2008 was the first election I voted in, but I did so begrudgingly. My evangelical upbringing informed a view that voting was important, and particularly voting for a certain party, but I was unconvinced that change really happened in the political sphere. I was just becoming acquainted with the work of folks like Dr. Ron Sider and Evangelicals for Social Action, and was increasingly thinking that the best political action was to live out the way of Jesus faithfully in my life. Disillusionment with the political system settled in, and I decided voting just wasn’t for me.
In 2010, my spouse and I moved into a disinvested neighborhood. The state governor’s election was hotly contested that year, but I sat it out. “Politics is pointless,” I argued. I was here, on the ground, working alongside my neighbors to create the kind of world we wanted to live in. “Be the change” and all that jazz.
I started to notice something in the years that followed. The policy coming out of the state capitol was impacting my neighbors in ways that our grass-roots efforts could not keep up with, or even reasonably offer a counter to. I became convinced no policy would fix some of the concerns I and my neighbors had, but some policies sure did make it more difficult to address them at all. Further, some policies created even more concerns and struggles in my neighborhood.
I decided to vote again in 2014, far more aware of how my decision to exercise my rights impacted those around me. I was aware that part of the reason why I had been so easily able to choose not to vote in the past, was because I have lived a life insulated by certain privileges. A podcaster I listen to phrased it this way: “Politics, in its most basic form, is the way we organize our life together. When we say ‘I don’t care about politics’ it means that ‘my life is positioned in such a way I am never concerned about my safety or flourishing.'” This space, of not being concerned, is a privilege not afforded to many people I know, and the majority of my neighbors.
In 2016 the election cycle was unlike anything I had seen before. One candidate was caught on film bragging about sexual exploits, about how he grabbed women by their genitals. Emboldened by his rhetoric, some people took to social media and #RepealThe19th–the amendment which gave white women the right to vote–trended on and off as the election drew nearer. I began to read more about how the 19th amendment came to be, and the women who had fought and put their bodies on the line for this right. On election day 2016, I marched into the polls in white, gold and purple, the colors of the suffragettes, and voted in hopes that the next day we would have elected our first female president. (This was not the outcome of that election.)
Since then, I have dialogued with people who disagree, called senators, volunteered for candidates, met with local leaders and generally fought like hell against policies which threaten the human dignity and physical well being of far too many people.
I attended a counter protest in 2017 against Nazis and other varied white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia. The mere fact that I have to type that sentence is unconscionable.
Today I chose different attire to go to the polls. Rather than wear the white, purple and gold of my foremothers who fought for the right for white women like me to vote, I wanted to acknowledge that white women have historically (and presently) been a very self-interested voting bloc. I have been a self-interested voter. In our fight for the 19th amendment, we neglected to fight for the right to vote for African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latin American women. Things haven’t changed all that much. I don’t have all the statement t-shirts, but I do have one that says “Black Lives Matter.”
It is not enough to be “empowered” women if we are still committed to ideas and beliefs which center and give preference to whiteness and white culture. As Rev. Dr. King instructed us, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. That I, as a white woman, felt like it didn’t matter if I voted, or who I voted for, in 2008-2014 was an exercise in the relative privilege afforded to me by my whiteness, not in morality. It is the task of my life to ensure I make those costly mistakes less and less often, and that I learn to listen, see, and believe the experiences of the black women and women of color in my life, center their stories and follow their lead. That I allow both the work I engage in and the politicians and policies I vote for to be shaped by them.
For every woman who fought for my right to walk in to the polls today,
In acknowledgement and lament for every woman they sidelined and silenced,
For the work of equality yet unfinished,
In hopes that one day we may truly be a land where liberty and justice for all is realized,
I cast my vote.