There Is No Pure in Politics

A few days ago, I posted a two-part guest post from Kelly McCullough about the necessity of voting. The first part was practical, laying out some political truths about why this country has found itself where it is today. The second part was far more direct, talking about the people voting most affects. As a nominally fertile woman, I happen to be one of those people.

Apparently, Kelly’s post wasn’t blunt enough, as I have two people who usually display relatively normal reading comprehension skills going off the rails in the comments. One of them is bragging about how he does nothing to protect my rights while telling me I’m on a “high horse” and accusing me of calling him names. The other has a list of issues I must solve for him before he’ll do anything about my rights and is saying, oh, it doesn’t matter anyway, because systemic collapse must be on its way.

So, Kelly’s post was not blunt enough. I can fix that.

You really want a name from me? Fine. Let’s go with “complicit”.

There is no purity in politics. There really isn’t any purity in anything, because the whole concept as applied to people is religious in nature. For that matter, so is your “when the revolution/collapse comes” apocalyptic fantasy. There is no miraculous better world that arises from the rubble any more than there is a way to abstain from the consequences of your political decisions.

(Those of you out there now saying you’re determined to let a Republican win if your choice for Democrat doesn’t get the nomination? You don’t even get to claim religious fervor. You’re just straight up holding hostages, and you’ve chosen the most vulnerable among us to throw between you and the gun.)

Nor is there any opting out of politics. No political office will go unfilled because you didn’t want to vote. Someone is always going to have that power. The only question is who.

Photograph of white fabric with a blood-red handprint.
“bloody-hand-print.jpg” by r. nial bradshaw, CC BY 2.0

When you have the option to vote and don’t, you’re still making an active choice. You’re choosing to see us all ruled by “Eh, whoever the rest of you feel like because voting makes me feel dirty.” Given what we know about how elections have played out over the last several decades, in practical terms, that means most of you are choosing to elect Republicans, warmongering, income inequality, white supremacy, theocracy, misogyny and all. You have other options; you just choose not to take them.

What I really want to know is how much blood you can take with your choice to abstain and still feel clean while you’re doing it. If I’m going to be among your sacrifices, I want to know how much I count for. How much do any of us count for?

How many coat-hanger abortions and arrests for miscarriages are you willing to condone in order to feel pure when you won’t vote because our president didn’t call people to account for torture? Where is that balance?

How many people can be sold into dangerous prisons while you feel virtuous for abstaining from the party of the mayor who brought us the cover-up of a police shooting? How many Syrian refugees can remain in danger while you righteously declare “a pox on both their houses” over decisions from two wars ago? How many people will be denied access to their hospitalized partner while you point fingers at the Democrats who participated in obstructing same-sex marriage for a time? How many people can go hungry and ill now while you beat your chest about events of the 1990s? Just how bad can income inequality get while you lovingly stroke your conscience over Wall Street?

How much blood will you allow to be spilled because voting is impure?

That’s the choice you actually have. I don’t have clean hands, but neither do you. All you have is the choice–every time there is an election, every time you have the chance to influence the political process–about what happens next. All you have are the same political realities that the rest of us have.

There is no purity. There are only people, and people aren’t pure. We can’t be made pure. That’s a religious redemption fantasy.

So figure out where it is you draw that line. Who are you going to sacrifice for your fantasy? Then tell us. Be honest. Say to my face that my rights matter less than your imaginary purity. Say it out loud instead of putting your hands behind your back and trying to look angelic. It isn’t working.

No matter how often you tell yourself you’re pure, I know. We know. We don’t forget our rights are on the line the way you do. I, for one, am done letting you make the claim unchallenged.

You’re not pure. You’re complicit. And we’re going to keep saying so.

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There Is No Pure in Politics

25 thoughts on “There Is No Pure in Politics

  1. 2

    Removing yourself from the voting process means the politicians no longer have any reason to consider your perspective; the changes you demand before you bother voting again will simply not happen because no one has any reason to bother considering the demand. One individual amongst hundreds of millions doesn’t have much weight, but now you have zero.

