November 3 is twenty-seven days away. Some amount of time after Election Day, a winner will be declared. We will either have a new president, or we will have four more years of Donald Trump.
Below, more than half of The Rumpus’s editors share their thoughts, fears, and concerns around the impending election. I hope you will read what they each have to say, as every editor offers a truly unique perspective. While we all believe that voting out the current administration is critically important, we arrive at that belief in different ways.
In 2016, I wrote to you that I hoped good would win out. It didn’t. Instead, our democracy—built on unstable ground, always pretending to be more just than it ever was—has been eroded. It is at its most tenuous; I don’t know whether it can survive, whether we can return to a reality where it’s possible to again imagine building new systems and paths to equality. I’d like to believe we can, and that is why I’ll be voting for Joe Biden.
Eloquence and leadership have been in short supply in our federal government these last four years. Let the words below inspire you. Let them move you to action. Make a voting plan. Let’s take out the trash, and then refocus our energy on an honest reckoning with how we got to where we are—and where we must go from here.
– Marisa Siegel, Editor-in-chief
On the morning of September 18, 2020 I woke up thinking about the 2016 morning when I first woke up to the reality of a President Trump. The morning I had to accept, like so many Americans, that my optimism, my “good feeling about it” had simply not been enough.
I loved Hillary Clinton and had a relatively easy time supporting her candidacy, particularly against Donald Trump. I was exactly the white, thirty-five-year-old, cis woman Hillary voter you imagine. In 2016, I had a very young child, and I was a member of multiple “secret Hillary Clinton Facebook groups.” My left coast feminism utterly insulated me from the possibility that a craven ogre and a fool could really win against one of the most qualified presidential candidates in history. I was wrong, just like all the other women like me, and I was heartbroken alongside them.
I regretted not doing more. I hadn’t gone to swing states and registered voters. I hadn’t gone to work the polls on election day. I had called some voters in the weeks leading up to the election, but it wasn’t enough. I’d failed. We all had. On that morning, along with my outrage and my despair, I felt shame. I vowed that I would do more next time.
And here I am, forty-five days from 2020, and I have not made a single call for Joe Biden. I don’t like Joe Biden. He depresses me, even with Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. I find him bland, corny, unrelatable. I don’t like the way he’s treated women. I will never forgive him for Anita Hill. I could go on, but why. I’ve been under-enthused by the 2020 election ever since Elizabeth Warren started losing in the primaries. All I could think was okay, whatever, fine. Sentient Toaster, 2020!
On September 18, I lay in bed thinking that I needed to get over myself. Of course, I will vote. I’ve never not voted. But I knew that I’d need to give the Biden campaign the kind of energy that I wish I had given to Hillary Clinton. I needed to get off my ass.
Less than twelve hours later, I listened as my friend (and Rumpus editor-in-chief) Marisa informed me that “something really bad has happened.” I heard her voice break. I anticipated a terrorist attack. She told me that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was dead. I took the news calmly, all things considered. If nothing else, this year has inoculated me to bad news. I heard of Justice Ginsburg’s passing about fifteen minutes after I’d sent a flurry of “happy new year” texts to my Jewish friends and family. I was feeling like a fresh start was possible. The year 5781 had potential.
I have always been culturally Jewish, even if I only went to synagogue for a few years in my teens. I don’t know everything about Jewish religion, but I am continually surprised by how intrinsically Jewish I am, even though I don’t think of myself that way. Case in point: I’m a doer. I like action. When I feel helpless, I often prod myself toward it. Do something. Do something. Do something now. Which is why, in the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s death, I recalled my commitment to do more.
It’s difficult to summarize what Ruth Bader Ginsburg means to me, as a Jewish American woman, as a lawyer, as a feminist. I’ve written before about how Justice Ginsburg’s brilliance and Jewishness helped me develop a sense of my own value as a young teenager. As the news of her death spread throughout my social media channels, two things caught my attention. The first was the assertion that the timing of her death (on the eve of Shabbat, on the eve of Rosh Hashana––the Jewish New Year) implied she had been a “tzadik,” a person of extreme righteousness and importance. I liked the idea even if it isn’t “true” according to the rabbis of Twitter.
The second was the circulating phrase, “may her memory be a revolution.” The phrase is traditionally “may their memory be a blessing,” and I have recited it countless times in my life to those who have lost a beloved. But this version of it was new to me. And like the “tzadik” designation, “may her memory be a revolution” sounded eerily apt as a blessing and an acknowledgement for a woman who both defies description and has generated a sea of words in her wake.
Justice Ginsburg’s life was one of extreme righteousness and importance. And she was human. And she was more than a meme. It is not when she died, but how she lived, that made her such an important person to me, to so many of us. She exemplifies right action. I owe her my own action in gratitude, in praise, in respect.
I don’t know what will happen in the next months with her seat. I can’t predict how the politics of filling it will bend the vote, or whether the attempt will be successful, or if her replacement (whoever they are) will cast the deciding vote in the next Roe challenge case. What I know is that her death has moved me. I vow to do more for the Biden campaign. He will not save us; no president (and no Supreme Court justice) can do that. But a Biden presidency will help our country find a more righteous path, one where we protect the dignity of gender marginalized people in this country. One where we value Black lives. One where we might find a foothold for long enough to breathe and then begin the arduous work of repairing the damage of the last four years. We have all suffered since 2016 at the hands of a malignant narcissist and accused rapist.
Please join me in voting for Joe Biden. Please convince ten people to join you. Please do something to help us turn this country toward righteousness, toward equality, toward a new America in whatever small ways that is possible. Because if I learned anything from 2016, it’s that our personal feelings about a candidate are not enough. We need to take action. Justice is what love looks like in public.
May we live up to Justice Ginsburg’s memory. May she bless us all with fortitude and grace. May we be worthy of a revolution.
– Marissa Korbel, Managing editor
When M. asked me in a letter who I was voting for and why a few weeks ago, I was caught off guard. Incarcerated members of the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop often ask letter-writing volunteers about the news at home in DC, since so many of them are moved to federal prisons as far as Georgia, Missouri, California. They ask for our thoughts on loyalty, freedom, trust—a poem they’ve written. They write elegantly about the criminal justice system and the racial discrimination that has shaped their lives so unyieldingly. Politics is a theoretical concept in their letters—a great hovering power so capable of touching their lives, but touchable to them only through art. I’d never before been asked about something as concrete and graspable as an election.
M. was asking, I’d soon find out, because there was a terrific buzz in his federal prison: Washington, DC was on the verge of passing a law that restored the right to vote to DC residents convicted of felonies, no matter where they were, incarcerated or free. M.’s discussion of his might-be-restored right to vote was not triumphant, but serious. His outstretched hands anticipated the weight of this right.
Who wouldn’t be humbled by M.’s demeanor? His question’s context? How could I have answered it without stepping outside of myself for a long moment? Without checking my privilege? To answer M.’s question was to acknowledge that voting itself has always been a spiteful privilege in this country, far from the natural right it should be. The very fact that I had been easily gifted the right to vote before I’d seen anything of the world apart from my white-Catholic-suburban upbringing suddenly felt ludicrous, outrageous—part of the explanation for what’s been wrong with this country—in the presence of a letter from a man who had seen more and suffered more under the structures of our government than I ever would, but had been denied his right to vote before he’d even turned eighteen.
How could I write back to M. and discuss the ways in which I was voting for me?
I couldn’t. I told this man, who was doing twenty-five to life, that I’d vote for everyone who didn’t have the privilege. I’d vote for every convicted felon and every incarcerated man, woman, and child who might never be allowed to vote again but who continue to be brutalized and murdered by cops. I’d vote for the immigrants who have been tortured and pursued at Trump’s orders for seeking a better, safer life. I’d vote for young women facing a world where assault and rape are all too likely, but family planning options are more and more rare.
I’d vote for everyone who has died of COVID-19 in this country—more than two hundred thousand people by now—when only a fraction might’ve died if we’d had federal leadership with a half a sense of responsibility. I’d vote for every child growing up in coastal Florida or Louisiana or Texas or the fire zones of the West who can’t vote yet but will nonetheless see their homes destroyed by systemic flagrant ignorance of our environment’s desperate needs.
