Progressives Abstaining From Voting are Hurting What They Advocate For
If you really want to see change, you’d fight for every inch of it.
There’s been a lot of buzz recently from progressives about abstaining from voting in an attempt to show if the Democratic Party wants to put forth an establishment corporatist candidate they’ll lose the support of progressives. These progressives like Ryan Knight, have criticisms and qualms with the Democratic Party that are spot on. Though framed in the way of a good intentioned strategy to swing the Democratic Party more left and rid itself of its moderate policies and billionaire/corporation donors more interested in keeping neoliberalism’s status quo, while ignoring the effects of capitalism and climate change, abstaining from voting is only hurting everything we’re advocating for and all the work we’ve done so far.
Abstaining from voting is a purity test likely by those privileged or financially able to stand on their moral high ground without seeing any material consequence of another four years of Donald Trump. Not participating in the voting process isn’t a plan or strategy. There will never be enough non-voters to outweigh those who vote to swing the party more left. Not voting will put those who aren’t privileged or financially anxious directly at more risk. These material consequences are now things you would have to answer for. And no, you don’t get to point the finger up and absolve yourself of all guilt or responsibility when you have the ability to vote in favor of harm reduction. So yes, not voting directly contributes to the increased probability of your fellow Americans suffering.
The way to swing the Democratic Party more left isn’t by abstaining from voting. It’s by mobilizing our activism and spreading it to those who can be pushed more left. If we really want to transform the democratic party to a more progressive and anti corporatist-billionaire-funded party, we don’t do that by not voting. We vote in favor of harm reduction and continue to advocate for the changes we want to see like progressives have been doing for decades. Incrementalism admittedly isn’t ideal, but it’s more effective than doing nothing.
Recently, co-host of political podcast Chapo Trap House, Virgil Texas, joined former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders, Briahna Joy Gray, to discuss a variety of political issues with Noam Chomsky. Though behind a Patreon paywall, clips and Twitter threads about the subject have sparked discussions in the succeeding weeks about ‘vote blue no matter who’ and leftist support and lack of support for Presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Briahna Joy Gray argues incrementalism and ‘voting blue no matter who’ doesn’t address marginalized communities who have been suffering under neoliberalism’s status quo and that voting for the lesser of two evils is only going to make those issues linger. Chomsky argues the lesser of two evils is always going to be the morally better choice, however it doesn’t mean we stop advocating for the progressive change we want to see. Chomsky claims the power of a candidate is not their electability but rather the power of their movement. This is why Chomsky claims Bernie Sanders was successful. Even though Sanders didn’t win the Democratic presidential nomination he was able to energize a record number of younger voters on progressive policies that were demonized just years ago. Chomsky advocates for young voters to carry the momentum of their Sanders-inspired activism well past a Biden presidency.
The mobilization of Sanders-inspired activism happened because of people having these discussions. It happened because people were willing to attempt to change the minds of those around them, not by abstaining from voting until a candidate left enough for our liking decided to come through. It happened because we made calls, went door to door and spoke to family and friends about his platform.
Our problems and concerns are going to be far from addressed just by voting. Things won’t get magically better if we get Trump out of office. Especially for one of the leaders of the administration that contributed to the status quo that got us Trump in the first place.
But look at what we’ve been able to get Biden to swing left on. He’s admitted his crime bill was a mistake and thinks drugs shouldn’t be a criminal offense but rather a rehabilitation issue. Although proposed in 2015, he’s also proposing two years of tuition-free community college. Although he belonged to the administration that deported more people than other presidents before them, he’s moved left on reforming immigration policies and tackling climate change. He’s far from perfect, but we’ve gotten him to swing left on more issues than ever before in his political career. He swung left on these issues because they’re now musts. No future candidate will move right on those issues if the activism is kept up.
However, any progress toward progressive agendas are always challenged by grifters such as Ryan Knight. They challenge because any progressive change that isn’t deemed progressive enough is criticized to serve their purity tests and egos. These Bernie-or-bust types fail to recognize policy can be stepping stones or steps in the right direction to minimize harm American’s are facing. Or they fail to recognize that to get from point A to point B — wherever their subjective point B may be — there’s more than one step inbetween.
As Ryan Knight correctly points out here, The Green Party are actually the founders of the Green New Deal in 2006 with the formation of the Green New Deal Task Force. Knight compliments Rep. Ocasio-Cortez for popularizing it but criticizes her version for not being eco-socialist like the original. Maybe they struggle with viewing optics on a grand scale, but if they really wanted to get to point B, they would do everything in their power to lay the foundation of getting there instead of wasting energy on halting the very progress they advocate for.
Pushing Biden left didn’t happen by abstaining from voting. It happened because of that same energy and activism we showed Bernie Sanders — and the only way Bernie Sanders accumulated such a following was through grassroot activism.
The Squad could very well be doubling in size this election with progressive nominees like Cori Bush in Missouri, Marie Newman in Illinois, Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones in New York likely pushing progressive agendas to address climate change. The Squad didn’t get into office by capturing the votes of those who abstain from voting. They got into office by changing the minds of their communities, strong grassroot campaigns and thoroughly explaining what they advocate for to eliminate its unfair demonization. The fact that we can openly criticize capitalism and call ourselves socialists, Marxists or even communists is a feat in itself.
We shouldn’t be focused on how we can get an actual leftist candidate into office and weaponizing our vote until it happens. We should be focused on getting a big enough leftist movement to force the democratic party to move left to the point where it can’t ignore leftist demands — which is something we’ve been doing.
Voting is the lowest level of activity you can do. It’s easy. Not nearly as easy as it should be — but it’s easy. So voting for harm reduction in the face of encroaching authoritarianism and total environmental catastrophe while still advocating for the progressive change we want isn’t asking for much.