I don’t often share personal experiences in my political writing, mostly because I feel like I’d be sharing stories that no one wants to hear. That still may very well be the case, but seeing as this situation was made relevant to the ongoing crisis facing the separation of immigrant families, I figured I would highlight my experience as a way of talking about the related issues.
A now-former friend on Facebook, who is a leader/organizer on behalf of a nonprofit organization, recently took to social media to ask whether any Jill Stein voters would like to apologize for their choice in the wake of said crisis. I, as someone who voted for Stein, took umbrage to this comment, if for no other reason than it seemed particularly haughty of him to begin the conversation on these terms. Granted, I could’ve (and probably should’ve) not engaged at all, but I did, and so here we are.
First, a note about my vote for Jill Stein: I am neither an ardent supporter of Stein nor am I am a Green Party fanatic. I also don’t fully know what the heck the point was of the recount she spearheaded or ultimately what exactly became of the money raised to fund recount efforts. For some of you, I suppose that just makes it worse: that I would just up and support a third-party nominee of whom I am not a follower despite being a registered Democrat. In this sense, my vote can be seen as somewhat of a betrayal.
I also should note that I supported Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, and voted for him in my state’s Democratic primary. By this point, I had no illusions that Bernie would capture the nomination; my home state, New Jersey, was one of the last handful of primaries to be held in the 2016 election season, and several media outlets were already calling the nomination in Hillary’s favor before the polls could open. Accordingly, you might see my refusal to cast my ballot for Clinton, too, as a manifestation of the “Bernie or Bust” mantra. Although technically I did vote, just not for a representative of either major political party. Nor did I write in Sanders’s name as a protest vote. Or Harambe’s, even though I’m told he would’ve loved to see the election results.
When it came down to it, though, I didn’t feel like Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party did enough to try to win my vote—simply put. To me, Clinton’s campaign was emblematic of a larger strategic flaw that characterizes the Dems: too much capitulation to centrists, too dismissive of concerns about reliance on corporate and wealthy donors, too little regard for the concerns of working-class Americans and grass-roots organizers until it comes time to donate or vote. To me, Hillary’s pitch seemed largely tone-deaf if not disingenuous, plagued by secrecy about E-mail servers and Goldman Sachs speeches as well as ill-advised comments about “deplorables,” among other things. And for those of you already raising a finger to wag about the deleterious aspects of the Republican Party and its nominee, I never even remotely considered Donald Trump or another GOP candidate for my vote. At present, that’s a line I won’t cross, in jest or otherwise.
Thus, despite her evident misunderstanding of quantitative easing, I voted for Jill Stein—not because I thought she could win or because I feared Trump could—but because I felt the values she and her campaign expressed most closely matched mine. That’s it. I imagine many Trump voters felt the same way re values—that is, they supported his economic or social platform more than him or his antics, though if that’s the case, I don’t know how much that says about their values. I’m just trying to get the idea across that people’s “support” for particular candidates can be more nuanced than today’s political discourse might otherwise suggest.
My voting mindset, therefore, was not “strategic” in the sense that I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton specifically to block Donald Trump. In light of my state’s final tally, it would seem my vote was unnecessary in this regard, though I could not know that for sure at the time I cast my ballot. Clinton came out ahead in New Jersey by more than 13 percentage points and close to 500,000 more votes, and thanks to the Electoral College and our winner-takes-all style of deciding these matters, all 14 of the Garden State’s electoral votes went to her. Stein did not even manage a third-place showing, being bested by the likes of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate.
This was the crux of my initial rebuttal about the need to apologize for my vote. While on a state-by-state basis, the notion of Johnson and Stein being “spoilers” may or may not have more validity (more on that in a bit), in my state, it did not. Regardless, to point fingers at lowly third parties deflects a lot of blame, and to borrow a term from Ralph Nader, who faced similar finger-pointing following the 2000 election, is to succumb to a high degree of “political bigotry.” In other words, it’s scapegoating perpetrated by members of major parties to distract from their need for substantive reform.
In addition to the culpable parties oft-cited by Clinton’s supporters and defenders—namely Russia, James Comey, and sexism (this last one may or may not be so true depending on the context or individual voter’s mindset, but that’s a whole different kit and caboodle)—there’s ample room to consider what role other groups played or, in theory, could have played. After all, what about the people who could vote and didn’t? What about the people who couldn’t vote but perhaps should be afforded the privilege, such as convicted felons? And what about the folks who actually voted for Donald Trump? Are they to be absolved of responsibility because they didn’t know better? If so, where is this written?