By the time I finished my letter to M., I was enamored by a new concept. For so long, I’d answered the question, “Who are you voting for?” with the name of the person whose box would receive a tick on my ballot. But for can also mean on behalf of, instead of, as a gift. Who has your vote? Who will you lend your vote to? Without expecting to, I’ve developed more meaningful answers to these questions.
The bill passed. Thousands of DC residents convicted of felonies at home and away, incarcerated and free, will vote, many for the first time. Blockmates and cell neighbors from elsewhere will look on as DC residents cast their votes and wonder if they’ll ever have the chance to speak louder than their voice or a letter will allow.
When I imagine myself among these men and women, everything quiets. The way forward is clear and calm and obvious. It is selfless and proud, in a new way. You know by now that I will vote, and you know without a doubt for whom.
– Kate Branca, Features editor
As I compose this message, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has just left the arena, and with her untimely departure I see from my kitchen window that the horizon has darkened a shade. Like so many, I have been living life in a box since early March as the novel coronavirus continues its spread across the country abetted by unresponsive national leadership and a deficiency of neighborly concern for the health and safety of others, particularly those with comorbidities. Fires are raging and powerful storms are barreling through our communities with heightened frequency and intensity. The police are still shooting Black people without remorse or repercussion and white vigilantes are being celebrated on the political fringe for bringing violence into the center of public expressions of grief, hurt, and justified outrage. Migrant children are still in cages and they and their families are facing unspeakable cruelty under our white nationalist regime. Even the mail comes more slowly than answered prayer now.
This is the backdrop against which we have the opportunity to elect a new president and a new Congress. It may very well be the last chance we have: I cannot say it any more clinically, any less hysterically, than that. Ever since the incumbent president first came down that escalator in 2015, announcing his presidential campaign, sound minds have rightfully condemned his unfiltered racism and demagoguery and rang the alarm about his authoritarian impulses. Every alarmist has only been validated by what has transpired during this calamitous presidency. The removal of the forty-fifth president from office is imperative. It is necessary and urgent. The vote has never been more important than in this moment, when our inability to wield it appropriately might actually lead to losing what efficacy it has left. Likewise, for far-right politicians, it’s never been more important to disrupt and suppress the vote, when they’re so close to reversing disdained public policies that have, even if slowly, moved the United States closer to the ideals espoused by its founding documents. A non-vote, for them, is just as good as a vote for the GOP; it plays right into their hands, enabling the establishment of the US as a more firmly right-wing, authoritarian state hostile toward women and minorities of all stripes and proudly neglectful of the worsening climate crisis, widening income inequality, and deteriorating public health.
I want to say it’s surprising that we’re in this predicament as a nation, but that’d be a bald-faced lie. A Black people’s history of the United States or an Indigenous people’s history of the United States would illustrate how outright fascism in America has only ever been a stone’s throw away despite our proclamations of freedom and liberty. That being said, there are a larger number of people than ever before who are awakening to the illusion of their own safety. Everybody, every single person in this country, has something to lose in this election. Even if you believe you have nothing to lose, even if this country has spit on you and subjected you to any multitude of violences, I’ve learned that it’s best not to bet against the depraved to descend further into their depravity. Things can and will get worse unless met with resistance, and resistance is multifaceted. Despite our deserved misgivings about America’s two-party system, about the Democratic Party’s willingness to uphold the American capitalist-imperial project and provide, most often, only rhetorical and/or symbolic opposition to the entrenchment of power in the hands of the white and uber-wealthy, electoral politics do matter at all levels—for it is the means by which governmental power is appropriated, and at the day’s end, any of us within these imaginary dotted-line borders are still subject to the machinations of the structure above us. What this moment asks of us all is that we mobilize with others to provide checks to the employment of state power wherever and however possible; that may mean marching in the streets (and it does), that may mean widely withholding labor (and it does), that mean redistributing material and financial resources to where they’re most needed (and it does), and, yes, it may mean voting in this election for a tepid Washington establishment candidate over the nascent dictator (and it does).
The intellectual litigation of this campaign is largely unchanged from 2016, but the outcome absolutely must be. What critics on the left said about Hillary Rodham Clinton was accurate then just as what they’re saying about Joe Biden is accurate now. Those critiques are not to be ignored; they are to be listened to as we embark on the building of a fair and just society in the years ahead, what is and must be our lives work individually and collectively. Still, they cannot be the means by which we disarm ourselves of a valuable tool at a time our political adversaries are picking up and loading, gleefully, literal weapons of war. We should brace ourselves for the worst but only after we’ve done everything in our power to prevent the worst from happening. That includes casting our ballots―by mailing in absentee ballots very early, dropping those ballots off at certified intake locations, voting early and in person where early voting is available, or voting in person on November 3 outfitted with our protective face masks―for the Democratic candidates in the presidential and down-ballot races (unless there is no Republican challenger, in which case please swing left) in every state across this country, as I believe no state to be “safe” when so many are planning to not vote in person and when the USPS is under siege from purposeful neglect and targeted divestment of resources. This election, like the last devastating one, is going to be won or lost at the margins, and so the safest approach, at this time, is to tilt the margins in our favor as much as possible.
Should you do this, should you actually bring yourself to vote for Biden, I take that as a considerate and merciful action. I consider this as an expression of concern not only for oneself but for the millions of living, breathing people who would stand to suffer under a fuller actualization of the Trump/Miller/McConnell vision of America and for our environment teetering on the edge of complete devastation. In a representative system of government, a vote is not and has never been equivalent to a full endorsement of any policy or platform; likewise, non-participation in the electoral system is not and has never been equivalent to the absence of complicity in sustaining the immoralities and injustices of this country.
With that in mind, I find it best to leave any condemnations of ourselves or one another to the side and focus instead on what is the most prudent choice among the limited ones we have in front of us. Most of us make difficult, unwanted decisions every day just to survive, and this, I feel, is just another on that very long and unfortunate list. Come Tuesday, November 3, 2020, I adamantly believe that means voting for and electing Joe Biden the next President of the United States. Assuming that we do, I believe our choices coming out of this election, strategically, will be far more to our liking and advantage, and we will feel more confident in our continued work of realizing freedom from all forms of oppression here and abroad. Let’s rise to the moment, together. Let’s do ourselves the favor.
– Cortney Lamar Charleston, Rumpus Original Poetry editor
When I was younger, I told everyone I was a patriot. July 4th was my favorite holiday, not least of all because of the barbecues and fireworks, but I also confess to feeling a surge of pride and love for my country while patriotic songs played along to the Macy’s fireworks display, music that moved me enough that I would’ve put my hand over my heart even if it wasn’t the norm to do so.
If you asked me why I felt such patriotism, I might have said something about the opportunities this country had given my family of immigrants, how every privilege I was afforded was thanks to the American Dream. I believed fiercely in equality, freedom of speech and religion, the pursuit of happiness, and even if I might have been aware of the atrocities of slavery and had a vague sense that the earliest Americans hadn’t been very nice to the Native Americans, I still believed that America was actively trying to be better. I believed in America’s fundamental capacity to improve. I believed the system put in place by our forefathers was one that ensured the moral arc of the universe bent towards justice.
Of course, as I grew not just older but also more educated and aware, my love for my country became much more complicated. The gnarled roots of violent bigotry, racism, and xenophobia in this country run deep, even as the forefathers put to paper a vision of a nation that enshrined equality and justice for all. Today, those rotted vines cling—Black people are still killed with impunity, Native land is still disrespected, children are still locked in cages, and women are still told their bodies are not their own. With each new awful headline, I feel a sour disappointment that the country I loved resists so mightily against improvement.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve begun telling people that my feelings toward America are like that of a parent towards their unruly, smelly, rebellious, not-so-nice teenager: I love her and believe she has the capacity to grow into someone I can be proud of. I just don’t like her very much right now.
For a long time, I believed that change, however incremental, would come. But at this moment in time, even my belief in the possibility of change is no longer resolute.
We stand at a terrifying precipice right now. This election, as everyone knows, is not business as usual. It feels like a fight for the very soul of this country. If there is to be a chance for America to grow into a more moral nation, to atone for its past sins, to truly uphold its promise to be a nation where all humans can be safe and free—that requires there to still be a nation. It no longer feels hyperbolic to say that this is election could break America.
