Monday, November 7, 2016

So, this year I'm not voting. Bring on the hate!

Maybe your first feeling is contempt, or relief because you know I would have voted against your candidate. You may be copy-and-pasting URLs to FunnyOrDie celebrity videos so that I'll be shamed by Adam Scott into voting. To you I say: You may have drunk the Kool-Aid.

We've all drunk some form of it. Very few of us will change our minds about politics because of a rational argument. I didn't vote for George W. Bush in my first election because of reason; I voted because of religion. Ditto Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries and Ralph Nader in the 2008 general election and Jill Stein in 2012. So I'll start by saying that you aren't going to be able to show me the error of my ways here, and I'm not going to be able to convince you to do an about turn, either. What I'd like to do is gain a little of your respect. Please understand that your position—the patriotic position, the position of the responsible citizen who uses the tools given them, the position of the people who vote their conscience—is already broadcast on every channel, streaming on every network, posted on every religious forum, communicated to every child in school. So the nonvoters are probably not just in need of a little education; they've heard the message. Your voice has already been heard, is being heard, and will be heard as long as human government exists. 

Most arguments against nonvoting come from an assumption that the nonvoter is acting alone and is using flawed logic to deny the tenets of our democratic process: “My vote doesn't matter.” “There's no good choice this year.” A lot of people aren't aware that there are small but old religious traditions that abstain from voting for completely different reasons. This year, I'm finding my Anabaptist roots and examining the election from a pacifistic, anarchistic perspective. Both of those traditions--pacifism and anarchism--are rooted in Christian practice that comes directly from Scripture. Of course, Scripture and tradition also support opposing positions of just war and hierarchical government or communism. So whatever your beliefs, it's a good thing if you have some doubts. Let's call those doubts your own interior prophetic voice. 

But you don't have to form and interpret those doubts alone.There are always Christian traditions that stand as a prophetic voice outside of mainstream culture—among them, Anabaptists, monastics and Quakers. And there should always be that voice standing outside, saying, “This thing that you're all doing? It's not going to save you. In fact, it's the work of the devil.” (This sounds like name-calling, like comparing Trump to Hitler. Instead of thinking of a personified Satan or Antichrist, today let's think of it as any social movement that works against Christ's own work in the world. That could be a bad health care policy, a bad environmental policy, a bad education or foreign policy--anything that undoes God's work or damages God's children.) The Anabaptist act of nonvoting is an act of civic defiance, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God can never be synthesized with the Powers and Principalities; that no political system can ever be truly blessed by God; that the Church and the State will always be enemies, and that participating in the State because it's not so bad to us this year or this century or this civilization (or because we think we can use it as a tool to get good work done) will just sweep us away from the Church. Anabaptists remember: the State used to drown us, men, women, and children, for doing our own thing. Trusting the State is like returning to an abuser. No man can serve two masters, they say. 

Yes, but give to Caesar what is Caesar's, right? Fortunately, in the U.S., Caesar only asks for my vote; he doesn't demand it. No tricky questions there, unlike acts of civil disobedience like Thoreau, who went to jail for refusing to use Caesar's capital to support a slaveholding system. You can abstain from voting without drawing Caesar's wrath.  

Here's the central Anabaptist argument against voting. You can reject their position, but it's a non-negotiable for pacifistic Christians: The president of the U.S. is the head of a standing military, so no matter who's sitting in that Oval Office, the position itself is counter to God's plan for humankind.

Yes, but why claim to take the moral high ground if you're not going to actually try to make a difference? That's where I think the State has got us domesticated—thinking that the passivity of casting a vote for some mover and shaker is the same as doing our own shaking. For instance: the Trump candidacy has whipped up an antichrist frenzy against immigrants. Christians are compartmentalizing their faith, using utilitarianism to justify abusing their neighbor. So shouldn't I vote for Clinton? Lots of my friends have found enough to like about her that they can vote for her in good conscience. Some of my other friends are supporting a third-party candidate, using their voices to say, “Tomorrow can be better than what this two-party system is promising us.”

But I'm not abstaining because of where the candidates stand on the issues. (Although I have a real problem with Clinton's history in the Department of State, including the “enhanced interrogation rooms” present in every US embassy and consulate, and the drones flown to Yemen out of Djibouti. Those are sins that I actively participated in through my former work as a Department of State subcontractor.) I'm abstaining in order to remove myself from the upper levels of the U.S. political system. So that leaves me without the right to an opinion, hm? Or it means that I won't have any impact on the issues that matter.

Not so. I found a border state-based charity that provides legal counsel to immigrants, and set up a monthly donation. Tell me my vote would have made that much difference. Tell me my vote is good enough. Because it's not. Part of the tragedy of this issues-based election is that we've lost sight of the fact that the most impact comes at the local level, where your dollars and your time and your voice can directly connect to the people who need you desperately. Find the people who are already working to bring aid to the folks your candidate promises to help. Instead of waiting for a political messiah, join in the work that already exists.

But why not take local action and vote? Don't I understand that women and other minorities will be oppressed—again—and disenfranchised—again—if we don't take advantage of our recent right to vote? I'm throwing away the power I have instead of turning it to something good. Why would I want to remove my voice from the conversation about who has worth and who should be accorded dignity by my society?

The same argument can be made against those who take a vow of poverty. They remove themselves from an economic system where they could, potentially, have labored to earn money that in turn could have been used to help the poor. But in voluntarily joining the poor, they are declaring the dignity and worth of the poor, and placing themselves as a bridge between those who have a voice and those who have none.

Don't forget, also, that God cares for people as individuals, not just as a collective. The needs of the many do not always outweigh the needs of the few. Removing one's self from a system enslaved to Caesar is an act of self-care. Different people are susceptible to getting swept up in different social sins, and some people may need to take an apparently anticivic action in order to save their own souls. I will always be a fundamentalist on the wagon, with the voices of the Moral Majority tumbling around in my head, urging me to use democracy to force my will to be done; telling me that my will is definitely exactly God's will.

So nonvoting is, for me, like voluntary poverty is for others. Like the woman with the alabaster jar, their devotion is small, affecting only a few, while the disciples protest that they could have better used their resources. To paraphrase, “The polls will always be with you.”

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