  2. 3

    My only problem with this idea is that sometimes it’s not about purity. Taking a long term view I constantly see the same arguments from the left that people have to vote for the democrats to stop awful republican legislation. The problem is that if you look long term this has allowed the democrats to slide far right from where they were and the republicans can keep moving right as well. The democrats know they don’t have to make any real substantive changes because so many voters let them slide. Democrats now do things that would have been unthinkable in democrats 30 years ago. You have to make them stop somehow or the centre will keep moving right.

  3. 4

    disclaimer: this is purely academic to me, i dont get to vote in the us.

    Taking a long term view I constantly see the same arguments from the left that people have to vote for the democrats to stop awful republican legislation. The problem is that if you look long term this has allowed the democrats to slide far right from where they were and the republicans can keep moving right as well. The democrats know they don’t have to make any real substantive changes because so many voters let them slide.

    This has actually been addressed in all the relevant essays, and has to do with the fact that Dem and left wing voters only show up to the big elections, whereas rightwingers show up to everything.
    Yeah, voting for shitty democrats over horrifying republicans only slows the rightwards movement of the country; but trying to change that dynamic during presidential election is pure fuckery. the reason the us is sliding rightwards on many issues is that no one kicks out the “moderates” in local and primary elections in favor of the left wing candidates; no one votes left in tiny-ass, off-season elections. no one is filling the local school board with left wingers he way the right filled them with creationists and homeschoolers. etc.

    by the time you’re dealing with a presidential election, you’re only doing damage control. or, you can chose not to control the damage and instead let it hit people at full force.

  4. 5

    Voting for a politician who meets all my needs has never been an option. Now I try to vote for the ones who do not have a history of saying they will do everything they can to destroy most of the things I consider important. It’s a pretty shabby choice sometimes, but as long as we’re locked into a two party system I can’t see another option.

  5. 7

    I have voted in pretty much every election since I was 18 years old and could first cast a ballot. Yes, even local elections. My son came with me to vote on his 18th birthday. And my father became a citizen the year I turned 18, and we voted — together — for the first time each. Voting is long and powerful tradition in my family that comes with pride in our civic duty.

    That said, it is not for anyone else to tell me that I’m obligated to vote because of them. This is a duty between me, my country, and my conscious. Attempts to shame me into voting a certain way make me detest the idea and the candidates. If this is how they garner votes I want nothing to do with them.

    In addition there is an assumption in this piece that the issues that ‘matter’ would be better under a Dem. and that other issues just don’t matter at all. That racial justice and immigration and things important to PoC just don’t even rate a mention in the long list of ‘things that matter’.

    There is an assumption that these issues are decided by POTUS when winning both houses would actually be a much more effective way to take control and create and change policy. And there is a horrible idea that things like abortion are better under a Dem, when clearly they are not.

    PoC are screwed anyway. It makes no difference to me who is POTUS. My STATE legislators are the ones turning down medicaid expansion, shutting down women’s health and abortion clinics, making fracking legal, determining policing. Feds haven’t done a damn thing. SCOTUS or lower courts are determining civil rights, not the POTUS.

    All these decisions are happening on the state level for a reason — for the past five years that GOP has been spending billions to win local elections — school boards and councils and mayors and governors — because those matter, too. And those elections are what’s driving limitations on abortion: coat hangers and arrests for miscarriages happen at THE STATE LEVEL, not the federal. Right for gay partners are happening at the state level, not the federal. Trans rights (which you don’t mention as being important) are happening in the courts and at the local levels of schools and colleges and individual companies, not at the federal level.

    We have a “progressive liberal” president and black people are getting gunned down, abortion clinics are closing, brown people in foreign countries are getting bombed, brown people in this country are being rounded up into detention centers or are afraid to practice their faith, social benefits are being cut, gun violence and death is going up, nothing real is being done about climate change…we already are screwed.