We find ourselves in a time when the current president is threatening not to concede if there is a loss (perhaps the most un-American thing I have ever heard a president utter); a time when the Supreme Court can no longer be guaranteed to stand outside the partisanship of Congress; a time when the White House can ignore science and medical advice and the deaths of hundreds of thousands and lie to the public boldly and with impunity; a time when checks and balances seem to have given way to GOP complicity and enabling of a corrupt and narcissistic leader; a time of voter suppression and gerrymandering and postal chaos and all the other attempts by Republicans to strip away many Americans’ hard-earned suffrage—etcetera, etcetera…
I can’t imagine how America can survive another four years of the current administration. I honestly can’t. Perhaps the moral arc of the universe is just that long, longer than human memory, but this would be a major detour—and I don’t know if the endgame is one in which the America we’ve been fighting for exists.
It almost feels quaint to say: go vote. In the face of what feels like impending doom, it feels small, a drop in an endless sea. In my worst, most cynical days, it almost feels pointless. And yet.
To give over to this defeatism is what will truly be the end of us.
I’d like to believe that, despite everything I see in the media, the majority of Americans are like me: people who love this country, people who believe in what it could one day be, people who are worried and scared because they see it careening toward disaster from which there is no turning back.
I’m speaking to you, of course. You, who like me, want to buy us a little bit more time. You, who like me, harbor a dream for America to one day live up to the vision of it we once held in our hearts. You, who like me, want to pull us back from the precipice, so that we might rebuild and change and grow. You, who like me, haven’t given up on America yet.
Collectively, we still have the power to effect change. For as long as America remains a democratic republic, our vote is our voice, our intervention, our patriotism. If we love our country, it is up to us to save it.
Many droplets become a sea, and a sea can shape continents.
– Karissa Chen, Senior fiction editor
In every presidential election in my lifetime, the choice was between candidates. This year, after the completed term of a born elitist who depreciated what was promising, exploited what was already vulnerable, and affirmed the worst of our American society, we sit with an unprecedented choice because it’s the first election that’s not a choice between different policies or two candidates. It’s an election to define an America reckoning with itself.
If a list would persuade you, I’d create a hundred lists. If there were misunderstood points about policies regarding taxes, foreign policy, climate change, or reproductive justice, I’d gather soaring essays about the dividends of progressive politics. But this election isn’t about that, nor does it even pretend to be. This election is a dagger of a request because it is asking us to participate in trying to save ourselves in a system that has already shown us how broken it is. We are fatigued and treading, barely above water. And it appears we’re being asked to look past what we deserve and make choices that will never deliver reparations, accountability, justice, or transparency. I hear this argument, and some have called me foolish, or not radical enough, or uninspired, or naive for continuing to engage in the system that produced Trump.
I hear that, too.
If this were the kind of election that could be decided in arguments, I’d simply argue. However, the sobering reality of 2020 is that many of us and our communities are damaged and bone-deep exhausted by the psychological weight of this presidency which will take years to rebuild and heal. For me, some of the most painful experiences of the past three and a half years are not about Trump the person, but about witnessing the cultural ripple of his ignorance, illogical maneuvers, and oppositional toddlerisms. His presence has created a choreographed dance with enablers—a confluence of cowardice as hard-headed stubbornness—among the unconscionable bystander pack (in what was formerly known as the Republican party). This election is not just about an individual, but the amassed dissonance of the function of truth.
Presidents grow into their constructed narrative-legacy, and in this way Trump is no different than his predecessors—except his is an unabashed glorification of the darkest archetypes: Darth Vadar, Biff, the Emperor, and ghost-father abusive bully. What can you say about someone whose impact is both amorphous and exacting? The past three and a half years can be found in the nightmares of dystopian fiction books, and in the chilling image of a single ventilator. That’s how political trauma works. I suppose that’s why my argument for asking people to vote is not an argument at all.
I’m too bleary-eyed and horrified to take anything for granted, but, still, the overriding truth is too clear and too important to go unsaid and left as an assumption: voting Trump out is not an exercise in electoral politics but a check on the American conscience.
Is it still alive?
I vote yes.
– Lisa Factora-Borchers, Senior features editor
My grandmother turned ninety-two this year. She was born the same year as Mickey Mouse and looks, to me, a little like Mickey, with an enviable corona of black curls and a ferocious respect for American traditions. One of them is women’s suffrage, and it is our ritual to call one another when the election pamphlet comes in the mail. We compare candidates, talk about which ballot measures are bullshit and which will do some good, and crow over our opponents’ typos and bad photos. When I drop my ballot in the mail—Oregon established vote-by-mail in 1998, years before I was old enough to use it—I phone my Grammie Anne.
“Those suffragettes didn’t stand on soapboxes in the rain so you could sit on your hands,” she says. Her history is painted with a broad, white brush; to her, Susan B. Anthony is an untarnished hero, all women are equal, and female leadership is the solution to most of our nation’s problems. My grandma wore a t-shirt that said “This Nasty Woman Votes” when she cast her vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and her smile in that photo belied the confidence many of us had that this one was a shoo-in, a no-brainer. Now, we are white-knuckling toward yet another apocalypse: the presidential election, which feels just as impactful as climate change, a global pandemic, and the massive wildfires that recently coated my home state in toxic smoke.
My grandmother and I agree that these catastrophes are conjoined, a hideous hydra of bad policy, political enabling, and outright evil. She reminds me that my grandpa fought Hitler in the second World War, and we’re fighting fascism on our own soil now. She reminds me that the soapboxes are still on Portland’s street corners, that protestors still clash with police nightly. She reminds me that education, no matter where we get it, is our best weapon against the forces of hatred, ignorance, and fear.
She reminds me that we survive when we cooperate and look after each other.
“America isn’t what it used to be,” she says sometimes, and because I can’t console her, I tell her that maybe there is something better on the other side of this. There is only one way to find out.
When I drop my vote in the mail, yet another all-blue ticket, I’ll call her up again and let her know I did my civic duty—even though I don’t know if I believe in it, even if I understand it doesn’t fix everything, even if I’m afraid it does no good. Even if I feel insignificant.
“Every little bit helps,” she’ll say. “They waited in the rain.”
– Claire Rudy Foster, Senior features editor
I have a friend who does not—will not—publicly endorse any presidential candidate, even one she agrees with, because she knows that, invariable, every president will have to do something evil in their presidency. This has been true of every president, even the ones we like. If it only takes one evil act to be considered evil, then all American presidents have been and will be evil. This shouldn’t lessen the burden of voting; we have a responsibility to choose a person who will do the least evil, if not necessarily the most good. In a country founded on and raised by evil acts, that is essential to our evolution and to our redemption.
Then there is the myth of the “greater good”: one thing cannot be more good than the other, for to assign a hierarchy to goodness is to blur that line between good and evil. Does this paradox work the other way around? At what point does the lesser of two evils become good again?
I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know this: Donald Trump is fucking evil. We have all watched him do evil acts, brag about evil acts, and make evilness his platform. To say this election is voting for the lesser of two evils is reductive. You are either voting for evil or you are voting against evil. There is no contest, there is no moral hierarchy, there are no blurred lines. Evil, or not. The options couldn’t be clearer or more transparent.
– Darcy Gagnon, Assistant features editor
It feels like since March someone has said almost every day some form of, “the seeds of this year were sown in 2016.” The seeds of this year were sown in 1619, in 1776, in 1865. I could keep going, but this country had so many occasions to stand against oppression for all, to work toward having a society that empowers all its citizens, to imagine a country where “getting ahead” does not mean exploiting others.
One of the pleasures of gardening for me is looking at the seeds. Tiny black specks that look like dirt can become garlic bulbs; gray dots can become nitrogen balancing clover. I could tell you that these seeds are often not attractive, that they are often gnarled and ugly. They might not look like anything you want or hope for, and let me slam the metaphor right open and say you can easily see all their imperfections because they can say some things during town hall events and stump speeches that might make you respond to the footage you’re watching with the same deep anguish and rage of the immortal Tyra Banks: “I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you.”
