Y’all, we need to talk.
We need to put our heads together, get on the same page and come up with strategic solutions to avoid almost certain doom come November. I say this because there’s some dangerous rhetoric floating around. It’s bitter and fearful and frequently reeks of entitlement. And as this ideology gains momentum and self-righteous fervor, it’s becoming painfully clear that we’re drifting further and further away from rationality … and reality.
Surprisingly, it’s not coming from the radical right.
Last week Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination, to the chagrin of Bernie Sanders supporters everywhere—including myself. This has been almost inevitable since the primaries, so aside from wondering whether Sanders would pull a Ted Cruz, most of us tuned in to the Democratic National Convention seeking grim reassurance about Clinton, the highly suspect candidate best known to dubious Dems as “the lesser of two evils”—and to many blacks as the originator of the “superpredator” trope. But while the skepticism didn’t subside (or the #GirlIGuessImWithHer memes), the impact of Sanders’ campaign on Clinton’s platform was clear, as was the fact that he agrees Donald Trump must not win the White House.
Unfortunately, some of Sanders’ most ardent supporters remain unconvinced. It seems that many of us are unable to accept that our major-party choices are between a bigoted and arguably delusional zealot and an experienced but painfully prototypical politician. But while it may seem a “rock and a hard place” dilemma, I’d argue that a Trump presidency is not a “hard place.” It’s a hopeless one.
Yet and still, some are so disillusioned that they’re considering voting third party—or sitting this election out altogether—and encouraging others to do so, too. Indeed, via social media, television interviews and deeply intellectual essays (including this one by writer and scholar Ahmad Greene-Hayes, which invokes the venerable W.E.B. Du Bois as added persuasion), we’re being implored to withhold our votes. And while in a less polarized cycle this might be worth considering, in an election year as crucial and potentially devastating as this one, I’m with her—“her” being Sarah Silverman, who notably campaigned for Sanders—when she says, “You’re being ridiculous.” Here’s why:
Greene-Hayes posits: “Millennials who divest from this two-party system are knowledgeable of the countless black folks before us who contested American oligarchy and dared to stand tall against ‘faux democratic option’ guised as options—plural.”
Having not been of voting age at the time, millennials may not remember (since they’re also not forced to recall the realities of living in the Jim Crow era), but in this century’s first presidential election, we were faced with choosing between an overgrown frat-boy-like Republican with questionable common sense, and a political dynasty behind him, and an intelligent, if not altogether inspiring, Democrat who was poised to inherit the throne from his charismatic predecessor. (Sound at all familiar?)
Enter a third-party option: a candidate campaigning upon an admirably liberal platform, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere. He hadn’t. In fact, his 2000 campaign was his third in what would become five runs for the presidency, the first of which was as a Democrat. Fully aware that he wouldn’t win, and that his run would simply disrupt the party of which he was formerly a member, he campaigned heavily in swing states, deflecting approximately 13 percent of votes away from the two major parties. His theory: that there was ultimately no difference between the two major-party candidates. Two subsequent wars, devastating foreign and environmental policies, and economic policies that would pave the way for a crippling American recession would prove him wrong, at our expense.
Is the predominance of two political parties problematic? As fractures within both parties demonstrate, absolutely. The same could be said of both the Electoral College and the superdelegates who have diminished the value of our individual votes. But it’s also notable that despite their outcries for reform, the Green and Libertarian parties don’t seem to strategically campaign to increase their bases except in presidential-election years, and not in local and midterm elections. As noted in the Daily Kos, “Instead, they treat the Presidential race as an advertising campaign for their party, hoping to draw in a few more disenfranchised Republican or Democrat voters.”
Politics is not a zero-sum game, and voting does not imply dependency on a structure that has proved not to love us. But it is not enough to disrupt the system, especially when nothing substantive is there to take its place. The fact is that those who choose to divest from the only system we currently have are liable to get whatever the system rams down their silent throats.
“It is time to sit down on the Democratic Party if the Democratic Party isn’t promising progression directly to you. … If that does not happen, I will look at the Democratic Party, and I will tell them that we will sit at home in November. We will sit on our hands and we will watch that maniac burn this country down.”
This is the opinion of recording artist and activist Killer Mike, whose advice to invest in black-owned banks—while not new—recently gained national momentum. But while leveraging our collective economic power is a much needed part of our long-term solution, if Trump is elected, exactly whose feet will likely be put to the fire first?
