radical votes

I Voted

Two days ago, I voted early in Bloomington, Indiana. It took me around forty minutes and was a pretty great experience. I want to encourage everyone who is registered to vote, to do so, but even if you aren’t registered to vote, can’t vote, or choose not to, please go to a polling place on an early voting day, or election day, just to see what it looks like. For me, the early voting location in Bloomington provided me with a great vision for what I want the things that I do to look like. For all its limitations, the electoral process, for a moment, had engaged a multiracial, multigenerational group of people who spanned classes and backgrounds, thus involving a far more complicated mixture of people than my community’s power structure and the cultural and political projects that I am a part of. I want the things I do to involve and be accountable to people in this broad and complicated way.

I voted for Barack Obama in the presidential race and for a number of other candidates in state and local races who I believed reflected my ideas and values in a way that was substantially stronger than their opponents. I ask you to do the same. If you are registered to vote, please take the time this week to vote for Barack Obama and any other candidates who might create a better context for the cultural and political work that many of us are doing. If you are registered to vote, but are not convinced that you should take the time to vote, please read on.

I am under no illusion that this election, or any election, can bring the kind of radical societal change that I ultimately want to see. Moreover, I see how the electoral process can oversimplify, distort, and silence a vibrant set of beliefs and proposals and reduce them to vague generalizations or culture war. I shudder at the way in which the candidates change their ideas to appeal, not to the needs and concerns of real people, but to amorphous demographics. Watching the presidential race, I cringe every time Senator Obama talks about hunting down and killing Osama Bin Laden or changing the focus of U.S. military intervention from Iraq to Afghanistan. Even more, I am sickened by the way that Senator McCain has changed his rhetoric and selected a running mate to appeal to a bigoted and narrow-perspectived brand of conservative that was once his adversary. And, even though I am glad that Senator Obama’s fundraising might help him win the presidency, I am disgusted when I think of what could have been done with that money other than winning an election. Despite all of this, I feel good about voting for Barack Obama for president, as one part of all the commitments I hope to make towards building a different world. I can’t pretend to believe that I can convince anyone about why *they* should vote as I have. All I can do is try to explain why I have chosen to vote in the hopes that some of these things may resonate with some of the things that those reading this are feeling.

Context Matters

Radical community organizing, making independent art and music, direct action – these strategies of change happen in a cultural context that plays a huge role in the success or failure of these pursuits. As I stated earlier, I do not believe that any president can bring about the kind of change that I want to see, but I do feel like Barack Obama would, as president, set a powerful and positive context for my work towards that change. I see this election, not as a battle of competing policies, but as a referendum on very different views of the world and how one can engage in it.

What is Experience?

I think grassroots community organizing is extremely important. I think it can bring about the kind of changes in communities that politicians can’t. My vote for Barack Obama is an affirmation of this. His work as a community organizer in Chicago has obviously informed his politics and vision. I want to express that this kind of work, and not just military service or a political career, commands power and respect. Moreover, the Obama campaign itself is an affirmation of grassroots organizing. In the past, I advised people to vote, but not to let the campaign distract them from the work they were already doing. I now question the soundness of this advice. I have heard so many stories of people, working on the ground for the Obama campaign, having the really tough, soul-wrenching conversations in their communities about race and class that are so needed everywhere. In trying to convince others of something, they have had to think, and really think, about why they are themselves so committed. This is in stark contrast to the dangerous tendency I see in myself and many of my friends to settle with being right about something rather than engaging others to actually change things. For many, it is the first political movement to which they have ever given sweat or monetary resources. If the unpaid work and small monetary donations of so many can win an election, I can’t wait to see what else it can do. I hope that those who committed themselves to this one type of political involvement will continue to apply their passion and resources throughout their lives, regardless of the outcome of the election, but I feel that an Obama victory would do much to ensure this.

Experience with Race

During the election season, NPR has had a great series of stories where they talked to voters in York, Pennsylvania (not too far from where I grew up!) about race and the election. What NPR got very, very right is that they framed the conversation, not in terms of the race of the candidates, but in how the voters’ *experiences* with race affected their perspective on the election. To me, what is most paradigm shifting about Barack Obama’s candidacy is not the fact that he is multiracial, but that he has been able to reflect on and articulate how his complicated experience with race has shaped his life and informs his worldview and political ideas. In the NPR stories, a white woman said that she didn’t have much experience with race. As a multiracial person, I find this sentiment to be one of the most offensive and harmful examples of white privilege. It is, I believe, the reason I have heard, over and over, the misconception that people of color cannot be themselves racist, or that some white people fear reprisal if a black man is elected president. The United States is a multiracial country with an often shameful multiracial history. The assumption that only people who are not white have experiences with race is simply not true.