Additionally, what does it say that someone like Clinton, vastly more qualified than her opponent and, from the look and sound of things, quantifiably more capable, lost to someone in Trump to whom she had no business losing? For all the justifications for Hillary Clinton failing to capture an electoral majority—let’s not forget the fact she won the popular vote, an issue in it of itself when considering it’s not the deciding factor in presidential victories—we shouldn’t overlook some questionable decisions made by the Clinton campaign, including, perhaps most notably, how she and her campaign paid relatively low attention to important battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Of course, even in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania where Clinton campaigned heavily, she still lost, so maybe any establishment Democrat the party trotted out might’ve met with the same resistance fed by blue-collar whites flocking to Trump. Still, one can’t shake the sense Hillary approached the final throes of the campaign with a certain sense of arrogance.
To my ex-FB-friend, however, my reasoning was insufficient, and at this point, one of his colleagues, who happens to be a person of color, interceded to agree with his sentiments. As far as they were concerned, my support for Jill Stein may have influenced people in states more susceptible to a Trump win to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton. I guess, for the sake of an analogy, my thoughts could’ve “infected” those of otherwise discerning voters to make them vote the “wrong” way. My assignment of blame to Hillary despite the forces working against her was panned as well, as was my diminishment of Stein as a spoiler. All in all, they contended, my position was one that exhibited my white privilege, and made me sound—quote unquote—morally reprehensible.
As far as I am concerned, if I’m morally reprehensible—fine. You can call me a serpent demon, for all I care. The legitimacy of the arguments within are what interests me. On the subject of my potential game-changing pro-Stein influence, though it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely. In my immediate circle, I told few people unless specifically asked who I planned to vote for. I also wrote a post back in 2016 about why I planned to vote for Jill Stein and posted to Facebook, but—let’s be clear—hardly anyone reads my writing. My own mother doesn’t even read it most of the time. From her standpoint, my entries are of the TL;DR ilk, and what’s more, they tend to be devoid of pictures of cute animals or how-to makeup videos. Fair enough, Mom.
On the subject of Jill Stein as spoiler, while it’s true that Stein’s numbers may have been larger than Trump’s margin of victory in key states, to say that all those votes would have gone to Hillary instead makes an assumption which may be accurate, or it may not. Again, however, it doesn’t change the contention that the race shouldn’t have been this close in the first place. Weeks after the 2016 election, as vote counts were yet being finalized in too-close-to-call contests, Jim Newell wrote as much in a piece for Slate. He argued:
The lesson of the Comey letter should not be that everything was just going fine until this singular event happened. Obviously Democratic candidates can pick up some tips for the future, such as a) always be sure to follow email protocol and b) keep your electronic devices as far as possible from Anthony Weiner. But they can never rule out some other Comey-equivalent October surprise. The question to ask is: Why was the Clinton campaign so susceptible to a slight shock in the first place? A campaign is resting on a very weak foundation if one vague letter from the FBI causes it to lose a huckster who sells crappy steaks at the Sharper Image.
The “Jill Stein or James Comey cost Hillary the election” narrative is akin to the narrative that Bernie Sanders did irreparable harm to the Democratic Party. You’re telling me that one man not even officially affiliated with the Democrats as a U.S. senator permanently damaged the entire party apparatus? To me, charging Sanders with potentially bringing ruin to the Dems says more about party’s infrastructural integrity (or lack thereof) than it does the intensity of his so-called “attacks” on Hillary Clinton as her primary challenger.
On the subject of my white privilege, meanwhile, well, they’re right. Let me say I don’t dispute this. I enjoy a certain amount of privilege on a daily basis and have almost certainly benefited from it over the course of my educational career and my professional life. Going back to the state-by-state basis of variation in election results, though, the biggest issue would appear to be my geographic privilege. If I lived in a state projected to be much closer based on polling data, might I have chosen differently?
Perhaps. It’s a decision I’m weighing on a smaller scale as we speak with Sen. Bob Menendez seeking re-election in New Jersey after a poor showing in the Democratic Party primary. Sure, Menendez is still the likely winner come November, but with doubts raised about the ethics of his behavior still fresh in voters’ minds, can I take his win for granted? On the other hand, if I do vote for him, what does this say about my values as a voter? Is choosing the “lesser of two evils” sufficient, considering we’ve been doing it for some time now and the state of democracy in this country doesn’t seem to be all that much better for it? These are the kinds of questions I don’t take likely.
Another issue invoked at around the same point in this discussion was whether I had done as much as I could to prevent Trump from winning. For what it’s worth, I wrote a piece separate from my pro-Jill Stein confessional right before the election about why you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, vote for Trump, but as I already acknowledged, my readership is very limited. At any rate, and as my online detractors insisted, I didn’t vote for Hillary, and what’s more, I didn’t campaign on her behalf. I could’ve “easily” made calls or knocked on doors or what-have-you for her sake at “no cost” to me, but I didn’t. As a result, according to them, I was complicit in her electoral defeat.
