These individuals are forcing us to work that land and space in order to survive, giving just enough of us the extra commodities which are ultimately designed to prevent us from uniting with those who aren’t needed to keep the machine going — those for whom there are no jobs.
“It is our duty to win.”
But what are we attempting to win? Elections that will replace someone who despises huge segments of the population with someone who is from those disenfranchised social segments, only so that we can imagine that we could get a better deal if the system would just enable our new representing officials to secure it for us?
There is a chant that we say on the streets: “No good cops in a racist system.” I believe that. I also believe that there is no freedom in the hands of our politicians. Improvements, yes. But for me, improvement is insufficient because the goal is liberation. As Manning Marable states in How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America:
There is something essentially absurd about a Negro politician in a racist/capitalist America. The political apparatus was designed originally to exclude him/her. The rhetoric of the system is democratic, almost egalitarian: the practices are bluntly discriminatory. Any state cannot exist in and of itself; it rests upon the material base of a particular productive process, and in the last analysis, acts decisively to protect the propertied and partied classes of that society. The Black majority has no real structural power, other than the productive capacity of its own hands. The Black elite retain the illusion of power, but are invested with little authority in its own right. The Black politician is locked in a world of meaningless symbols which perpetuate the hegemony of the white ruling class but that are not in themselves sufficient to maintain legitimacy. The Black elected official is essentially a vicar for a higher authority, a necessary buffer between the Black majority and the capitalist state, a kind of modern voo-doo priest, smelling of incense, pomp and pedigree, who promises much but delivers nothing.
This machine, with its the different levels of fascist governmental authority, runs hot. I’ve noticed that the closer a well-intentioned candidate turned government official gets to the ‘true’ source of this socially-engineered ‘power,’ the more that their integrity and best intentions are burned off and utterly compromised. To move far forward in that space, you have to first access and then fully embody their protections. I’ve also noticed that those who give access to these protections and to the ‘power’ absolutely do not give it without that essential compromise. Additionally, the compromise isn’t small. Nor is it reversible. What must be compromised is the core of one’s integrity, seared in the intentionally intense heat, floating off in ashes, so that the only thing left for one to save is themselves.
‘People died for our right to vote;’ that is the refrain and I have expressed it. In fact, I expressed it on National Television on the CNN show New Day during the primary season in April 2016, when I was campaigning for my candidate of choice. Two years later, after touring the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, I spoke to a room of college students during the opening ceremonies of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama which honored victims of lynching. I cried. I realized that those people whose legacy we were reading and whose images we were viewing did not lose their homes and withstand the attacks of billy clubs, police dogs, and water hoses simply so we could vote. They were fighting for our freedom and a social vehicle through which they believed it could be won. They were not putting their lives on the line for us to get stuck in that approach even after time demonstrated that it was not the resource that they hoped it would be. It is not by voting that I believe we honor their sacrifices, but by snatching back into our possession by any means necessary the freedom that is our birthright.
Voting will not secure our liberation.
Can voting be a tool, part of a larger strategy to secure our freedom? I believe in that possibility. But it isn’t one being explored. No, people are fighting for our liberation fully through electoral politics as if we don’t have hundreds of years of evidence to teach us that is not the way. These elections are so heavily gerrymandered and socially engineered that any win has ultimately been allowed. Nothing that is allowed within this system has any chance of transforming it. It is very satisfied with itself, and will not empower change. Nevertheless, people are behaving as if their desired candidates winning is the actual means to a liberation’s end.
I love those in my community who are fighting for true representation from the level of electoral politics. I love and support many of them personally. I also respect their efforts as I once did that same work! But now, I’m beginning to consider the need to organize directly against the mobilization of Black votes and, more specifically, against the training and development of our on-fire young people into the mechanisms of electoral political engagement as a form of fighting for Black lives. So much genius is being wasted on this unproductive activity, and so many people are being misled. If electoral politics could save us, why was Trayvon Martin run down and murdered by a civilian, and why is that civilian roaming free and getting rich off of his act of murder? How could this happen, when Trayvon could have been the son of the sitting President of the United States of America at that time? How many of us have been murdered since Trayvon? How many of them who performed those murders have walked free? What will happen to Jemel Roberson’s murderer? Whose name could I add to this tomorrow?
We recognize that these killers are free because they were performing a dutiful action on behalf of the state, and yet we still think that raising through the ranks of this same system is the way to save us. My god.
I can’t help but wonder: What kind of progress would we be making if all that fervent energy was being applied to actual liberation work instead of being complicit with the obviously corrupt system? What if we were not working to get a better police commissioner or establish community control of the counter insurgency officers that are called police, but to establish our own community-oriented peace-keeping and justice force with a headquarters and a number that people could go to or call when there is an issue that needs culturally-appropriate mediation or intervention? What if, instead of fighting for the wretched prison pipeline facilities called ‘schools’ in our urban cities to be finally funded and improved, we were developing our own educational systems and processes based on the cultural needs and truths of our communities and children? What if we refrained from advocating for better markets with healthier food options in our poorer neighborhoods, and instead grew that food, distributing it ourselves? What if we stopped talking about how colonialism is wrong and began partnering with indigenous people to return the governance of this land to them? What if we also stopped simply talking about how war and imperialism is also wrong and established a peaceful alternative in our institutions for our young to prevent them from enlisting in the governmental killing forces?
As a girl, my mother would go to great lengths to find my sister and me dolls that had black features; not just white dolls that were colored brown. Similarly, I’m eager for us to build our community the Black way and to stop doing white supremacy in blackface. Self-determination in our community has begun to be understood as Black people simply being allowed to play and be present in all levels in this system — even though this system will never not oppress us in one way or another.
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
These words are spoken around the world, the words of Assata Shakur, now a beloved chant. Our beloved sister also said:
Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.
Freedom is taken. Freedom is won. It is not elected.
I know there are so many individuals who inspire us with their candidacy. These individuals, with their plans, their histories, their intentions, their affective organizing, their fighting spirits, and their ability to mobilize represent the (false) possibility that we can finally have hope and achieve change. But I urge especially those from our vulnerable, oppressed communities who put in 60 and 70 hours a week on these campaigns to at the least expand their priorities and commit the majority of their important organizing time and skills to the building of a social system that will honor and care for us regardless of who we (s)elect to manage the governance of that system on our behalf. Certainly, expect continued non-participation from those of us who have come to perceive that, as it relates to liberation, GOTV efforts can at the best make things good for a few of us, and make things better for some of us, but for the most of us, it will just make the terrible less bad or less obvious. We will not join you until you strategically connect your work to ours to gain freedom and justice for the whole of us.
When we realize that self-determination is stepping completely out of this paradigm and creating a new one that is built based on what will establish a long-standing, healthy, empowered, creative, and inspired community that is centered on the truth of who and what we are — a communal people who are built at our core in direct conflict with the individualism and predatory nature of capitalism — then we are beginning true liberation work. When electoral politics is utilized as only one tool in a larger scheme of establishing that self-determined community — a mere device in a larger liberation strategy — that is when we will begin the process of actually using elections to create true social change, a piece of the process of losing our chains. And that is when I will again bother to vote.
Until then: Fuck voting.