By Yara Quezada ’21 (she/her)
Five weeks from now, the election will be over, and the soul of our nation will be saved or lost—right?
For months, it’s all you’ve heard and read everywhere: “Vote! Are you registered to vote? Make sure to vote!” It seems that we have been tricked into thinking that this one time, participation in electoral politics is the end- all, be- all. If we vote, our problems will somehow get better, and we will be restored to the magical pre-2016 era. The mainstream rhetoric around voting promises that if we vote out the problem and vote in someone new, the state of the country will improve.
Now here’s the actual hard truth. Presidents before the current one weren’t so great either. Obama deported more people than any other president and launched drone strikes that killed innocent civilians abroad, many who were women and children. Bush’s record from the “war on terror” speaks for itself…
Even if the next president makes every right decision, how can we expect one single person who is in the White House for four- to- eight years to possibly fix a country built on the backs of enslaved Black people? A country whose first “settlers” committed genocide against Indigenous peoples to make space for themselves? A country that has never stopped to actually reconcile its original sins? Those scars run deep, and the effects of American imperialism, racism, and slavery aren’t going away, no matter who we vote for.
Similar to the way our bodies can feel the trauma inflicted upon our ancestors, the United States has felt its original traumas passed down generation after generation. And after never stopping to work on meaningful healing, the effects are clear. It is 2020, and we have not been able to overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia…, you name it. What we’ve seen instead is a country that locks Black and brown bodies in cages (children at the border, mass incarceration, etc);, a country that doesn’t care about poor people (houselessness, food insecurity, etc); and, a country that cares more about its power than its people.
Even if Trump is voted out, the richest 50fifty Americans will still have as much wealth as the poorest 165 million. Every power structure in this country will still be rooted in white supremacy. Violence against Black trans women will continue to occur at horrifying rates.
Even if we get a new president, I will still have to pay $500 to renew my DACA every year. I will still not qualify for many jobs despite my grand and expensive Davidson education. I will still, along with almost 11 million other people in this country, be undocumented.
So what is the real point of voting, and why do we care so much about it? I believe that we do it out of good intention: to build a better world. We hope voting the current administration out means unemployed people can still have what they need to live, that our government will take climate change seriously, and that all Americans will have access to healthcare. But is voting actually accomplishing that? Is voting providing solutions to the challenges that vulnerable people are facing, right here, right now?
In Charlotte, homelessness has grown since last year. The shortage of affordable housing is increasing, leaving Mecklenburg’s poorest residents behind. Many public school students in our state lack the technology they need to be successful with remote learning.
Voting for the “right” candidate might eventually alleviate some of these problems. Elected officials make decisions about our public schools, and elected officials vote on budgets. But what if, instead of waiting for others to make the “right” decision––, one that takes time and that not everyone will agree with––, we dreamed bigger? What if we imagine possibilities beyond the ones that our current system offers us, and work towards the world we say we want to live in?
The thing about voting (for those not affected by voter suppression) is that it doesn’t really require much of us. Don’t get me wrong, it takes time to mail in your vote or go to the polls. Yet, it doesn’t require us to sacrifice anything or to be uncomfortable. I believe that real change involves giving up something—giving part of ourselves. A country that was built by exploiting people (and continues to function that way) cannot be redeemed by simply casting a vote. Those with power or privilege, like the ability to drive to the polls or have the legal status required to vote, must be willing to let go of individualism. Those with power must be willing to let go of the ideas deeply ingrained in us that whisper the lies of meritocracy into our ears.
Giving something of ourselves can start with giving what we have in the form of tangible resources. Wealth redistribution simply accomplishes this simply and creates real and more immediate change in local communities. A group that I’m a part of, Davidson Community Fund, takes money from folks who voluntarily give and distributes it to those in our community. The recipients are mostly Black trans women, people who are often subject to interpersonal and systemic violence. By redistributing money, those with financial privilege can help ensure that others are fed, housed, and able to care for themselves.
By redistributing what we have, we are engaging deeply; we are actively remembering that we belong to each other, and that our hurt, our joy, and our lives are inextricably interwoven.
So what am I saying? I am not saying don’t vote. It is your right to participate in this system (or not). I am not saying it will only take wealth distribution on an individual level. The legacy of violence is deep, and it will take complex, creative, and multifaceted solutions to build an equitable society. Ultimately, whatever you do, one truth remains: the work of liberation is not on the next president. It is up to us.
Yara Quezada is a senior Public Health major from Concord, North Carolina. She can be reached for comment at email@example.com.