Could I have told people to vote for Hillary Clinton? Sure. I don’t consider myself any great person-to-person salesman, but I could’ve made the effort. Although this would present a weird sort of dissonance between my advocacy and my personal choice. Why am I instructing people not to vote for Trump and choose Clinton instead when I myself am choosing neither? Then again, I could’ve chosen to vote for Hillary, or simply lied about my choice, assuming anyone ever asked. I also could’ve tried to lobotomize myself with a fork to forget anything that happened leading up to the election. That’s the thing with hypotheticals—you can go any number of ways with them, no matter how unlikely or painful.
Eventually, it became evident that these two gentlemen were demanding that I apologize, but in a way that could make them feel better about accepting me as one of them—a liberal, a progressive, a member of the “Resistance, etc.—rather than simply apologizing to immigrant populations and people of color for “putting my white privilege above” their more immediate worries. My original critic was unequivocal in his demands: “You need to apologize.” His colleague and my second critic, reacting to my expressed feeling that relitigating the 2016 election only to quarrel among various factions on the left was of limited use and that we need to be more forward-thinking in our approach to 2018, 2020, and beyond, was likewise stern in his disapproval. As he stressed, you can’t just do something shitty, say “let’s move on,” and be done with it. I would have to admit my wrongdoing, or he and others would reserve the right to judge me negatively. Such was my “choice.”
Ultimately, my parting remarks were to reiterate my positions as stated above, and to insist that people not be shamed for their vote as part of some scapegoating exercise against third-party/independent voters. I also closed by telling my second critic in particular—someone very critical of me on a personal level despite barely knowing me—that I hope his recruitment efforts as an organizer are handled with more aplomb. End of discussion, at least on my end, and click on that Unfriend button. Now you guys don’t have to fret about having to work with me—because I won’t work with you unless I have to.
The unfortunate thing about this conversation—other than that I let it happen—was that it grew so contentious despite the idea we seemed to agree on a lot of points. For one, I conceded my privilege in voting the way I did, something I have characterized as not merely being about race, but of geographical privilege as well. I would submit that admitting privilege is only a small part of the solution, however.
A more constructive recognition of inequality between people of different ethnicities, I would argue, involves advocacy for those who can’t vote, those who should be able to vote, or those who can vote, but otherwise find obstacles in access to the polls. On the latter note, there are numerous reforms that can be enacted or more widely used to expand the voter pool in a legitimate way. These include automatic voter registration, increased availability of the absentee ballot and early voting options, making Election Day a national holiday, and opening and staffing additional polling places in areas where election officials are unable to meet the demand of voting constituents.
Moreover, these issues can be addressed concomitantly with issues that affect all voters, including the electoral vote vs. the popular vote, ensuring the integrity of machine-based voting with paper records, gerrymandering designed purely for one party’s political advantage, the influence of Citizens United on campaign finance laws, and ranked-choice voting as an alternative to a winner-takes-all format. American elections have a lot of avenues for potential improvement, and particularly salient are those that disproportionately affect people of color.
I also conceded that I could have done more and can still do more on behalf of undocumented immigrant families, especially as it regards the separation of children from their parents, and this recognition more than anything merits an apology on my part, so to those negatively impacted by the policies of this administration, I am sorry. By this token, many of us could probably do more. Hearing of so many horror stories of young children being traumatized and parents being deliberately deceived by Border Patrol agents is disheartening, to say the least, and as powerless as many of us may feel in times like these, there are ways to contribute, even if it seems like something fairly small.
There seems to be no shortage of marches and protests designed to elevate awareness of the severity of the crisis facing immigrants and asylum seekers, notably from Mexico and Central America, as well as groups devoted to advocating for and defending the most vulnerable among us that can use your contributions. RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) jump to mind, but there are numerous possible recipients of much-needed donations. As always, be sure to do your homework regarding the reputation of any charity you seek out.
Though it may go without saying, you can also contact the office of your senators and the representative of your district to express your desire that they support any legislation which puts an end (hint: not the House GOP bill) to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” on illegal immigration, and to thank them for signing on in the event they do. If they don’t accede to or even acknowledge your request, keep trying. As it must be remembered, these lawmakers serve us—not the other way around.
The point I refuse to concede, however, is that I should apologize for my vote for Jill Stein in a state won by Hillary Clinton when I neither voted for nor supported Donald Trump, when both major parties have contributed to destructive immigration policies over the years, when Democrats lost an election they most likely shouldn’t have lost, and when this same losing party refuses to own its shortcomings and open the door to real reform, instead only becoming more calcified. That is, I certainly won’t apologize merely to assuage the concerns of fellow Democrats and liberals. Now is the time for a dialog, not a lecture, and certainly not the time for endless dissection of the 2016 presidential election and guilting conscientious objectors. At a point when we should be working together, I reject this means of tearing one another apart.
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