Five Votes You Can Cast That Actually Matter

By Ijeoma Oluo

Keith Ivey, flickr
We could work together to get some real change done on the level where it’s really possible.

I get it — it’s really fun to pick a side in presidential elections. It’s exciting to be a part of this all-encompassing national debate about the future of this country. You can be so easily drawn into the doomsday predictions of a Trump presidency or the utopian dream of a Bernie administration. But the truth is, it’s all fantasy.

Over here in real life, your vote doesn’t count for much. First, your vote doesn’t count because we have a two-party system, so you are always forced to pick between the lesser of two evils and rarely get the opportunity to vote for a fresh alternative. Second, your vote doesn’t count because our electoral college is a hella antiquated, bullshit way to run an election. And third, your vote doesn’t count because our president can’t do dick.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but our presidents are largely at the mercy of Congress. Getting anything major passed requires the perfect alignment of the moon and stars — and even once those changes are made, you will spend the rest of your presidency fighting to not have all that work unraveled before your eyes (*ahem* Healthcare Reform *ahem*).

So we have a couple of options here: we can continue to divide in our Hillary vs. Bernie camps (fuck Trump folks) and tear each other apart over candidates who will still send drones over brown countries to bomb entire apartment buildings that might have one potential terrorist in them, will still prioritize the needs of wealthy white men over everyone else, will still basically keep this white supremacist ship steering in the same general direction.

Or

We could work together to get some real change done on the level where it’s really possible. Don’t worry, we still have six months to obsess over who will be moving into the White House. We can afford to take a break and take a look at some of these ACTUALLY SUPER-IMPORTANT votes we should also be making in November.

School Board

Wut. Ijeoma. Come on. There’s nothing sexy about the school board. Oh ho ho! Do you care about the school-to-prison pipeline? Do you care about racial achievement gaps? Do you care about gender achievement gaps? Then you should be voting for your district school board members, son! These folks help set school policy and budget, and are usually responsible for hiring the district superintendent. The city I live in, Seattle, just announced that we have the 5th largest racial achievement gap in the country. That board should be sweatin’, and they are not, because we don’t pay attention.

City Council

The city council literally runs everything around you within walking distance. Care about your roads? Care about local business? Care about local outreach programs for domestic violence survivors, the LGBTQ community, the homeless community? Care about checking the mayor’s power? Then you should care about the city council! Y’all, I’m serious, sometimes these city council elections come down to less than 100 votes. Your vote matters.

Mayor

If you want to see what unchecked mayoral power looks like, take a look at what Rahm Emanuel has managed to do to Chicago. The cronyism of his administration has coddled the Chicago PD’s blatant disregard for black lives — even possibly (totally) covering up the murder of Laquan McDonald to protect Emanuel’s reelection campaign. Your mayor likely appoints your chief of police and can be a driving force behind police reform or stagnation. When your mayor and your city council all work together, they can create real and lasting change for your city. Speaking of Chicago and cronyism…

District Attorney/County Prosecutor

Why are the murderers of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner free without even facing trial? Well, a lot of reasons, but one big one is the district attorney. The DA’s office doesn’t just decide when to prosecute, say, a black person for a crime they wouldn’t prosecute a white person for. It is also the office that’s supposed to prosecute police who unjustly kill citizens. The corruption within our police departments is often sheltered by the district attorney’s refusal to hold them accountable for their abuses. This is an elected office, and DAs should not be able to afford to act like black lives don’t matter. But they do act that way, knowing that we won’t hold them responsible when it is time to vote.

State Legislature

You know every garbage-fire anti-LGBT bathroom bill coming out of the depths of hell and getting signed by bigot-pandering governors only to be likely overturned by higher courts? Do you know who starts these hate-fires? The state legislature, that’s who. Yes, these gross little nuggets of regressiveness, these reactionary reminders that the world is a changing and old cis straight white dudes are not having it, are cooked up in the overactive imaginations of our state House and state Senate. We should probably be paying more attention to who we vote into these offices.

So there you go: five ways to get started yelling about shit you can actually change. And don’t stop there! Once you vote on these offices, you can start yelling about the governor’s race, the state’s attorney general, your secretary of state (yup, each state has one), the U.S. House and Senate, and more! Basically, there are a lot of other elected officials out there to be mad at, and we can make them care! Just focusing on even a few of these races — talking to your friends and community, asking questions, finding out where these candidates stand and making them work for your vote — can make a huge difference to not only your life, but the lives of everyone in your community. And these local elections set a tone for the state, and the state sets a tone for the country. Before you know it, even Donald Trump will be paying attention.

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