Why I Won’t Vote for President in 2016

Justin Grimes/Creative Commons

Justin Grimes/Creative Commons

If you are Black and you’ve decided not to vote, make sure you keep it to yourself. I made the mistake of publicly announcing my decision not to participate in the election. After talking about the Flint Water Crisis, the #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock, U.S. sponsored massacres of Palestinian children, and the countless police executions of unarmed Black people, I realized how irrelevant all these issues were to both presidential candidates.

While I agree that Donald Trump’s racist outbursts and general horribleness towards women is deplorable, I cannot reconcile Hillary Clinton’s pattern of disenfranchising people of color and poor people. Not voting at all is not the same as voting for Trump.

Clearly, Donald Trump represents all the worst parts of America - racism, sexism, Islamophobia, classism, bad hair - but Clinton is a more subtle version of all those things. Both of them need to be called out. Their prominence in national conversations on democracy are proof that the two-party system has officially failed to give our country acceptable options for the presidency. There are arguably other candidates to choose from, (namely Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Aaron McMullin), but the way this system is set up, none of them will get enough electoral votes for them to even get close to being the U.S. president. An alarmingly large majority of people voting in the presidential election have openly expressed that they are only participating to keep the other team out of the game. Sadly, the citizens of this country are the ones who will lose out in the end. After all, have you seen the “Girl, I Guess I’m With Her” campaigns?

Too many young people (specifically Black voting-aged college students) are berated for choosing not to vote despite valid reasons to abstain. The two-party system has failed because it continues to come up with candidates who aren’t looking out for our interests. Election after election, people of color are still on the bottom of society, working the hardest jobs in the worst conditions with the lowest pay. According to the Huffington Post and Time Magazine, a Black woman still has to work 66 years to make what a white man in the same position makes in 40 years. Childcare costs still leave families with very little to cover food clothes and shelter.[1] [S2] [S3]  Childcare costs have increased by over 160% in the last 20 years. Do the math. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will change that. In fact, no candidate within the two-party system has the intrinsic motivation to fully address the racial and economic wage gap. Structural inequality in society pretty much guarantees that whoever represents the democratic or republican party will have come from a background of wealth and privilege. Democracy as it exists in this country is just an oligarchy in disguise.

Most people who attempt to bully others into voting have the same argument: people died for the right to vote! This logic is inherently flawed. No historical analysis suggests that A. Philip Randolph, Rosa Parks, or the Freedom Riders who died would have supported a Hillary Clinton vote based on her politics or actions. Most importantly, having the right to do something also means having the right to choose not to do it. Using shame to force people to vote is just another way of denying people the right to make their own decisions.

In second place for the consistent pressure to vote for Hillary Clinton is white feminists, but how can a Hillary Clinton presidency be a feminist triumph when she is anti-Black? Throughout history, white feminists have either ignored or outright abused Black women and still expected us to follow them blindly, ignoring their anti-Blackness in the name of feminism. Emily's List is one example. Sojourner Truth's clapback to white feminists is another example.

Using Black history against Black people in this manner is a long standing tradition of neo-liberalism that must end.[4] [S5]  When Black youth riot after police shoot an unarmed citizen, many whites will suggest that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr would have been ashamed that they chose violence. Back when Muhammad Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam war, he was treated like trash. When Colin Kaepernick used his platform to call out racism and oppression using nonviolence, many of his colleagues attempted to shut him down by suggesting he should ‘go somewhere else’. Even the otherwise liberal supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said that Kaepernick’s protest was “dumb and disrespectful” even though the NFL only started requiring players to stand for the national anthem in 2009 because of money given by the Department of Defense and the National Guard.

My choice to abstain from the presidential election honors the history of those who came before me. For example, before the idea of voting rights or civil rights existed, Elizabeth Freeman lived unapologetically without compromising her beliefs. She was born more than a century before slavery ended. Despite the brutality of slavery, (she was beat with a heated shovel), many argued that her master was ‘less evil’ than others. She was allowed to marry, she protested with little punishment, and she talked back. That was a much more privileged existence than thousands of other slaves. As undignified and offensive as it sounds, this logic was prevalent. Freeman chose a different path. She was the first Black woman in the U.S. to file a lawsuit against a plantation owner for her freedom and win. She did not accept the status quo. She did not bow down to pressure to conform. I too, refuse to accept the status quo, the ‘lesser evil.’ This is why I take my ballot so seriously.

My grandfather did not survive Ku Klux Klan beatings so that I could cast my vote for a woman who considers his grandson a super-predator. So many young Black voters are being pressured into voting for someone who cares nothing for our well being and who has a track record of making policies that hurt people of color domestically and internationally.

More than any other voting rights era quote, this one from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr strikes me the most with its modern relevance: "[one] who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as [one] who helps to perpetrate it. [One] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." To accept Hillary Clinton’s policies towards Black people would make us complicit in those policies.

Don’t choose between Coke and Pepsi. Instead, look to local elections and non-presidential races where there may actually be candidates who care about you. I am not so naive as to think that abstaining will spark a revolution; neither apathy nor ignorance guides my decision to abstain from voting. I have an ethical responsibility to use my vote to do the most good for my people. Neither a vote for Trump nor a vote for Clinton will result in a net benefit. The debates, the scandals, and public discourse only strengthen my resolve.

A lot of liberals will still claim that abstaining from the presidential election is tantamount to a Trump vote, but I refuse to endorse Hillary Clinton based on a national guilt trip. Not voting for Clinton is not the same as voting for Trump. Abstaining from the voting process is not a vote for Trump either. My people died to give me the right to choose. Since both choices are terrible and both will continue to be detrimental to all marginalized groups, I will assert my right to abstain.


Africa Jackson is a politics and culture writer from the Bible Belt. She is a staff writer for Taji Magazine and her work has been featured at  The TempestThe Establishment, and Black Girl Dangerous. Africa spends her free time whistling at construction workers and calling white people the "C" word (it's ok, her best friend is white). Follow her on Twitter, IG, + FB: @AfricaJwrites.

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