    So what exactly is the difference? POTUS can’t do jack without the houses behind him, and won’t do jack until the last two years when what s/he does won’t impact other elections, so you’re asking me to wait 6 years before anything substantial might get done unless the house changes too. And if we can change the houses we don’t need to care who POTUS is, anyway. See how that works?

    So I’m not giving away my vote to someone who doesn’t represent me. Let me repeat that for the folks in the back: I’M NOT GIVING AWAY MY VOTE TO SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT REPRESENT ME. Bernie seemed pretty good, but I doubt he can make it past the primaries. But if he is to chickenshit to address structural racism now he sure as hell won’t during his first 6 years, which makes him useless to me, because everything else that matters TO ME is tied into that.

    And it is about time the Dems learn that we are sick and tired of begging for crumbs instead of having an equal seat at the table. No more. Want our vote? MEET OUR NEEDS. And that is what happened to Kay Hagen in NC. The Latinx voters refused to vote for someone that didn’t make immigration a priority because she became no different to us than the GOP candidate. And she lost. Want to win? Speak to us. Directly. No more crumbs.

    My needs and the needs of other PoC are supposed to be subsumed to meet the needs of the white person. Because she matters more. The things that are important to ME and my people aren’t worth a mention in this privileged little screed. Because they don’t matter to white privilege and those that hold it.

    What? You don’t want to suffer like we do every day? THEN PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT WE NEED.

    Steph asked: “Who are you going to sacrifice for your fantasy? Then tell us. Be honest. Say to my face that my rights matter less than your imaginary purity. Say it out loud instead of putting your hands behind your back and trying to look angelic. It isn’t working.”

    I’ll say it — I’ll sacrifice the entirety of white cis-hetero-patriarchal privilege if it means waking you all up and paying attention to the others that walk among you. Your rights matter less to me than those of women and children and families currently being held against their will in inhumane conditions in deportation centers — so bad that they are on hunger strikes and killing themselves to escape. Or the rights of desperate children being turned away and held in prisons without representation. Your rights matter less to me than the rights of brown peoples being bombed into oblivion. Your rights matter less to me than the lives of Hondurans Hillary “War Criminal” Clinton killed when she interfered in their elections. Your rights matter less than the trans women murdered this year.

    How much blood will I allow to be spilled? Oh, you mean WHITE PEOPLE BLOOD, right? because the blood of black and brown people has never stopped spilling. Ever.

    So tell me, what are YOU willing to sacrifice? Say to MY face that my rights and my conscious and my people matter less than yours. Say it out loud instead of putting your hands on the ballot box and sacrificing us under the guise of civic duty.

    Because when other people die you are now complicit. Their blood is on your hands, the same hands that cast a ballot that was convenient for your needs.

  6. 8

    @Jadehawk

    Dem and left wing voters only show up to the big elections, whereas rightwingers show up to everything.

    This this this. Specifically, the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. Progressive voters not showing up for the 2010 midterms allowed for redistricting that favored Republicans (not to mention electing all those Tea Partiers); many House seats are now gerrymandered to go Republican for perpetuity. Because Republicans in these districts fear nothing except a primary challenge, they respond to their extremely conservative constituents by running and voting ever rightward. Also, President Obama’s viewing that election as Democrats getting “shellacked” (his words) did not give him confidence to stand up against the Republicans, which is why we had the bad year of 2011 and almost had that terrible “Grand Bargain.”

    The explosion of new abortion restrictions dates from the 2010 midterms (see here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/since-2010-32-states-have-restricted-abortions/ and here: http://jezebel.com/more-than-200-new-abortion-restrictions-have-passed-sin-1677563077) which ties back to Stephanie’s point: how many rights are you prepared to sacrifice in the name of ideological purity?

    Sorry, I’m not prepared to do that, because I’m thinking of someone besides myself and how much (for example) Hillary Clinton offends me. If that means I have to hold my nose when I go into that voting booth (or actually mark my mail-in ballot) then that’s what I’m going to do.

    @Anna

    You have to make them stop somehow or the centre will keep moving right.

