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Chloe Wayne

October 11, 2020

WILK | On Settling: What happens to a vote deferred?

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Four years fill up fast and hold a lot. Namely: A rough presidency, personal growth and the mind-numbing confusion and chaos with which each has been punctuated. Growing since I was sixteen has taken the trajectory of a balloon. I lifted off to a path that promised to float higher and higher, expanding my perspective and peering over an ever-widening landscape of myth and knowns and unknowns, but then all too suddenly touched back down in inevitable deflation, landing me squarely up the steps from the Oak Ave circle, staring at some well-intentioned chalk art that I couldn’t help but meet with a sneer. And a sigh. Which emptied me out a bit more and brought me closer to a ground that sometimes feels dangerously close to swallowing me up.

Beneath me, at the spot where it felt like I’d been transported, without warning, from my seat at my physics table junior year of high school, was a chalked-out notice reading “VOTE!” Alongside the rest of a message that I lost as my vision clouded over with bitter reels of memory, injections from a maturing, feebled imagination and hopeless wishes for things to be different.

I rubbed the command a bit harder than necessary under the bottom of my Converse as I stepped on, but my soles are useless in pushing away voices of threatening encouragement all around campus, the internet, and the country, voices that harp about voting being paramount in life and democracy and the blind entitlement it must require to not see what’s on the ballot. But marking a ballot wouldn’t feel like a privilege, either. It would feel like a chore, like an act as lifeless and mechanical as the phrase civic duty sounds. Most of all, it would feel like a surrender. A marked ballot would feel like a white flag announcing that, beaten into submission, we now cast away our rebellious streak for freedom and replace it with the casting of names. We don’t decide our future; we flip back and forth between a red leash or blue. 

But I obviously can’t ignore that there are people who don’t think of this choice as an arbitrary hue, or a captor; they think of it and smile for a selfie with a congratulatory sticker. Which makes me think that maybe, “it is a privilege to thrust a limited political imagination that can only conceive of liberation if it involves two imperialistic parties onto others who are trying to conceive of something freer.

Former academy kids in my public policy class lecture students who have been disenfranchised as an effect of protesting about the importance of exercising your right to make your voice heard. Sororities and a fraternity here pledge that every member of their 6,000 square foot houses will turn out to vote, thanks to overcoming barriers they describe as inaccessibility but read more as a personal inconvenience. Largely white and largely liberal pockets of the politically engaged, those who are on the fringe of the impact of Trump’s threat to democracy, speak about the privilege of dis-invested nonvoters; meanwhile those voters are disproportionately lower-income, nonwhite, and dissatisfied with the two parties. And this doesn’t even cover those who have had their voting rights taken away by the systems we put on the ballot, people who live in areas where polling sites are scarce, packed and under-sourced and marginalized people who are tired of legitimizing an institution that functions without regard for what they need and want most out of a government. It doesn’t cover people who are otherwise grappling with issues that many shamers couldn’t begin to understand. 

At sixteen I was already losing faith fast, in a lot of things, but electoralism maybe most starkly. 2017 had me barely clinging to a blurry idea that when I could vote it would be for a candidate I might choose out of belief rather than bitter reluctance. But now we’re here and it seems my participation in Student Assembly elections is more meaningful. My pessimism isn’t without cause. It doesn’t stand for sinking into the status-quo that seems to be a safe place for the “just vote” crowd; it just longs for the kind of care and commitment to consciousness that was lulled away by people’s loyalty to November. This summer I saw something worth getting excited over and watched many others let go of its infinite potential like the changing of the seasons was a conduit. Ears and hands that aimed for awareness, allyship and action faded along with tans. Instead, they turned to teeth, carnivorous and indiscriminate, consuming all dreams deferred until they sit in the pit of an engorged belly. Although others will scrape by on scarcity that’s lasted centuries, this group secured a meal satisfying enough to trigger a two-year hibernation (waking up for midterms, of course.) 

I don’t mean to discourage voting. I know what’s on the ballot, so don’t enter your passionate explanation unless you’d like your image to be softly smeared in my mind just like that chalk on Oak Avenue. However, I also know that recently “a historic 5.85 million mostly Black and brown people were directly barred from voting due to felony records, and millions more indirectly barred with restrictive voting identification laws.” I know that in June I saw more people’s lives change through mutual aid funds, interpersonal donations and community care than probably either potential president’s tax policies will touch. I care about democracy but loathe that somehow, the concept of showing commitment to it became yet more forced choices between the lesser of two evils. Or, as W.E.B. Dubois put it, not two evils with a lesser among them, “but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.” 

Dubois didn’t vote. He had no advice in the 1956 election and I can’t imagine he’d have advice now. He had questions, though — “Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? … Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?” 

I’ve thought about it, and unlike him, I’ll do your bidding, but excuse me if I don’t approach the voting booth with Christmas-Eve level excitement or an Avengers-esque sense of nobility and purpose; when the best slogan you can offer me is one that starts with “settle,” it’s silly to expect more in return.

Alecia Wilk is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at awilk@cornellsun.com. Girl, Uninterrupted runs every other Friday this semester.