By: Brady Osborne
I did not vote! Election Day has come and gone, but the culture it creates continues to linger. The superiority that wafts off the white middle class because they have voted is nauseating. It is the attitude of “we who have voted are better than you who have not” that I am referring to. The privileged sect have co-opted voting as a part of that privileged identity, perhaps without knowing so? Statements like: “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” abound and infer, first off, that everyone just has the ability to vote and those who “choose” not to are just “lazy” or “apathetic”.
However, this simply is not true. Not every person living in this country has been granted the “right” to vote. If an individual has been convicted of a felony, in most states (Vermont and Maine being the exceptions) their voting rights are taken away and in many states such rights are absent even after time has been served.
Furthermore, in states like Florida and Virginia one must appeal to the governor or some other political power in the hopes that those in power may grant them back their voting rights, but that may never happen. So even though one has served out one’s sentence they may never be restored to full citizen hood, they are continually treated as “less than” by their government in denying them, and fellow members of their community who tell them they should remain voiceless in the political and civil arena, they should not “complain”. Many individuals who are in jail, awaiting a hearing or trial and not convicted of anything are often denied the means to vote.
The powers that be have gone to great lengths to disenfranchise many in this nation and prevent them from voting. Notably minorities, poor and working class, students, and other “undesirables” as these are the demographics that tend to vote against the conservative corporate agenda. This year there were long lines at polling places in predominately African-American neighborhoods, lines that could not be rivaled by white communities. In African-American neighborhoods in Tampa and Miami on Election Day, there were lines in which individuals waited up to 8 hours in. When NAACP and SEIU members kindly began passing out water bottles to those waiting in such extreme lines in the uncommon November heat they were accused of attempting to bribe voters to vote for Obama; accused by republican “poll watchers” who had no real evidence.
In Ohio journalist Greg Palast uncovered the great disenfranchisement of African-Americans in Montgomery County who vote early in high numbers with the Souls to the Polls organization. Because many poor and working class people work 2 or 3 jobs voting on a Tuesday can be a great hardship so early voting becomes of great importance. Palast reports that the Secretary of State in Ohio reduced early voting to only one Sunday for 4 hours at one polling place for the entire county. Voters who took part in this early voting were not given the actual ballots that they should have been given, but absentee ballots of which an estimated 1 to 3 million are thrown away each election. Is there any wonder why someone may not vote, when groups of people are routinely and systematically prevented from doing so either directly or indirectly?
The battle to exercise one’s right to vote that many disenfranchised peoples have to take part in is a hardship which the mighty voters flaunting election day stickers reading “I vote I count” most likely don’t have to face. Such is a slogan of demoralization, inferring that if one does not vote, one does not count.
Is this really a voter-approved message? Pitting the voters and the non-voters against each other works to keep the disenfranchised in “their place”, a place in which they often remain voiceless and invisible. It is the individualistic nature of a capitalist state that causes people to compete with each other in all arenas of life and unfortunately, it seems as if this competition did not just encompass the actual political race, but the act of voting itself has become divisive. If we want this country to be a true democracy, then it must be representative of all who inhabit it.
We should strive to come together as communities instead of insisting that there are stringent, elitist rules that must be followed before one has the right to be heard and counted. I am not encouraging abstention from voting, but I fear many are deluded as to the actual effect their act of voting has on this nation. Change has to come from the people.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________Brady Osborne is a senior sociology major and president of the sociology club at Sonoma State University