But when you have the opportunity for hope, the opportunity to stay the tide of oppression, to stop your country from heading toward autocracy, to work toward a well-educated populace instead of one where children will be taught that critique is unpatriotic, then you must plant those seeds. I can’t promise you prizewinning roses and Sugar Baby watermelons and Lemon Boy tomatoes. You will vote because like Fred Moten wrote in Keywords for American Cultural Studies, “The dream is of government by the people, government in which the common people hold sway.” The only way to work toward holding true sway is by voting. You will vote because to not vote is to agree to oppression. You will vote because you have the chance to do better than your ancestors, or maybe because your ancestors could not vote for so terribly long and besides, you do not have the luxury of being apathetic. You will vote because if you don’t, the future will only be dirt.
– Megan Giddings, Senior features editor
I have had occasion, in the past couple weeks, to learn a strategy for getting oneself out of panic attacks: you name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. The idea is that you ground yourself in your surroundings and remind your sweaty, trembling body that you’re not in any immediate danger.
Of course, if you were to perform this exercise where I live now, you might see a roiling orange sky, feel an alarming tickle in the back of your throat that may or may not be a symptom of an incipient, currently incurable disease, and smell the unmistakable scent of ash in the air. It’s becoming harder and harder to convince our bodies that we’re not in any immediate danger when, in so many ways, we are. And yet, simply to keep your sanity, you have to acknowledge the reality around you and focus on what you can do—drink enough water, get enough sleep, protest, vote. To remember that you exist in the world and thus have a stake in it, and that other people have just as much of a stake in it as you do. To act, even if there is no way you can fix all the problems by yourself. The only other option is to stay trapped in that state of frozen panic, and the stakes are too high for that.
I can’t muster up very much hope when I look toward the future. I look at the climate projections for 2040 and 2050, the megafires that will likely become yearly occurrences where I live by then, and then I calculate how old I’m going to be in 2050. I’ll be younger than my parents are now. Whatever hope I used to have, though, has been replaced by a grim understanding, a sort of focus. The first step towards solving a problem is to acknowledge that it exists, and we as a country have so many problems. Only one of the two major candidates running for president this fall will even acknowledge them. I’ll be voting for that candidate this November.
– Chelsea Leu, Books editor
When elections loom, I’ve often encountered people, students, friends, family who don’t vote because they’re “not political,” or because they don’t “like the candidates,” or because they focus on “things spiritual” rather than politics—completely ignoring the reality that not-voting is in itself a political act of cowardice, that in the end, not-voting has nothing to do with a candidate’s likeability when so much more is at stake, that not-voting has exceedingly spiritual ramifications for the physical existence we humans embody each day.
How better to convey the necessity of voting, though, than this:
The other day I read a co-written essay by Patrick Madden and Joe Oestreich—”Freewill,” in Madden’s collection, Disparates—that explores, of all things, a misunderstood Rush lyric. In it, surprisingly, Oestreich provides, perhaps the best argument I’ve encountered for voting:
When it comes down to the ballot, choosing not to decide is a chickenshit stance. The fact is, in an election, a decision is going to be made whether you participate or not, so forgoing what little power you have by choosing not to decide is not okay. It’s not admirable. It’s not a valid choice. Even if all options are some degree of bad, you owe it to society to actively choose the least bad option. Or else you and everyone else might get stuck—partially because of the voters who refused to weigh in—with the worst option.
And so, in an election with weighty ramifications for our continued survival on this good earth, please: do your part and vote.
– Robbie Maakestad, Senior features editor
Donald Trump is attempting to steal the election. The best way to protect our democracy and preserve the integrity of the election is to demonstrate overwhelming opposition to Donald Trump on Election Day. If this is a close election, regardless of the winner, Donald Trump will declare himself the winner and use every institution under his control to solidify his power.
Plan to vote; plan to protest. We will need both these tools for our democracy to survive. First, develop a voting action plan. My plan is to vote early and in person on October 24 at an early voting location in Brooklyn. Not everyone can vote in person, but if you can, you should. If you can vote early in your state, you should. If you are voting by mail, return your mail-in ballot as soon as possible.
There is an excellent voting resource guide at Vote.org with information on registering to vote, voting by mail, polling locations, and more. If you show up at a polling place and are told you cannot vote for some reason, most states allow you to vote by provisional ballot, a special type of ballot that allows you to vote and allows the state to determine your eligibility later if necessary.
Donald Trump is attempting to steal the election in several ways, likely more ways than we even know about. His campaign is also supported by foreign governments who would benefit from a weakened American state. There is nothing you can do about this except to vote, and when the time comes, to protest. Prepare yourself.
Donald Trump is attempting to steal the election by manipulating the United States Post Office to prevent the delivery of ballots. Late ballots may not be counted. Each state sets their own deadlines and delayed ballots are disqualified. And, Donald Trump will attempt to declare himself a winner before all mail-in ballots have been counted, or even before all the ballots arrive at the board of elections. To ensure your ballot is counted, if you are voting by mail, return your ballot as soon as possible or hand-deliver the ballot if your state allows.
Donald Trump will use the Supreme Court to throw out votes he doesn’t like. Even without filling the vacant seat on the court, a conservative majority might decide an election-related court case in Donald Trump’s favor. Twenty years ago, a much less partisan Supreme Court decided the outcome of the presidential election by choosing to disenfranchise thousands of voters, throwing out their votes before they could be counted. The best way to overcome a challenge like this is to make certain the results aren’t even close. Any recount can be challenged, legally, with the Supreme Court deciding whether to allow the recount to happen.
Donald Trump is also preparing to circumvent the election results with electoral college electors. As The Atlantic reports, in key states, Republican legislatures could throw out election results and appoint electors to the electoral college who would vote for Donald Trump regardless of the popular vote. Such a move would certainly result in lawsuits, but these suits would eventually lead to the Supreme Court, one of many reasons Donald Trump is attempting to fill the vacant seat quickly. Republican legislators may feel less inclined to follow through with this plan if the number of votes against Trump are overwhelming.
Donald Trump has also spent the last four years replacing long-term, non-partisan military leaders with people loyal to him rather than to the United States. Politico reported this summer that Donald Trump was usurping Congressional authority to place high-ranking loyalists in positions of power. If Donald Trump refuses to concede the election or leave the White House, these loyal military officials could disrupt the peaceful transition of power. A military coup is not impossible, and looks increasingly likely. Donald Trump has already deployed military troops to our cities and has gone so far as to declare New York, Portland, and Seattle “anarchist cities” to justify the use of federal force.
Four years ago, many people, including independent voters and centrist Democrats, tried to tell us Donald Trump would never be as bad as we said. Four years later, we have literal concentration camps filled with people who were forcibly sterilized. This is literally what Nazis did in Germany. Yet, there’s more. Over two hundred thousand Americans have died from COVID-19 because of an inadequate federal response to the pandemic, and the politicizing of institutions like the FDA and CDC. The United State Postal Service is being dismantled by a man who illegally contributed to campaigns, essentially buying his position. The West Coast is on fire. The Gulf Coast is under water. The East Coast is going bankrupt.
Everything is as bad as we said it would be—but it can still get worse. Now is the time to vote; now is the time to march. If you don’t, you might not get the chance again.
– Ian MacAllen, Deputy editor
If you’ve been paying attention to everything that’s going on and aren’t already planning to vote for Biden, I don’t know if there’s much anyone could say to change your mind. To be perfectly frank, I myself initially struggled to find a “good” reason to vote in this election. Trump is a symptom, not the disease, and in the last four years, I’ve finally lost any hope or illusion that our oppressive system can be fixed through voting or small reforms alone.
While there are non-white organizers with plenty good reason to abstain, I ultimately wouldn’t be able sit with myself if I didn’t at least vote. Even amidst whispers about my home state of Georgia possibly turning blue, I am not trying to get my hopes up. The act of voting in this election feels mostly symbolic at this point, the absolute least one can do in this situation; I will head to the booth with gritted teeth to cast my lot for Biden as a measure of harm reduction.
I don’t mean to sound defeatist. Yes, voting is political action and people have been killed fighting for the right. But what are we doing outside of voting? Most especially for my fellow white people, what are we doing on an individual basis to combat white supremacy and capitalism, to uplift the most marginalized members of our communities?