John McCain has experience with race. He is the adoptive father of a child who is not white. In fact, this was the subject of an ugly rumor, designed to hurt his chances in a Republican primary, that his daughter was actually his child from an affair with a non-white woman. The way that John McCain is perceived and the expectations, prejudices, and way of moving through the world that he has experienced will be profoundly different from his daughter. This is a challenge that many cross-cultural adoptive parents must struggle with, but McCain’s experience with this has not been part of the campaign. John McCain fought in a war that pitted him against people of a different race. He was captured, and tortured by some of them. In the not-so-distant past, McCain continued to refer to some groups of Asian people with the derogatory term “gook.” Again, coming to terms with the racism, xenophobia, and dehumanization that comes with war is a part of many peoples’, in particular soldiers’ experiences. Yet, the loudest commentary on race that has come from the McCain campaign has been from a small number of his most bigoted supporters.

If we, as a society, are going to get real about ending racism, if we are going to get real about coming to terms with the reality of a multi-racial United States – past, present, and future, then we need to be able to reflect on, and talk about our experiences with race. This needs to happen in our neighborhoods, and among the most visible representatives of our culture.

Culture Wars

I grew up in a part of Pennsylvania that is getting a lot of news coverage as the election comes to a close. John McCain believes it to be a stronghold of the kind of conservative base that will allow him to win the state, and the election. Right now, I live in Bloomington, Indiana where, just outside of the city limits, many would believe the same unyielding conservatism is represented. If there is one thing that has been disappointing about Obama supporters, it is that so many are willing to accept the line in the sand between cosmopolitan liberals and “ignorant rednecks.” I think this perspective is offensive and narrow. Many studies suggest that the rural vote is every bit as divided as most other places. As I drove, this past weekend, from Bloomington through the countryside to another town, I saw as many Obama signs as McCain ones. Growing up in a staunchly conservative area, I know that these beliefs are powerful. I know that bigotry is real. I know that these things come with the weight of history, traditions, and culture. But I also know that there are some, who come from those same places, from the same culture, through the same history, who come to very different conclusions in their life. Belief that we are born into red states or blue states, enlightenment or ignorance sells us all short. It absolves us from the responsibility of examining who we are and where we come from. I think that Barack Obama’s candidacy has consistently challenged this. John McCain, and especially his running mate Sarah Palin, are, quite cynically, suggesting that people should vote their race, class, and geography rather than their ideas, beliefs, hopes, and vision.

There are many other reasons why I felt good voting for Barack Obama, but the ones I’ve mentioned: that context matters and that we need to fundamentally challenge our ideas about where power comes from, how we think about race, and whether we view our world as a set of clashing monolithic blocks or a confluence of people with complicated interests and experiences, are the ones that mean the most. For the first time in my political life, they have made voting feel radical, in the original sense of the word, in the Ella Baker sense of the word, because I feel like, through this election, we could be that much closer to getting at the root causes of all the things in this world that we will change.


Early Voting and Sample Ballots

One of the ways to ensure your vote gets counted is to vote as early as possible.  You may be able to vote but there may be complications with your registration (you’ve moved for instance) that might complicate things and could delay your voting or just make for an uncomfortable situation on election day.

Early voting in Bloomington will be available at the Curry Building weekdays 8:30-4 through Nov. 2 and 8:30-noon on Nov. 3 as well as 8:30-4 (I think) on Saturdays Oct. 25 and November 1.

The Herald Times has information about the election and sample ballots on their website.

Update: Information on the state judges who are up for retention.

Update: Information on state judges up for retention with regards to abortion rights issues  This site is put up by an anti-choice organization, but the information provided should give anyone an idea of the decisions of some of the supreme court judges with regard to rights to have access to abortions.   The site mentions two key decisions with Theodore Boehm being the only justice up for retention who seems to have decided in favor of preserving access to abortions for Indiana women.

From the site:

Dissented against an opinion upholding Indiana’s 18-hour waiting period before an abortion could be done, stating, “Article I, section 1 of the Indiana Bill of Rights includes the right of a woman to choose for herself whether to terminate her pregnancy.”  Clinic for Women v. Brizzi, 837 N.E.2d 973, 994 (Ind. 2005).