    You do this by voting, every time.

  7. 9

    This is an issue I go back and forth on. In 2000, the MSM pushed a narrative that there was no real difference between Gore and Bush and I was one of those people young and ignorant enough to buy into it and voted for Nader as a protest vote. Fortunately, I live in CA so it didn’t make much difference as our state went for Gore anyways, but in many states the same attitude that I espoused resulted in Bush getting the state’s electoral votes and making the election come down to FL. We all no how that worked out with the W Presidency, Iraq, Katrina, and the Roberts SCOTUS and horrible rulings setting back Voting Rights, gun control, abortion etc. So when I see Bernie/Hillary fans claiming they will refuse to vote if their preferred candidate doesn’t get the nomination, it seems deeply irresponsible for anyone who claims to care about PoC, women, LGBTQ, Disabled people etc. IE- the people who will feel the brunt of the damage that a Republican President can do.

    BUT…there are also a healthy amount of Black people (most notably Elon James White of Thisweekinblackness) who are fed up with the D party relying on their votes and yet continuing to allow the oppressive conditions that spawned #Blacklivesmatter. They feel that neither Hillary or Bernie are stepping up enough wit Day One plans for addressing the problem that is plaguing their communities. They are asking the candidates to #Earnthisdamnvote or lose it. Now it might just be a bluff to push the D Party to the Left on this issue and to use the power that everyone is now aware that Black voters (especially Black Women) wield after they were the driving force in the past two landslide elections. And I have a tough time seeing the error in their argument. Without the Black vote, the Democrats cannot win. And reminding them of that fact and using that leverage to demand real action on policies that are allowing their people to be killed in the streets, daily, seems not only morally justified, but smart politics. So while I don’t mind shaming the Pumas and ‘Stans who say they won’t vote for anyone but their preferred D candidate, I can’t bring myself to criticize PoC who are playing a similar but different game for different reasons. I know it’s a double-standard based on Race but I can’t see any way around it. PoC know all too well the struggle for and value of the vote. When our moral calculus differs in the voting booth (I will vote against R’s at all costs) I’m not going to tell them what to do with theirs. Note: I don’t think the OP is doing that either, I just wanted to point out the one tricky aspect that makes me hesitate from co-signing it 100%, broad-brush towards all progressive voters. If PoC and/or Trans voters want to take hostages to try to end the existential threats they currently face from our State/society via police and civilian violence, I can’t really blame them if they think that is the best tactic. Otherwise, I agree with the OP, all the way.

  8. 10

    There a healthy number of Latinx that are on board with #earnthisdamnvote. We withheld voting for Kay Hagan in NC because she wouldn’t support us for immigration reform.

    She lost. We weren’t getting what we needed either way, so why give her our vote? People of color are pretty damned tired of crumbs and hand-me-downs, we either get a seat at the table or we abstain, there will be no more sitting at the kid’s table hoping to get noticed.

    And yeah, the Democrats have not won the White House without the black vote in, what? Forty some years? Latinx will be outnumbering white soon — think our votes won’t matter?

    The Democrats need to move way further left or we need a new party, but no more tokens.

  9. 11

    Darlene, I’m a bit confused as to why you think I wouldn’t think I’m accountable for my choices as well or why the list of issues I used is seen as only white-people issues or only federal-level issues. I specifically chose several of them because they were issues that disproportionately affect people of color. Even reproductive justice, the issue I used to personalize this because the people responding to this were acting as though their choices didn’t affect me at all, is something that far and away affects people color. It’s also the only issue on this list that strongly affects me personally.

    Also, a very large number of these issues are controlled at the state level. All of them are affected at that level.

    As for immigration that isn’t refugee immigration, yes, it’s absolutely an issue people are accountable for in their political choices, and yes, those people include me. As far as I’m aware, Democrats are at least currently significantly more likely to be better for non-white immigrants, although that can vary when we’re talking about races between specific candidates. If that isn’t the case, I’d like to know about it.