One avenue I hope our readers will consider (if they haven’t already) is lending support to anti-capitalist measures like mutual aid. For those unfamiliar, mutual aid is not the same as charity; it is non-hierarchical, usually volunteer-run care initiatives decided based on the immediate needs of a community. It’s about bail funds, equal housing, healthcare, legal support, childcare, and more.
This is not to argue that public service volunteer work only “counts” if it’s mutual aid; unfortunately, not every mutual aid project is sustainable as a long-term, wholly volunteer endeavor for a multitude of reasons (thanks, capitalism). However, it’s important to be mindful of the organizations to which we lend support and actively choose mutual aid projects. If you’re in Georgia like me, there are community fridge projects like free99fridge and Athens Community Fridge which are always in need of re-stocking; there’s bail funds like the Atlanta Solidarity Fund; there’s Georgia Freedom Letters, a new project that needs volunteers to serve as pen pals with incarcerated persons across the state; there’s the newly formed Trans Housing Coalition, a group seeking to help Transgender and gender non-conforming people in Atlanta find long-term housing; Project South has been working on free COVID testing, among many other initiatives. These are only a few examples, of course, and I hope people in other states will start looking for projects in their own backyards.
Obviously not everyone has the time nor the means to make organizing their life’s work; I myself am new to mutual aid and direct action—needless to say, there is much to learn and always will be. But there’s a role for everyone; whether it’s donating time, money, talent, or resources, there are steps we can each take as individuals that contribute to affecting change on a micro and (hopefully, eventually) macro scale.
In times like these, it is all too easy to get wrapped up in our own existential anxieties and retreat to a place of comfort, to wait and hope that someone else will come along to save us, if not this November, then maybe in another four years. Something I try to remind myself when I slide into that dark place: don’t just look for the helpers, be a helper. Show up imperfectly, radically, and keep learning about eradicating the roots of oppression. Practice helpfulness in everyday life. At the end of the day, we have to take care of one another. We have to save ourselves.
– A. Malone, Assistant interviews editor
I don’t believe I have anything to tell you about this election that you don’t already know. Very soon, two white men will get on a stage and talk to the public. They will promise things to you in hopes that you will offer them your vote, your democratically earned approval. I won’t romanticize this democratic republic any further because I, like my ancestors, drew the short straw in many of these votes. We were the laborer, the bull, and the soil. I care not for the past of America because America has yet to acknowledge it’s past fully. I’m here to ask if you’re interested in the possibility of land where your voice is heard. This election, like many before, is a vote between two white men vying for your approval. But inaction is also approval. If you don’t vote in this election, I will not look down on you. This country has done its job of making a vote the most significant and least significant action one can take in the face of genuine fascism. What will you do to support your community if you’re not voting? How will you show up for your community after you’ve voted? How will you protect the place you call home?
– Nicholas Nichols, Assistant poetry editor
I first started paying attention to politics when I was a freshman in high school. The election was Bush v. Gore, and though I knew that my father was a staunch Democrat, and that most of the boys I went to prep school with came from Republican households, I understood nothing about what that meant. I remembered eight years prior, watching George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot in the presidential debates, sitting on the couch next to my father, eating Cheese-Nips. I remember understanding that in our house, we supported Bill Clinton.
Four years after that fateful election, I was a freshman again—this time at Haverford College, this time in an environment that reflected my values, where the vast majority of my peers were liberal and progressive. By this point I’d begun to figure out what my values were. It was the first presidential election after the September 11 attacks. It felt gravely important, not only because I was eighteen and would actually be voting, but because the stakes seemed higher. I was out as gay, and marriage equality was a big issue that lived under the tent of family values. I quickly became familiar with the phrase “now more than ever.”
Now, due to COVID-19, I’ve only recently begun to see a few friends offline, here and there. We’ve been in touch throughout this wretched year, via text and Zoom, like everyone else, but those conversations haven’t been the same as in-person discussions. We’ve all faced varying degrees of isolation these last several months, and been forced to confront ourselves in ways we previously hadn’t. Perhaps it’s that same force—a collective isolation—that was, at least in part, behind the unusual depth of the public outcry following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. I’ve written elsewhere that I never expected the outcry to reach the heights it did, or to maintain its volume for as long as it did. But in the urgency of “now more than ever,” we’ve managed to unearth a long-needed collective reckoning that, though having quieted, continues as we move closer and closer to election day.
Every election I’ve been old enough to vote in has been framed in this way: “now more than ever.” And with each passing year, as a Black, non-binary, middle-class person, I am less and less enchanted with our electoral process. I am less and less inclined to vote. I often feel like our process, our country’s politics, don’t deserve my black-ass queer-ass vote. It hasn’t been earned. But this seemingly old political adage has never been more true than it is right now. Things are so crazy that a brief stint with murder hornets went nearly under the radar in 2020. And why not? We’re six months into a global pandemic, Donald Trump is president, the economy is in the toilet, and everything’s on fire. I am not the least privileged among us. Babies are still being torn away from their parents, housed in cages, and abused in every manner possible. Now more than ever. Now more than ever. Now more than ever.
– Dennis Norris II, Senior fiction editor
Once upon a time, I almost finished an engineering degree. What I mean to say here is that I sometimes use Microsoft Excel to self-sooth. I gather data and make spreadsheets and charts so I can see a problem plainly, see where things went wrong, see what I can’t see otherwise. Which is why, a couple of years ago, I went and gathered whatever statistics I could find on every presidential election that’s occurred in my lifetime. I found numbers for demographics, for turnout, for party breakdown, and so on. I’m not Nate Silver or anything; this was just a little “Saturday afternoon in late-stage capitalism” project. Here’s a summary of what I found:
- 44% of eligible voters didn’t vote in 2016.
- 19% of the population voted for Trump. Less than a fifth of the population voted for our current president.
- Romney lost in 2012 with 47% of the vote, Trump won in 2016 with 45%. In fact, the last time a GOP candidate got a smaller percent of the vote than Trump was Bob Dole in 1996 (41%).
- 7% of the vote went to third-party candidates, more than in any election since Ross Perot was on the ballot.
Many people I know are refusing to vote on principle. I want to understand; I try to, but I really don’t, for so many reasons. Here’s just one: voting is easy for so many Americans. We don’t even have to do it in person. We can request a mail-in ballot, fill it out in the comfort of our own homes, and mail it in or drop it off. Or, we can go in person, where we’re sure to encounter some of the amazing characters who work the polls every election. When I voted in the primaries earlier this year, I was surprised to see one of the regular poll workers there: an eighty-one-year-old woman who is actively undergoing chemotherapy (I’m all for civic engagement, but is this really the time to be out and about when you’re on chemo?!). Her job this year was to dispense hand sanitizer. She had to use both hands to push the thing down. This is what I mean: voting is easy, and you can walk away with a story.
I could spend a lot of time writing about why voting generally, or this election specifically, matter to me personally; I could write about how the current administration has directly harmed me and my loved ones. Or, I could drill into certain issues and their ramifications. Or, I could talk about the importance of down-ballot races, where your vote matters so much. But there are enough thinkpieces out there on these topics that I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll stick with this: I don’t agree with all of Biden’s platform. I don’t agree with America’s two-party system. I think a lot about our democracy is broken, in really deep ways. And, I don’t think I can fix that by voting or not voting. However, by casting a ballot, that’s one more vote for a chance to fix what’s broken. What’s the alternative? Do nothing, and passively watch the world literally burn? Don’t just vote, but please, vote.
– T.L. Pavlich, Assistant features editor
As a fiction editor, I spend a lot of time thinking about metaphors. How they function, how they might enhance or diminish a story, how sometimes they feel like the only way we can help someone understand what we’re trying to say. Lately, in my head, I’ve been overlaying metaphors, because that’s what 2020 has been: one big conflation of overwhelm. And so, when thinking about voting, about how to get others to think about voting in this particular election as something that is critical and crucial, I have also been thinking about masks. Do you wear a mask? I hope so. And I hope when you wear it, you’re able to ignore the discomfort and remember you’re not only doing it for yourself, but for your community—for the people around you who, if they contract this awful virus, might not make it. You’re doing it to keep everyone as safe as possible, and to ensure that hospitals are not overflowing with patients that cannot all be cared for, and to ensure that we continue to lessen our numbers until we have a cure. Do you see where I’m going with this? The masks are a preventative. They are not going to solve all of our problems. But they’ve been proven to be incredibly effective in keeping us from passing the virus. From making the problem worse.