Concurred with an opinion that expanded taxpayer funding for abortions through Medicaid in Indiana, stating, “denial of benefits to indigent women for medically necessary abortions is a violation of their state constitution.”  Humphreys v. Clinic for Women, 796 N.E.2d 247, 795 (Ind. 2003)

FYI: change of address and voter registration

Procrastinating as usual, I went to change my voter registration address today, the last possible day to do it.  I asked what would have happened if I hadn’t changed my address and the answer was that, at least in Monroe County, you are allowed to vote once at your previous polling location.  The challenge is that, with redistricting, your previous district’s polling location may now be the polling location for a new district.  So, in that case, one would most likely have to wait in line, only to be sent to a new location.  In any case, I was told that having different addresses wouldn’t keep you from voting, but could delay voting.  Info about this was mailed out to registered voters, but in a community like Bloomington where, for students, and many of my peers, housing situations change a lot, it’s easy to not get the info.  So, for those who moved, but didn’t change their voter registration address, I would just call the local election office and find out where the polling place is for the address under which you’re registered.  If you go there, you should be able to vote.

why vote? and distance from policy

I would now ultimately summarize my last post on the election as saying that deciding whether or not to vote and who to vote for is a personal decision based on one’s own politics, policy analysis, investments, family, identity, etc. in all it’s contradiction and complexity and not overwhelmed by media coverage of the election, political pundits, ideological rhetoric, or other people’s (however vocal they might be) reasons for supporting a given candidate.  To paraphrase a pundit on the radio, this election is not about issues, it’s about how the candidates resonate with voters.  This is true and great and sad.  But, this reality doesn’t have to be as stark and uncomplicated as the campaigns would like it to be.  I’m so excited that race and gender are part of this campaign and that I have heard more and more people talking about these things as a result of the election.  Still, I got really sick of people debating just how black Barack Obama really was, or trying to explain why women identified with Hillary Clinton, and now, the super-cynical steel cage match between race and gender that was ushered in by Sarah Palin’s VP nomination.  What this leaves out entirely is any imagination for the way that Barack Obama’s experience with race might resonate with someone’s experience with gender or all the other complicated ways that we can connect with or reject the ideas of the people around us.  I resent the implication that people of color identify with Barack Obama just because he is multi-racial or that white, working class people can’t for the same reason.  It shouldn’t be that stark, and it isn’t if people just give themselves some space to do some critical introspection.

This isn’t the only reason why I think people like me (young, punk, creative-classish, college-town living) should vote.  In the first few elections where I was eligible to vote, I voted by absentee ballot.  The first time I actually went to the polls it was pretty exciting and also eye-opening.  I think that people should vote if only to see who else votes and what this says about where political power lies on your community.  Are the people at your polling place mostly of one race?  One gender?  Perceivably of one economic group?  What about the election workers?  Is it easy to vote or confusing?  What might your experience suggest about barriers that others could encounter in having access to even the most basic forms of political involvement?

Finally, Patrick asked me why I thought many of my peers weren’t voting.  Off the top of my head, I said it was because of people’s identification as radicals or anti-authoritarians and because many people just couldn’t be bothered to navigate the process of getting registered and going to the polls.  I forgot one important factor however.  An argument that I frequently hear is that libral, Democratic candidates are just as bad as the conservative ones at a policy level.  Common examples of this are the environmental policy during the Clinton admininstration or support for free trade agreements and more recently Scott Ritter’s statement that there wasn’t much difference between Obama and McCain’s rhetoric about Iran.  More importantly though, I feel like many of my peers feel unaffected by politics, even in the last 8 years of the Bush administration.  This makes sense.  Of my friends few own or drive cars very often, hardly anyone has been in military service or even has a family member in active duty, hardly anyone is a parent, hardly anyone is an immigrant or child of first-generation immigrants, few had to sustain the full cost of a college education themselves and many decided to forgo college, few work in a professional setting where job loss due to discrmination or harassment is a concern, most are young and lead a healthy lifestyle and have been free of chronic health concerns.  I’m not hating.  This describes me too, and I’d say we’re in good company.  However, this is a dangerous place to be in because it is very easy to feel like we haven’t been directly affected by the policy decisions of the last 8 years.  It’s also easy to imagine weathering another 8 years of a Republican administration feeling like little has changed in our daily lives and with the slim satisfaction that we supported neither the reviled Republican leader nor their imperfect liberal rival.

I don’t think this perception is always true, but it’s an easy one to have.  For myself, I had to think a little before I realized how differently my mom, a special-ed elementary school teacher, talks and thinks about teaching and what she sees as possible within and as a result of education since No Child Left Behind became part of her reality.  Also, I’ve been out of college for a few years, but I’m thinking of going back and the prospects for financial aid are really, really different than five years ago.  Still, it took a bit of thought and intention to go from “all the candidate’s policies suck, fuck em'” to “these things affect me”, so I understand the apparent apathy of many of my peers.  I just hope it doesn’t stick.

Non-College Kids Outsiders to Rising ‘Youth Vote’

From a story on All Things Considered:

Since the 2000 elections, the number of young Americans going to the polls has increased steadily. This year is no different: In some states, double and triple the number of voters younger than 30 have turned out for primaries, compared with 2006. But another trend is also emerging: the widening voting gap between youth enrolled in college and their non-student peers.