After all, the “maniac” in question has galvanized legions who consider him their great white hope against fears that black lives might one day matter as much as their own and that brown lives threaten both their jobs and national security, while believing themselves entitled to “take back” an America stolen from indigenous people. Many of them would prefer a Confederate flag flying at every Capitol across America, and don hoods and swastikas in their spare time—lest we forget that Trump has never shied away from his Ku Klux Klan endorsement.
With this in mind, how is our silence a solution to the clear and present danger facing our communities? Did silence launch Black Lives Matter—our most visible and effective protest movement in decades—into the national consciousness? If white silence equals white consent, then it could be argued that black silence equals black complacency. Inactivity is not a constructive act of rebellion; it is an act of self-righteousness that puts us all at risk.
Let’s get something straight: Bernie Sanders is not Barack Obama. Even Obama, for all his successes, isn’t the Obama we were promised. What we should all know about any presidency is that it’s only as effective as the Congress that supports it. What we should know about presidential campaigns is that until elected, a candidate is speaking in idealized hypotheticals. This was true for Obama, it would have been true for Sanders, and one can only pray that it would be true for Trump, should the second coming of the apocalypse usher him into the Oval Office.
Realistically, a Clinton presidency won’t change much unless we continue to collectively use the weight of public opinion to force her hand. As Katherine Cross writes in The Establishment: “We will have to find a way to criticize her and hold her accountable, to see her as a beginning, not an end … ”
This is not wishful thinking; in fact, public opinion was crucial in influencing Obama to pivot on LGBTQ rights. And while it would be ideal, it’s actually not relevant whether Clinton has her heart in any progress she might make—any more than it mattered whether President Abraham Lincoln considered blacks equals when issuing the Emancipation Proclamation (hint: He didn’t), or whether President Lyndon B. Johnson was as committed to the tenets of the Civil Rights Act as he was to securing his legacy by signing it. If Clinton is compelled to reverse some of her previous stances and policies in order to secure hers, it’s a win-win.
This is bigger than Hillary Clinton. It’s bigger than Donald Trump. It’s bigger than you or me or the next four years. The Supreme Court is at stake, which will influence policy for generations to come. Trump has proved that he is not rational. That means we must be.
Scholar and author Tressie McMillan Cottom calls this the “Bash Mister’s Head Open and Think About Heaven Later” philosophy” (in homage to The Color Purple). Specifically, she states: “I want to bash mista’s head in with Planned Parenthoods for poor black women and girls now while I think about heaven (and revolution) later.”
And she’s justified in her sense of urgency: if Republicans are given control of upcoming Supreme Court appointments, an entire gender’s civil liberties may be lost altogether. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has proudly proclaimed that the Republican ticket will wipe out not only Planned Parenthood—an already endangered institution providing millions of women and girls across demographics with access to safe and affordable health care for the past century—but also Roe v. Wade altogether, effectively rolling back the clock nearly a half-century on women’s reproductive (and human) rights. What next, a resurgence of involuntary sterilizations among women of color?
Should we have the right to sit out an election in which neither candidate represents our interests? Absolutely. But the reality is, we simply don’t have the luxury. Not yet. Yes, we should vote our conscience; but for black people, that also means voting our collective consciousness. As writer Julia Maskivker argues: “If our vote is part of a set of votes that will contribute to the defeat of the realistically electable ‘lesser evil,’ therefore electing the ‘more evil’ candidate, then we force society to pay a high price for our clean conscience. Sometimes our concern for feeling morally impeccable should give way to a concern for what type of society we can help to create for the sake of all, including ourselves.”
Be pissed. Be petty, even. But please, also be pragmatic, and don’t cut off our collective noses to spite the face of American politics. As Malkia Cyril, lifelong activist and director of the Center for Media Justice, resignedly writes about casting his vote this November:
I’m not with her. I’m not with him. They’re not with me. I think it’s important to be clear about that. I am with us, and act from that place. Ideology shapes analysis. Analysis guides strategy. Strategy guides action. Ideology alone should never guide action. Voting, for me, under a rigged system, is strategic and tactical, not ideological. That’s it and that’s all.
Maiysha Kai is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, fashion model, devoted auntie and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based, single black bombshell who recently strutted into her 40s. She is also an expert at oversharing who chronicles her attempts at dating—and adulting—on 40onFleek.