I’m voting in this election, and specifically for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and Democrats all the way down the ballot, because this moment in time isn’t just about me. This is about protecting the people around me—even and especially the ones I don’t know. This is about ensuring that the next four years (or more, let’s be real) do not see a government in power that terrorizes millions of members of its population. Make no mistake, that’s what has been happening: terrorism. Trump and the Republican Party have proven there is no bottom for them. They are interested in preserving heteropatriarchal whiteness in this country, and nothing else, and there is really no telling how far they will go to uphold white supremacy in all its forms. Do I think Biden and Harris are the end-all, be-all? Of course not. Do I think they’re the best candidates the Democrats could have chosen? No; I’m not delusional. They won’t fix the deep systemic issues that continue to erode the US, and they will need an administration with all hands on deck in order to reverse so much of the damage that has put our country squarely in the middle of a human rights crisis. But Biden and Harris are the preventative. They are the flimsy masks, and I’m voting for them because the alternative is to let the people around me suffer. To be okay with that is to be complicit in whatever comes next. It’s the equivalent of exacting the same cruelty the Trump administration and the Republican Party revel in, and I won’t do it. I won’t fucking stand for it.
Voting is not, and never will be, the end of anything. It is part of the process of living in this country, of being an active citizen. I think it’s easy to let frustration and anger overwhelm us right now, to say it doesn’t matter. But the politicians we respect? The ones we admire, who actually do their jobs and prioritize the writing and passing of legislation to help make this country more equitable and just? They didn’t just appear out of thin air. People had to vote them in. Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Danica Roem, Maxine Waters, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, Katie Porter, the late John Lewis and Elijah Cummings—all elected. We need to keep showing up, keep protesting, keep marching, keep vocalizing, keep supporting activists and community organizers on the ground, keep sending our money to and volunteering our time with organizations making real change. And we also need to keep voting. It’s not the only step we can take, but for those of us who are eligible, we owe it to those around us—especially anyone who is too young, or who is disenfranchised, or who can’t vote because of immigration status—to not sit this one out.
Choose to wear the mask. Make things safer. Show up for this election, and vote out Trump and all other Republicans.
– Rebecca Rubenstein, Fiction editor
I was raised to be civic-minded. One of my parents worked for the State Department, and I spent most of my childhood and teenage years within a few miles of one US government building or another. As soon as my parents were able to (that is, as soon as they retired), they volunteered to staff the voting booths on Election Day. That same State-Department-parent actually spent last summer as a volunteer election monitor in Ukraine. They’re dedicated people.
By contrast, I’ve always been disenchanted by politics. I’ve voted in every presidential election since I turned eighteen, but only once with enthusiasm. The older I’ve gotten, the more left-leaning I’ve gotten, which means that at this point, there will likely never be a presidential candidate in my lifetime who advocates for all the things I want for this country and the people in it. This afternoon, I saw a yard sign that read, “BYE, DON,” which is a pretty accurate capture of my sentiments right now.
Despite this, I signed up to be an election worker for the first time this year. One of my parents is recovering from surgery and the other is still under one year of being declared cancer-free—those are two humans who should not be out in public right now. I’m lucky to have work that allows me to spend a Tuesday in November away from my computer, and I’m making use of it. Until I can find a meaningful way to opt out of this two-party hellscape—until my abstinence from voting does more good for the most marginalized in our society than my participation—I’ll keep doing my best to inch us in a better direction.
– Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn, Features editor
The day after Trump was elected, I went to my bank with my mother and father and opened a safety deposit box. They were both issued keys, as was my partner. Inside were copies of my parents’ birth certificates, their marriage certificate, my birth certificate, my adoption papers, and my naturalization papers. “If anything should happen to me,” I said calmly, “come here first.”
They looked at me as if I were crazy. “Lauren,” my mother said, “you’re an American. You have nothing to worry about.”
To date, there are at least fifty adoptees who were adopted from at least twenty-eight countries who have been deported. There are an unknown number of adoptees currently living without citizenship despite being adopted legally and, in most cases, having lived in America for their entire lives.
In the age of Trump, and his focus on eradicating immigrants from this country, I find myself afraid. So afraid, in fact, that I carry copies of the documents in my safety deposit box on me at all times. So afraid that I also carry the address and phone number of the US Embassy and Consulate in Korea. So afraid that I am constantly checking over my shoulder, wondering if I will be the next immigrant ejected from America. But that’s just it—this isn’t Trump’s America. This is America’s America… and it’s time we vote like it.
– Lauren J. Sharkey, Features editor
As I write this, another hurricane is rolling through the Deep South, along the Alabama coastline and the Florida panhandle, tearing down power lines, flooding streets, and dropping tree branches on homes. The folks there, like their counterparts from southwest Louisiana, will be spending the next weeks trying to get their lives back to some semblance of normal, and they’ll be doing it together. Most of them will do this whether or not they share political beliefs. There will be some exceptions, just like there were in the early days of the pandemic when “entrepreneurs” raided store shelves for toilet paper that they could resell online at huge markups, or even now on the West Coast where misguided and even malicious actors are setting up citizen patrols claiming to look for Antifa arsonists. But most people, when faced with shared pain, look for ways to come together and help their neighbors make the situation better.
I saw this a lot growing up in south Louisiana. Some years, when the Midwest snows were heavy, the snowmelt combined with the spring rains to swell the Pearl River over its banks. The call would go out over the radio or television for people to fill sandbags to stack atop the levees or along the riverbanks. And people showed up, mostly from the more threatened neighborhoods but also from elsewhere. I won’t pretend to know their motivations: maybe they were extended family or maybe their church was in danger or maybe they just wanted to help. The important part was there was an emergency, and they did the work.
In the aftermath of these emergencies, we want there to be an accounting, a look back at what went wrong and what should have been done better. We want a plan to improve things for the next time this happens. But to get to that point, we have to get through the emergency first.
I’m voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this year for similar reasons. They’re the people putting sandbags atop the levee; they’re the neighbors with chainsaws clearing the downed pine trees from the roads so the ambulances can get through. They’re looking at the immediate problems first and trying to help us get through them.
There are some people who are unsatisfied with the plans that Biden and Harris are presenting for the aftermath, and I get that. I share the sentiment, honestly. I don’t think they’re bold enough, given the long-term structural issues we’re facing as a nation and as a living planet. And I know it feels like there’s never going to be a moment after an emergency where we’ll be able to take a long look back. The emergencies, whether physical or natural or emotional or spiritual or political, are coming so quickly that there’s no time to take a breath. In some ways it still feels like March right now. But there will be a pause at some point, a moment when we can all take a collective breath, and when that day comes, it will be better for all of us if our immediate next thought isn’t about what dangerous situation the current president is going to get us into in order to deflect from his personal scandals.
Joe Biden isn’t exciting or flashy. He’s not the kind of orator who exhorts his crowds to attempt great acts. He doesn’t really have big plans of his own. He’s not who I was looking for in a candidate during the primaries. But Joe Biden is the guy who’ll show up and shovel sand into a burlap bag alongside his neighbors—and he’ll call the other people in his neighborhood, even the ones he doesn’t always get along with, and try to get them to help, too. Most of them probably won’t, but a few will, and in moments like this, you take all the help you can get.
– Brian Spears, Senior poetry editor
I’ve been remembering elections past.
My first was in 1976. I couldn’t vote (I was only four) but I remember a sense of unease from the grownups and the word “landslide.” I remember that Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, would be replaced by a movie star. It seemed wrong (and I’d like to say, after seeing the effects of the Reagan-Bush years, it was).
The next election I remember is 1984: for the first time, a woman was on a presidential ticket: Geraldine Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s pick for VP. What mattered in 1984 was that a woman could be on the ticket! See, my (girl) friends and I were told, a girl can do anything! A girl can be president! they said. A girl, maybe, but as we’ve learned a woman cannot: thirty years later a woman is still “too shrill,” “too bossy,” too “unelectable.” Mondale-Ferraro lost to the first Bush, and we girls who could “do anything” walked on, learning to always have enough coins in our purses to call home, being told to sit with our legs crossed and our hems pulled down, and later, at campus safety training, to walk with our keys threaded through a clenched fist when alone outdoors at night.
