I would like members of the “just vote” crowd to ponder if they, given the chance, would say the same to the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor if they met them face to face.
Despite what they may mean as catalysts in the push for change, the murders of Floyd and Taylor are tragedies. The victims are gone (at least in corporeal form) and no amount of “justice,” retributive or otherwise, could hope to bring them back. Accountability for all those involved and meaningful reform are only some measures of consolation.
In Floyd’s case, the four officers at the scene were charged and face an eventual trial, though at this writing, cameras have not been approved for use in the courtroom. Lest we forget, it wasn’t until the Attorney General’s office stepped in that prosecutors levied charges with teeth against these police in the first place. In Taylor’s case, the city of Louisville reached a $12 million settlement with her family and planned reforms, but no one has been arrested. As many critics have agreed, Breonna’s family deserves that much money and more, but that is not true accountability or justice.
What else do the deaths of Floyd and Taylor have in common? They occurred in jurisdictions led by Democrats. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and Minnesota governor Tim Walz are members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, not to mention both state senators. Louisville mayor Greg Fischer and Kentucky governor Andy Beshear are Democrats.
Beshear, Frey, and Walz may get some of benefit of the doubt having only started their tenures last year or in 2018, but Democrats have held the gubernatorial seat since 2011 in Minnesota and have controlled the Minneapolis mayoral seat since 1978. It’s not as if there hasn’t been ample time for action, even if we’re accounting for assumed Republican resistance to reform (and let’s not let them off the hook either).
Eric Garner. Rayshard Brooks. The list goes on. These people were killed at the hands of police despite living in places run by Democrats either at the municipal or state level. This is not to say that elected officials should be held accountable for every act of violence that happens on their watch. That said, their responses in these situations merit scrutiny, and regardless, that police brutality is so pervasive independent of party control flies in the face of the “just vote” mentality.
This is where I reassure the reader that, despite my misgivings, I believe fundamentally that everyone who can should vote. A free and fair vote is the cornerstone of any representative democracy (how free and fair it is merits further discussion, but I am speaking purely in the abstract) and elections matter, often increasingly so the more local they get.
Lord knows I have been told as much repeatedly by Democrats and other staunch defenders of Joe Biden. This presidential election is of utmost importance. I would tell you that “it’s the most important election of our lifetime,” except people always say that and, even if it’s true, I feel like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse by repeating this line. You probably don’t need convincing on this dimension.
Indeed, I don’t take issue with voting or, for that matter, who one votes for. I might tell you your vote is ill-advised, especially if you’re voting Republican, but that’s your choice. It is specifically the “just vote” mentality as a means of dismissing legitimate concerns that I seek to admonish here because it fails to appreciate the magnitude of struggles for marginalized people and because it gets weaponized against progressives as a means of quelling dissent within Democratic Party ranks.
The examples of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are extreme, though salient, topical, and illustrative of how ingrained injustice is from a racial and socioeconomic perspective. Expanding the conversation beyond police violence, the theme yet applies. San Francisco, despite a reputation for liberalism, has been the site of high rates of homelessness mediated by a pronounced housing shortage. Seattle, likewise regarded for being more liberal, has suffered its own homelessness crisis.
Independent of the affiliation of elected leadership, widening income and wealth inequality underscore the hardships faced by so many Americans. The pandemic has only intensified these woes, exposing the fragility of our way of life after suffering a shock to the system like a global health emergency. New York governor Andrew Cuomo, for some reason asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention, referred to COVID-19 as a metaphor in a nod to this theme. Strictly speaking, if this all is a metaphor, someone forgot to tell the virus because it seems pretty real to me. That said, it does put existing societal ills under a microscope such that their existence and pervasiveness are easily visible.
Over 200,000 people have died in the United States as a result of COVID-19 infection, and more states than not are headed in the wrong direction in terms of the rate of increase of positive tests. Meanwhile, congressional leadership is fretting about the price tag of a second round of stimulus checks and politicians are extoling the virtues of “affordable” health care, including a vaccine which is still in its testing or theoretical phase. All the while, the richest among us are making bank off this health crisis. Our suffering is their opportunity. It’s downright deflating, but not surprising under a system in which capital is prized above all else—plant and animal life, people, the planet itself.
This is the world “just vote” has given us: a world in which engagement dies after the votes are counted and people wear their modest civic participation around like it’s a major achievement. Privilege that it is, voting should be an afterthought and not the sum total of one’s efforts. It is not a panacea. The party loyalists who insist otherwise seeking a return to normalcy and the ability to go back to brunch or back to sleep are standing in the way of progress, plain and simple.
Adding a new wrinkle to the sense of urgency surrounding the 2020 presidential election is the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Though anytime someone is regarded with iconic status, our recollection of that person tends to be rosier than their full record perhaps warrants, the “Notorious RBG’s” advocacy for women’s rights and personal crusade against gender-based discrimination can’t be ignored when discussing her legacy. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a veritable trailblazer when it came to her service on the Supreme Court and she earned her place in history.
For the “vote blue no matter who” crowd, Bader Ginsburg’s seat was already a key component of their cajoling of uncommitted left-leaners into electoral acquiescence. Think of RBG! Think of the Supreme Court! In fairness, this is one of the more compelling arguments they could make. A strong imbalance on the court in favor of conservatives could endanger any number of human rights, notably reproductive rights. Coincidentally, Democratic causes and candidates have raised more than $100 million since RBG’s passing, and one might imagine a number of these donations were made with the fate of Roe v. Wade in mind.
That congressional Democrats and Joe Biden appear to be taking a stand against Republican efforts to try to ram a replacement through the confirmation process is encouraging. Though no one in their right mind would have wished for Bader Ginsburg’s death, that her passing could be the spark for a unified front by the broadly-stated “Left” communicates the sense that there is something worth fighting for within the Democratic Party structure. In a year that has been all but a bust for progressives on the national stage, this infuses the march to November with a new energy.
Of course, these gains won’t last forever and even if Democrats regain control of both the White House and the Senate, their feet will need to be held to the fire. We know “just vote.” We’ve seen it, heard it, and lived through it. There’s a better way forward. Our very future depends on it.