    Are you saying that the 2014 NC Senate race is one in which a Democrat who was bad on immigration issues was replaced with a Republican who was better on them? If not, what are you telling me was the victory here? Are Latinx voters being courted in the 2016 election by candidates with liberalized immigration policies? That would be good to know, because it would be a vanishingly rare instance of that tactic working to liberalize the political discourse.

  10. 12

    As for #Earnthisdamnvote, I haven’t seen White talk about his strategy, so I don’t know what he expects to happen. I don’t know what the plan is if he thinks no one has earned even his grudging vote. I do know the threat is more effective during primary season, when the candidates people are choosing among are closer in policy. When the differences are less stark, it’s much easier not to participate. ETA: Although it’s easier, vote in primaries too, if your state has them. This is when you have the most influence in a party that doesn’t require hours upon hours of your time.

    I also know this isn’t what many other activists working on the same issues are doing. They’re setting up meetings with the candidates and campaigns and reporting back out to potential voters in their communities about the differences in reception they’re receiving and the policy proposals they’re hearing about. They’re preparing people to vote in the primaries, when the choices are more meaningful.

  11. 13

    “Are you saying that the 2014 NC Senate race is one in which a Democrat who was bad on immigration issues was replaced with a Republican who was better on them? If not, what are you telling me was the victory here? Are Latinx voters being courted in the 2016 election by candidates with liberalized immigration policies?”

    That’s the idea. That to win you need us, which means you need to answer to our specific issues, immigration being a main one. The races here really just started since the filing deadline is tomorrow, but one frontrunner for the democrats is considered far left even for them and used to work in the ACLU, which seems a pretty good sign.

    As for the left being better for immigrants? Not really. We’ve had more deportations under Obama, set up camps for detainees, sent back thousands of children and have more sitting in warehouses and old prisons. None of that is ‘better’. And Clinton as SoS was heavily involved in destabilizing Honduras and causing hundreds of deaths of LGBT+ people, along with others.

    Reproductive issues for PoC are not just abortion access. The murder of black and brown youth is a reproductive issue. The incarceration of black and brown youth is a reproductive issue. Being seen as a welfare queen pumping out babies is a reproductive issue. Being sterilized without consent is a reproductive issue. WoC needing to work harder and longer and not having a luxury of staying home with their children is a reproductive issue.

    Immigration and our acceptance or hatred of it impacts me directly. There are states I won’t travel to because I refuse to carry proof of birth or citizenship and my name signals a possible immigrant. US citizens have been held for months and even deported because of mixups.

    Trans issue impact me and my family.

    As long as we continue to vote Dem even as they slide right we are giving our approval to that. While short-term might be really bad the very next election cycle could see an actual left-leaning candidate for POTUS who is willing to put the concerns of PoC upfront.

    Refugees? We are taking a pitiful amount even with an IDGAF POTUS. Gun control? Ha! POTUS simply isn’t as important was people like to think and I am way more worried about local and state elections. I’d rather everyone suffer a GOP POTUS for four years and have a serious wake up call and turn left than keep accepting the rightward-shift and letting people in power get away with atrocities and seeing that happen for the next 50 years of my life.

    This IS a vital election on every level, and in this case not voting will send a message that cannot be ignored. It’s a short-term loss for a long-term goal. Once that I have to be willing to see through because so much is riding on this.

    PoC always have it bad. It didn’t get better with Obama, we have no reason to think it would under Sanders or Clinton. So we have very little to lose and everything to gain by holding the voting booth hostage. The hope is that white voters realize, even if painfully, that they need to press candidates to center black and brown lives, and to take a jump to the left. That what you need as a white woman is tied to what I need as a brown one and to what someone else needs as a black woman. That causes are intersectional.

  12. 15

    For all the #earnthisdamnvote people: it’s not just Hilary and Bernie who should be trying to earn your vote. See whether your district has a Congressional candidate who deserves your vote. If your state is electing a senator next year (2/3 are), ask those candidates to earn your vote. And governor, attorney general, state legislature, mayor, town council, all the way down to the soil and water board. (Depending on where you live, some of those won’t be on the 2016 ballot, and of course most places don’t have an elected soil and water board.)