1992 was the first presidential election I could vote in. I was in college, voting absentee in the district I’d grown up in—a tiny farming community, though by then many of the family farms had failed. I voted for William Jefferson Clinton at the county clerk’s kitchen table, in her farmhouse on Nevins Road, amid fields of corn and soybeans, then went back to college and hoped for the best. For once, it seemed, the best happened—not only because Clinton won, but also because Fleetwood Mac played at the victory party. I had so much hope.
2000: Bush v. Gore. I still recoil at the phrase “hanging chads.” When the Supreme Court halted the recount, I began to feel like things would continue to go very wrong indeed.
2004: early morning, walking with the person I was married to then to what, in the neighborhood, we called “the high rise”—our polling place at the base of an apartment building. Justine from next door stayed with the boys in case they woke up before we got home. Noticing on the walk back how the burning bushes in the neighborhood were not just bright red, but every color of yellow, orange, and even green. I was sick and getting sicker—too tired to stay up for results on election night. Next morning, waking, shuffling into the kitchen wrapped in my gray fleece robe. Flipping on the GE Space Saver under-cabinet radio (ca. 1980) for the news: another four years of a Bush White House. Sinking to my knees. My boy, three years old, finding me there on the kitchen floor, laying his head down on my back, wrapping his arms around me. Mama, he said, it will be all right. But of course, it wouldn’t: it would be endless war, war for his entire life so far.
2008: three little ones now, yet sicker so I’d voted absentee through the mail. The same gray fleece robe, this time forcing myself to stay awake to hear the news: Barack Obama would be president. Waking the kids up so they could touch this moment. Happy tears. Dancing. Hugging the kids. Laughter. Hope.
Then came Citizens United, 2010. I was in the car—a minivan, naturally—with the kids, probably picking someone up or dropping someone off at school, listening to NPR, in the middle of a Minnesota January (which is the longest January) when the decision came down. I cried. “What’s wrong, mama?” the kids asked and, being a very earnest mother, I tried to explain to three kids (ages nine, seven, and five) the Citizens United decision—that corporations now had First Amendment rights—just as earnestly as a week before I’d given them instructions for what to do in an avalanche.
Eight years of Obama—who was not perfect; who I did not always agree with—and then, 2016: a sickening feeling that built as the months went by… After setting aside my (second round of) graduate work for six months to move my family back to Michigan so I could leave my marriage, I was away for a week, hunkered down in the back room of a friend’s bookstore on the West Coast, trying to write a critical thesis that I hadn’t begun thinking about and that, in theory, was due in six weeks. I stayed alone in a tiny Airbnb, and watched the returns come in alone, cried and shook and puked alone. Walked out into the street the next morning, alone, and wondered why they weren’t full of all of us saying, Hell no.
Now it’s 2020 and all my worst fears—and even worse things than I’d ever imagined—have come true. My boy, the one who comforted me when he was three and George W. Bush was re-elected, the one I woke when he was seven to hear the words “President-elect Obama,” will be voting in his first presidential election. We’re voting absentee, but we live near Detroit where eleven mail sorting machines were recently taken out of service, so we’re worried about mailing our ballots. We’ll fill them out, then drop them off at city hall in person, in masks, six feet apart, in the low-traffic hours.
We are both scared. He asked me last week: Was I worried? I said Yes. He said, I am, too. I’m afraid I won’t get to have anything like the kind of life I thought I would. College, a job someday, a home, maybe a family, or just a dog. I said, Me, too, and reminded him that many Americans have never had access to the life we thought he’d have. I’m afraid there could be violence, Mom. What if he won’t leave office? Does it even matter if I vote? I couldn’t lie. I said: I don’t know anymore.
Those with money and power have erased what semblance of democracy we had (and that’s all it ever was, a semblance—with the electoral college and gerrymandering and racist voting restriction laws; with women who have to vote with their husbands or fear getting beat up; with the nuclear option in the Senate, etc., etc., etc.). I understand now: the system is working the way it’s supposed to. The system is rigged, as it always has been, in favor of the rich (who not coincidentally, are more likely to be white and male) and against people of color, immigrants, the disabled, LGBTQ+ folks, the poor, and others on the margins. It’s rigged and it’s always been rigged; it’s rigged more expertly than ever before and we can see the rigging better because our country is in crisis everywhere we look: inequality, police violence, racism, climate crisis, an utter lack of principle and leadership in Washington. The current occupant of the White House deducted more hair styling expenses from his tax bill than I earn in a year of full-time teaching.
Please let’s not talk about this in front of your sister, I say. I don’t want to worry her.
We will vote, my boy and I. We will hope until we can’t anymore, and then I don’t know what we’ll do. I want, one day, to live in a real, true democracy where everyone is valued, is equal, is educated, has access to healthcare, has power and agency. I want to live in a system rigged only with the hopes and dreams and a shared vision of what this country can be if we reimagine it, if we start over with a new system that values everyone and makes amends with those our first try at this thing called America took from.
Please: hope with me, at least this one last time. Please hope with me while we still can. Please vote.
– Molly Spencer, Senior poetry editor
On April 9, 2017, David Dao, a Vietnamese American doctor, was dragged from the seat that he’d paid for on a sold-out United Airlines flight. It wasn’t long before video recordings of the incident by fellow passengers went viral, and the world watched. Across the ocean, I was six months into my first year living abroad in Beijing and working as an ESL teacher. It was early enough in my new life that every day presented a challenge, including navigating a completely different political landscape, which was often present even in the most minute moments within my workplace. By the time the pulmonologist—who was trying to make it home for a scheduled surgery—was made unwillingly famous, it had been obvious to me that Chinese politics were not appropriate watercooler talk, while American politics and the American lifestyle were very much to be relished and analyzed. As an American, I was often asked to verify or correct the perceptions of my coworkers. Still, I was unprepared for the reaction to Dao’s plight. Shortly after I arrived at work I was cornered by a group of teachers, all of them asking rapid-fire questions that I couldn’t answer fast enough to satisfy them. They expressed a collective dismay and even a slight hint of anger at how he’d been treated. I was still catching my breath when one teacher asked, Is that what America is like? The rest fell silent, waiting for my reply.
I don’t remember exactly how I answered this question, except that I lied. I said something neutral and apolitical that took the wind out of the conversation and got me off the hook. It was easier than answering for the country of my birth. I understood that my Chinese coworkers saw themselves represented in Dao and saw him as a victim. I could even tell by their line of questioning that they understood that his being visibly Asian, and not white, somehow impacted what had happened to him, but they could not make the leap to racism. And I was not, at the time, willing to go there with them.
But the question, Is this what America is like? has stayed with me for years, because the answer is an unequivocal yes. America is a country where upon capture by police after killing nine Black people in their church a white man was given Burger King and where a Black man was choked to death by police for selling loose cigarettes. That is what America is like and what it has been like since its inception—a reality that every Black American knows and lives with as best they can, but which I’d never been held accountable for in this way. In Beijing, I was implicated by association.
Back in 2009 I worked on a college campus and I can recall like yesterday when I sat down with a group of my students who’d recently returned from a semester abroad. Somehow the conversation turned to the reception of Americans abroad, which at the time was less than ideal. One student told me that when asked she’d told a cab driver that she was Australian, even putting on a fake accent, and another that his mother had given him a small Canadian flag pin to put on his backpack. That memory came back to me when I was the one traversing unfamiliar streets with names I couldn’t pronounce. I finally understood how the image of my country and how it was perceived could have an impact on my personal experience, from something as simple as getting directions to the potentially life-altering desirability as an employee. Somehow people in China were able to guess that I was American, often before I ever said a word, as if there was an element of my very being that shone through me like a beacon in the night or maybe a red flag, and so whether I wanted to or not, I became a representative of America. I found that for some I confirmed what they thought they knew about us, while for many others—as a Black American—I was not at all what they expected based on various forms of American media.
Fast forward to now, today, where I write to you from Bangkok, where I was caught in transit back to Beijing by closed borders back in March. Here in Thailand there have been fifty-nine recorded deaths from COVID-19 and whether you believe those numbers or not, there’s no refuting the mandatory temperature checks at the entrance to every public place, the hand sanitizer readily and freely available, and the face masks that people still wear even in places where they’re no longer required. I can’t take credit for knowing how the Kingdom would manage the pandemic when I ended up here, but it has been a starkly different experience from the United States.
