Are You More than a Voter?

October 30, 2018

This morning I woke up to news that Trump has threatened to end birthright citizenship for children born in this country to non-citizen parents. When it comes to immigration, the trajectory of this regime toward all out ethnic cleansing has been clear. Rhetoric around MS13 and “criminal” undocumented immigrants on the campaign trail was right out of Hitler’s playbook, a dress rehearsal for the next thing, and the next, and the next. The attacks on immigrants have been steadily ramped up as soon as a previous outrage becomes normalized. Where will this end?

In response to the threat to end birthright citizenship, the righteous alarm on my social media newsfeed was immediately accompanied by “This is why we must vote;” “Do your duty. Vote the fascists out of office;” and most curiously, “Distraction before the elections, again.”

I don’t see how this announcement is a distraction from anything. Rather, it’s a bold declaration that Trump won’t be stopped by the elections, no matter what the results are, that he will continue to tear up norms and establish new norms in which more and more people are demonized, terrorized, or eliminated entirely. And what about all the people, millions in this country and billions around the world, for whom voting in our elections is not an option? Should they just hope that the minority of the world’s people who are American voters will keep everyone’s best interests in mind, which, to be frank, is not even an option on the ballot?

It saddens me that so many people cannot see any other way out of this nightmare besides going into a voting booth every few years. If you see that as your biggest or only contribution to the struggle, I have to ask, aren’t you more than a voter? Aren’t you a social and moral human being, a thinking, feeling human being? This knee-jerk but flaccid response, when something truly heinous happens and the future of humanity hangs in the balance, to obediently label oneself a voter first, a voter above all, and by default an American above all, is giving your power away, handing the future over to people who don’t care if the planet burns or our species itself becomes extinct. Fascists have cultivated a mindset in which they think it is possible to have a world that is just for them. It doesn’t matter if they are dead wrong about their ability to survive at the expense of all those they think are expendable. They are acting on what they believe, and have amassed the power and the means to take the rest of us down with them.

This is a trap that endangers all of humanity. How have dangerous regimes in modern history actually been stopped? By mass movements in which people have clogged the streets day after day, refusing to leave until their demand that the regime be removed from power is met. In the 60’s, how did people change oppressive laws against Black people and women and help end the Vietnam War? By refusing to go along with it, by disrupting business as usual and creating a crisis of legitimacy for the rulers. There is no example in history where any major social change has happened through voting. It has always happened through the determination of the people willing to be disobedient and go outside the normal channels.

I know many good people who are working their asses off to get Democrats elected, who have sacrificed a lot of time and energy. On top of that, with voter suppression and the open white supremacy of the Republican Party, it would be arrogant for me to say that voting is the safe choice and that’s why people default to slogans like “vote them out.” These fascists are making it so that even voting, or running for office against a fascist, or simply being a Democrat or a moderate Republican is not safe anymore. The recent terror with pipe bombs sent to political opponents such as Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, the Obamas and the Clintons, is one painful example of that. The fascists, and their rabid base, are not leaving anything to chance.

But just because fascists are making it harder to vote doesn’t mean that voting is the ultimate act of resistance. They want to shut down every channel of opposition, from voting, protests, art, journalism, education, science, the law … leaving no stone unturned in their aggressive, comprehensive program to strip away the ability of the people to oppose them as they advance on their road to genocide, and genocide is where we are headed. That is the logical end to children in concentration camps and Muslim bans and the military at the border and even more aggressive police violence and white supremacist mob violence and the erasure of LGBTQ people and everything that keeps coming down on us. So what is our program in response to that? Are we leaving no stone unturned to make sure they don’t advance one step further on that road?

I’m not saying that resistance should look the same for everyone. I have found my voice and plan of action through refusefascism.org, but I’m not writing this to advocate for one movement or organization. It seems there is something bigger that needs to happen, something that needs to shift in how millions of us in this country think about our power and responsibility, about what we are willing to put up with and who we are willing to struggle for. A few months back, when we were talking about the slogan In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America, a friend of mine said that he had trouble relating to this, that he did, concretely, care more about the safety of his own child than he did about “humanity” in the abstract. Maybe not everyone is willing to express it so bluntly, but this is how many people who see the danger of this regime are living their lives right now: seeking safety for their own children as others are being locked up.

Yet, this is a completely false separation. My friend’s child is a part of humanity, and her fate is tied up with the fate of billions of people around the world. This willingness to separate ourselves out is the same deadly logic that fascists are using to gather their forces all over the world. Safety for us. Benefits for us. Freedom for us. Power for us. Whoever that “us” is. For those that are putting all their hopes into a blue wave, maybe the “us” is a little wider, or maybe we think our vote is a vote for everyone, but it’s not. It’s a vote for running the empire in a different way, a vote for including more people, perhaps, into the arms of that empire, but it’s still a vote for “us,” and while we’re sucked into that logic, the future of everyone’s children, the children of the world, is being eroded to nothing. Democrats are not gathering the forces for humanity while Republicans gather the forces for fascism. Look at the climate crisis. Look at the wars in the middle east. Look at mass incarceration. Look at police murders. Voting, even voting for Obama, has not fundamentally changed the course of any of these things, and the hour is getting late. The struggle for the future of humanity can only be waged by millions of people acting together in mass defiance, not by proxy but by our own collective will.

We are living in times where bigger questions than who to vote for are at hand. Questions like who are you going to be? How will you define yourself? What will you say you did when you knew what road we were on? I ask myself these questions every day, and the discomfort I feel in trying to answer them causes some real crises, some that help me make the right choice and some that paralyze me for a little while, but those questions aren’t going away, not for any of us. We have to keep asking, and keep reaching for better answers.

For those who say we will vote them out, these are the immediate questions: No matter who wins, what now? Do you go to sleep or do you fight? And when the next hammer comes down, for everything you love, are you more than just a voter?

Author of The Pathless Sky. (novel, Europa Editions, 2015) www.chaitalisen.com