  13. 16

    “It has been ignored, and it can continue to be ignored.”

    Then white liberals will all get what they’ve earned and worked for. If four years under Trump doesn’t convince white liberal voters to get their act together and start working with PoC maybe they deserve what they get.

    Meanwhile we can all agree that we need our own power and politics and go our way with a new party or by aggressively reforming this one. Because the crumbs aren’t enough anymore. And this country doesn’t deserve better if it can’t be bothered to work for it, and you won’t get a bail out from me.

    Not this time.

    This has been a white country designed to benefit white people. But in another decade or so brown people will be taking over anyway. Four years, eight years, it is but a blink in a lifetime. I can wait for better. Or I can leave and help others to leave because this country never wanted me here to begin with.

    But my vote will be earned or I will not give it.

  14. 18

    This is a little speech I give to my students:
    “Politicians usually like their jobs, and they really really like getting elected. So if you honestly believe that none of them have any principles, and the only thing they want is to get elected, then act that way!
    When you vote, you aren’t just voting for a candidate. You’re also voting for your demographic. Pollsters are going to notice not only who you vote for, but who you are.
    If you were a politician whose only concern was getting reelected, and you had to cut a few million from the budget, and you knew that only 30% of 18-14 year olds vote, whereas 70% of 60 pluses vote — would you want to cut student aid, or prescription medicine benefits? Wonder why the aged get coddled? It’s because politicians don’t dare cross them, if they want to keep their jobs! If your demographic voted the same way theirs does, do you think the states would only be paying the pitiful part of your tuition that they do now?
    The budget is a big pie that gets cut up every year. If you don’t vote, you’re saying ‘Hey politicians, I don’t want my piece! Give it to someone else!’
    And if it bugs you about money in politics — the only reason that money matters so much in out political system is because people get swayed by it. Educated voters don’t get swayed by advertising. Be educated!”

  15. 19

    While short-term might be really bad the very next election cycle could see an actual left-leaning candidate for POTUS who is willing to put the concerns of PoC upfront.

    where is this candidate supposed to come from, when there is no local left-wing voter base to create them?

    Meanwhile we can all agree that we need our own power and politics and go our way with a new party or by aggressively reforming this one.

    how does one do either one of these while not voting? where is this new/reformed party going to come from, if no one fields candidates and no one votes?

  16. 20

    I haven’t seen White talk about his strategy, so I don’t know what he expects to happen.

    roughly, his plan has been to use the threat of not voting to make the candidates shape up, and specifically to also put pressure on the supporters of a candidate to get them to make their candidate more appealing. BUT he also talked that this method can be a bluff used in the primaries, AND he already said he’s definitely going to vote on at least the local issues even if no presidential candidate ends up getting his vote, AND he’s talking about leaving the US if e.g. Trump wins.

    He’s basically on the verge of ragequitting the USA. Which, him being a black person about to become a parent and with the resources to do it, it’s a rational choice. just not one that’ll do anything for those left here.

  17. 23

    Steph, PoC are hurting either way. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being grateful I didn’t have a biological son that was darker like me because I’d be terrified every time he left the house. I’m tired of worrying every time my daughter goes out that she could be killed. I’m tired of another police killing of another black or brown body. I’m tired of talk that gets nowhere and does nothing. I’m tired of US intervention of foreign countries that destroys peace and brings nothing but death.

    It isn’t going to happen with my permission anymore.

    Validating evil, participating in it, it has stopped being an option for me.

    I wish no one would show up and we could all start over. But really we need to just tear it down, and it’s not going to happen, not from the inside, anyway. Power never gives up power willingly. It has to be taken. There are plenty of other ways to mitigate damage and to be heard where I also don’t feel as if I’m participating in a crime. I’ve done the voting thing, faithfully, for 28 years. And nothing has changed or mattered.

    I need to find another way.

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