For a while, I was blissfully unaware of what Thai people thought of us. Then, the lockdown eased and I started going out, and traveling the city by cab. Americans don’t like masks? One driver asked, making eye contact through his rearview window. It struck me immediately that his tone was exactly the same as that of my Chinese coworker’s when he asked, Is this what America is like? The subtext of these questions is aimed directly at the heart of what most Americans don’t want to admit: that we are not exceptional at all and instead are often willfully ignorant. We must admit this before anything else can be done. America is guided by capitalism, selfish individualism, and prejudice, and that has yielded our current state of protests, financial freefall, and mass death. I don’t think I have the right to tell you who to vote for, or even to vote at all—choosing who to vote for and whether to vote is the privilege of our democracy, a privilege that people in Thailand are fighting for and that we, as Americans, are in danger of losing.
– Monet Patrice Thomas, Interviews editor
The night of November 8, 2016 most women I know cried themselves to sleep, knowing, in the deep intuitive way that women know, what was to come. Little girls cried, too.
And it came. A caricature of our worst nightmare as girls, as women, rose up in the form of the beast who grabbed the presidency with both hands, utter disdain, and the total confidence of a pathological liar, grabbed it as though the office and the White House were, indeed, a “pussy” who would “let him.”
“O say can you see / by the dawn’s early light,” we sing. America’s anthem rings in my ears, a prophecy, it now seems, of the slow dawning upon us of our country’s shadow as we wait to see if the flag will still fly. When I say “a slow dawning,” I am referring to people like me and my husband, both raised in white America, both having attended schools which taught us a mythical history—a narrative based in lies that we had no reason to suspect, given our privilege, given the benefits of these lies. I am not referring to the Black and brown marginalized Americans, for whom the truth of the inequality and imbalance of power in this country has been a stark brutality, an ongoing and embodied reality.
So much has been revealed to me in these last four years. The reality of women’s oppression and repression was laid bares as revelations poured forth from the newest iteration of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement. I don’t need to say “me too” today. Most of us know the truth of “yes, all women.”
On July 1, 1971, the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibited the states and the federal government from using age as a reason for denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States who are at least eighteen years old, was ratified. I turned eighteen on June 5, 1972, just in time to vote in the presidential election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. I was eighteen and a solo mom of a one-year-old baby girl, barely getting by, living in poverty and struggle.
At eighteen, I knew zip about women’s rights, human rights, or our government. Instead of being informed on the issues, I was living them. I came of age in the generation that fought in the Vietnam War, the generation in which huge strides were made for women’s rights and, though I heard the news, and even attended a few consciousness-raising groups, I was too gripped by the need to survive, for food and shelter for me and my baby, to understand the significance of this hard-won right to vote. Though it would be twenty more years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court, the groundwork for her appointment—along with progress for women’s equality and laws against sex discrimination, which she would pioneer—had been laid.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, a day I won’t forget. But back to the year I turned eighteen and the right to vote.
I didn’t. And Richard Nixon beat George McGovern in the 1972 Presidential election in a landslide victory.
Why didn’t I vote? At that time, I didn’t connect the dots between politics and my daily life. I didn’t understand that my wellbeing and that of my child was undermined by the politics of American government. It wasn’t until years later, when I attended graduate school and first heard the phrase “the personal is the political,” that I would begin making this important connection. American feminist Carol Hanisch popularized the phrase in her essay of the same name, published in the early 1970s. That phrase encompasses why I see myself at eighteen and beyond, in hindsight, as a feminist—not in the ideological sense, but in the sense that the poverty, lack of education, and young motherhood I lived was a result of politics. My everyday struggles were an act of bravery and an embodiment of feminist boots on the ground, albeit unrecognized and unconscious.
The courage to change the things I can is something I learned to live by a few decades ago and that, as well as an inner drive for freedom, is how I got here today: to this essay, to access, to voice.
I first voted in 1976, for Jimmy Carter, and have voted in every election since. The 1976 election was a close race and I understood then that my vote, if not my voice, mattered. My candidate won. My vote was my voice, even if I had little else. By then I’d gotten a job in radio broadcasting, as one of the earliest female disc jockeys to work in Top Forty, and that job was the result of affirmative action, first signed into law by JFK in 1961 and upheld in subsequent years by the work and diligence of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who upheld its strict scrutiny.
The efforts of Congresswoman Martha Griffiths further ensured the prohibition of sex discrimination, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, drafted for the purpose of eliminating racial discrimination in employment and amended during the Congressional debate to prohibit discrimination against women as well. Women like Martha Griffiths, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and so many others, each made all the difference in my life, even when I didn’t know it. They are the reason I not only achieved a successful career in radio without a high school diploma but also finally received an undergraduate degree in English, and later, my Master of Social Work.
On November 3, 2020 I owe those women, at the very least, my vote. Whatever life you are living—young, old, or otherwise—I hope you see the connection between that life and this election. I hope you comprehend how much your voice matters, that how you are living is a direct reflection of the laws of our land and the people we put in power to create, interpret, and uphold those laws.
If you live on the margins, as I did for so much of my life, you may not realize your power, or perhaps more importantly, that your inability to recognize or use this power is the way the people in control of our government prefer it. Stand up. Stand up and be counted.
I am standing with you. Our voices matter. The act of standing can change history, even before you get to the ballot box. Standing up is the beginning.
– Kelly Thompson, Voices on Addiction editor
While “working from home” on Election Day in 2008, I wandered down the street in downtown DC, going to pick up the next of the free things on my list—a Krispy Kreme donut or a Starbucks coffee or any number of things being handed out as a gold star for those of us who wearing our “I voted” stickers. When my phone rang, it was my sister, nine years older than me and still living in North Carolina where we’d grown up, calling to tell me she had voted for the first time ever. Quick math led me to the conclusion that she, at age thirty-two, had never before exercised her right to vote, whereas I, at twenty-three, had voted in everything I possibly could have in the previous four years.
“I never really cared,” she said, as a matter of fact, as if stating her date of birth.
I was outraged and responded the only way I could, by quoting something I’d heard on a television show: “You know, Black people couldn’t always vote. Women couldn’t always vote. But here we are, Black women voting!”
Sister, Sister was one of my favorite shows growing up in the ‘90s. When I got an unfortunate curly perm at the start of sixth grade, everyone suddenly thought I looked just like Tia and Tamera, despite my skin being many shades darker than theirs, my eyes being much bigger, and generally, you know, my not looking like them at all, aside from my hair now being curly. I watched every episode on the WB, even after Tia passed on Harvard to go to Michigan to be with Tamera (which was even more outrageous than not voting in my self-righteous, thirteen-year-old mind).
The 1998 episode in which Ray, Tamera’s father, runs for office is forever burned into my memory. Tamera had just come out of the voting booth when she made the above statement to a random Black woman waiting in line. Even though it was a humorous moment in the show, it changed me forever. It cemented my reason for voting for the rest of my life: I want to honor those who fought for my right to do this.
I don’t see voting as an obligation to my ancestors, but fulfilling the joy they didn’t get to take part in themselves. I think of my multiple great-grandparents who wouldn’t even show up on Ancestry.com results because they were not considered human in their lifetimes. I think of my mother, a boomer who remembers the bus boycotts that took place when she was a little girl.
I understand the complex nature of voting in America (and even more so as a resident of the District of Columbia). I get the unfairness of the electoral college, the imperfection of the two-party system, the fact that it seems anyone can buy anyone’s vote with the right amount of money and airtime. But I also know that voting is a simple way I can make a tiny difference.
I should have respected my sister’s choice to not vote—that’s why we vote, to exercise our right to choose. My being outraged at her didn’t make any difference, but perhaps my loving her better would have. She’s sure as hell voting this time around—there’s a lot for her to care about.
Nothing about 2020 has been perfect, but I’d be remiss to not be grateful for all that I do have. One of those things I have is a Black body, and there has never been a more vital time to vote, saying thank you to everyone who suffered so I don’t have to.
– Vonetta Young, Fiction editor
Rumpus original art by Lisa Lee Herrick