Stop Telling Marginalized People Who They Must Vote For

This story is part of The Establishment’s ongoing series exploring the political dialogue surrounding the democratic presidential candidates, progressivism, and feminism.

It’s time that something politicians, campaign staffers, and professional canvassers have understood for decades became common knowledge: advocating for a candidate is not the same thing as telling people who to vote for.

By all means, put the signs in your yards and bumper stickers on your cars. Tell anyone who’ll listen how great your fave is, and pepper your social media feeds with hashtags and propaganda. You can even counter incorrect information when you hear it or see it with a link or fact that makes your candidate look good.

None of those actions are the same as condescendingly telling people that they can’t support or must support so-and-so because they are a certain gender, race, orientation, age, or economic class.

Canvassers who show up at your door will smile and ask if you have a minute before telling you some highlights about their candidate and/or asking if you know anything about who they’re representing. They don’t at any point tell you that you must vote for This Guy or can’t vote for That Woman. They might even bother to ask you what issues are important to you — yanno, getting to know a bit about you before sharing the bullet points from their candidate’s platform or record.

Because canvassing is intimidating and causes most human beings to experience a panic-attack-level amount of anxiety, canvassers tend to be hardcore volunteers and staffers. They are in the bag for their candidate and personally invested in them getting elected — and yet, they don’t come with assumptions or attacks or typically even shit-talk about the other candidate(s). Why? Because it doesn’t work, so they’re trained not to do it.

Yet despite how rarely it works to berate or shame someone into changing their mind about who to vote for (or about anything, really), it happens at a near constant level — particularly during primary election season. “Think” pieces are popping up right on schedule discussing why such-and-such group doesn’t AND SHOULD support Candidate A and how unfathomable it is that Marginalized Group B could ever think of supporting Candidate C! THE GALL . . . of those people.

“ . . . of those people” are the critical unspoken words missing from all the essays and articles and op-eds written by people cloaking themselves in feigned wonderment so no one sees their racism, misogyny, ableism, classism, or cranky generation shaming.

Here’s an idea: stop telling people — particularly marginalized people — who they must support and who they cannot support. It is particularly unbecoming when done on behalf of someone who has spent more than 25 years in public service, as both democratic candidates have. There is no conceivable way that anyone could love everything about either candidate’s history and current platform; all of us have deal breakers. Choosing a candidate will always involve selecting a lesser of the two evils unless you, yourself, are the person running because you cannot agree with another person all of the time. Just ask anyone with siblings, roommates, spouses, and/or co-workers.

Assuming someone who supports a candidate approves of every move, thought, vote, and proposal they’ve made over the decades is not only ludicrous, but it sells the candidate short as well. Is there anyone alive who would do everything precisely the same way given the wisdom of knowing how things turned out down the road? Furthermore, is there anyone alive who believes the exact same things at 60 that they did at 50, 40, and 30? The country and our culture isn’t the same now as 25 years ago; voters and candidates change over time as well. OF COURSE they do.

It’s bad enough that public figures like Congressman John Lewis who declare on the record that they support a particular candidate get attacked — as though a Civil Rights hero who had his skull cracked open as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) isn’t allowed to weigh in with a preference in his party’s primary. But people who haven’t offered their allegiance get similarly attacked simply by agreeing or disagreeing with something a candidate says or has in their platform. Check out Twitter during a debate some evening; most writers and talking heads haven’t chosen sides, but you’d never know it by the response you get just directly quoting either Hillary or Bernie.

The assumptions have gotten outright ludicrous.

You don’t get to assume I’m voting for Bernie because I talk about having lived most of my adult life in poverty. Or because he’s advocating for “single payer” and I talk about my health issues. Or because I’ve criticized Hillary for some of her foreign policy positions and moves as Secretary of State.

Similarly, you don’t get to assume I’m voting for Hillary because I’m a woman. And if I do vote for her, you don’t get to assume my vagina made me do it. Both of those assumptions are predicated on the notion that voting the way my vagina wants is not only the wrong decision, but indicates some deficiency about me based on my perceived womanhood. (My vagina has a rather excellent record, thank you very much.) Also, voting based on my vagina has never been more relevant considering almost 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced last year; when you attack me for possibly voting to protect my body it is your ignorance on display, not mine.

The expectation that I — or anyone else — will behave a certain way is extraordinarily offensive. Presuming that any group is a monolith and that you have insight into how they should be feeling or voting is the height of privilege. Stop it. Stop lecturing black people, immigrants, millennials, women, the poor — everyone — on what they can and cannot do. You are doing your candidate zero favors, and more than that . . . you look like an ass.


Lead image: Inside a polling place in Manchester, New Hampshire, which reported double the number of voters than in previous elections. The tape, which is well past the area in which politicking is allowed, in mainly used as a line that the press cannot cross. Photo by Zach D Roberts.


More stories from The Establishment’s political series:
Let’s Not Pretend Electing The First Female President Wouldn’t Be Radical
No, White Women, I Will Not Be Voting For Hillary
Why I Prefer Bernie’s Revolution To Hillary’s Boardroom Feminism
When It Comes To Discussing Gender In Politics, Everyone Is Losing
To Move Forward, We Must Stop Enabling The Democratic Party