How did we get here and where are we going?

I should preface this piece with an admission that I did not follow the prompt given. My year-long project will hopefully examine the ways in which a city has changed over time and document that in a meaningful and digestible way. The following is just an opinion on the state of the discourse about voting. In addition to something I am passionate about, for my project, I want to look at politicians who have tried to embody the anger of their constituents and use their influence to effect positive change on the built environment of the communities which they were elected to represent. Upon rereading this piece, it is a little more impassioned than other short essays I have written. I am super open to discussion and would love to chat with any and all about the ways in which we talk about voting.

Over the past few weeks, and months for that matter, we have all been subjected to the recurring battle cries whose message revolves around the necessity to vote. I choose the word “subjected” carefully on account of a lot of the language we are seeing rings of the privilege we are afforded or the responsibility we have to cast our ballot this November. The unfortunate corollary to this language is that it seems to insist that failing to meet those expectations is an act of falling short of an ideal or letting other people down.

My thinking on the subject isn’t as much over the question of whether or not we should vote, but more about the way we talk about voting. If one cares about trans rights, immigration, climate change, and choosing a progressive replacement for the recently passed Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the choice is obvious and doesn’t require too much more thought as far as I am concerned. Biden is obviously the lesser of two evils, just as Hillary was in 2016, and in further hindsight, just as Obama was in 2008 and 2012. All of the progressive politicians listed, and however far you choose to look back, all have traits, platform planks, opinions, and personal beliefs that are at odds with a more just society. Obama and Hillary, for example, if we are to expand our concern outside of our own borders, have foreign policy records that would be laughable if it were not for the countless innocent deaths that resulted from them.

The problem then is that every four years, liberal voters are positioned in a drama where their vote can make all the difference preventing an alt-right regime from raising a new flag over the White House. We are so easily seduced, and for good reason, by this life or death narrative that we lose sight of the fact that hidden deep within the framework of our country, is an option to elect a candidate who genuinely embodies our fears and whose sole purpose once in office will be to alleviate the pain which we all suffer from. As mentioned, in a number of important cases, this election can be a matter of life and death. But the candidate we choose to represent us in those struggles doesn’t, and shouldn’t have to be a man that would be much more at peace in a retirement community.

But alas, we lowly citizens continually have to listen to popular artists, both contributors and curators of culture, not to mention politicians, tell us that our vote counts. It does, but they often leave out the important part: that we can use it to choose someone that we don’t feel like we have to settle for. One such writer who doesn’t have much sympathy for those who aren’t excited to vote is David Sedaris, who took to The New Yorker to share his piece on undecided or uncertain voters. He wrote,

[On undecided voters,] “To put them in perspective, I think​ of being​ on an airplane.​ The flight attendant comes​ down the aisle​ with her food cart and, eventually,​ parks​ it beside my seat.​ “Can I interest you in the chicken?​” she asks.​ “Or would​ you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass​ in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause​ for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”

My huge issue with this argument is the scenario in which it is framed. As the reader, we are presented with a reality that is straightforward: we are in a confined space and are offered two choices for something to eat. The reality which I am familiar with, however, is one that demands there to be a lot more choices. There should be a choice which, once picked, can appeal to the vegetarians among us, those that aren’t a huge fan of gluten, or maybe have allergies to different types of oils which are used to cook said choice. I, for one, and not a huge fan of chicken. And in lieu of having any other choice, as Sedaris sets the problem, then I am the fool for asking how the chicken is cooked.

This framing is a large part of the problem I have with the current political arena. People have real grievances. The very few people without real grievances, however, always seem to be the ones telling what we should do. There are people living near the coasts who live in fear of extreme weather storms which are a product of the changing climate. We have friends, and members of our own cohort, who have been arrested for protesting police brutality, which is an institution that is both commonplace and vigorously preserved by lawmakers. There are also people like myself, who, while being born a white male with all of the necessary privileges in order to realize a semblance of upward mobility, haven’t had access to dental insurance all their life because their fathers are dyslexic janitors.

There are truly endless grievances that shape the material reality of peoples’ lives both in the United States and in countries whose fate is tethered to our own. When these grievances aren’t embodied by a candidate, we should not have to be excited to vote for them. More importantly, we should be free and encouraged to criticize their records and demand that they cast their influence on issues that we all experience the impact of.

The nature of progressive politics is embedded in the understanding that change is a process and that real progress isn’t achieved within a day’s work, let alone a presidential term. I will not be withholding my vote from Joe Biden. But I will continue to be an adamant critic of him and actively resist attempts to frame the choice between him and Trump as the only thing we can do. Biden is at the end of a movement that has serious demands. His record and his current posturing simply does not embody the anger and frustration that most Americans feel.

Although I have long grown tired of it, I will once again humor Sedaris’ example. If we are presented with only one palatable option, we should be asking ourselves “how did we get here?” What kind of airline could possibly only offer two dishes, one of them being chicken and the other being a defecation plate? Whichever kind, we should start by asking how the chicken is cooked, and then look around and start asking our neighbors what a better airline menu would look like. Then maybe, once we’ve drafted a menu that is more inclusive, we can start asking the real questions like, “where are we going?”

One thought on “How did we get here and where are we going?

  1. Kashema Hutchinson (she/her)

    Ian, I am with Marisa and I am aware of the history and nuances of “politricks” and its servings. This is why I don’t call our political system a democracy and I don’t eat the chicken because I already know what it is in it, but I do ride the plane.

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