Using the Ballot as a Bullet

When I walked away from the polls last Tuesday, I walked away not with a belief in the power of a participatory democracy, but rather feeling the inadequacy and crushing weight of such a system. I felt there was no voice to represent me as a member of the black community. There was also no voice unpolluted by some sort of self-aggrandizement.

The prominent candidates for Governor of Virginia were Ed Gillespie (a centrist republican) and Ralph Northam (a moderate democrat). Presented with these candidates, I felt there was no one to truly represent my people. As a young black man and son of African immigrants, I have fallen victim, like many of the disenfranchised, to that which the American meritocracy has offered.

When complaining of the compromising situations my community has been placed in, the counterargument is often to show gratefulness for freedom of expression and the American way. To stay in your place, and be complacent. What about the right to proper representation?

In a society in which the majority populace places you firmly as a minority, and has a system of oppression in which capitalism directly benefits off you as a statistical average, is there truly such a thing, or is it the wet dream of colorblind white progressives, and those more well off in the “caste” system of disenfranchised men and women of color, so to speak? These are the same people who might, for example, see the two-time election of President Barack Obama as a sign of change, rather than the blatant establishment tokenism that it is. Malcolm X would contend that Obama was no more than a shill to sweet talk his own oppressed people into a lull, by creating the myth of a dream fulfilled while they were living a nightmare; the “Farce on Washington.”

At the local level, I’m afraid the sentiment fares no different. With Gillespie, the spinelessness to stand up to the demagoguery of Trump is eerily reminiscent of Paul Ryan. Instead of standing up to such blatant displays by the President for the defense of all the American people, he embraces dog-whistle racism tactics in his own campaign, calling for an end to sanctuary cities for “illegals,” when there is no such thing in the state of Virginia. Make no mistake, he knows exactly who he caters to. The ideological contradictions and hypocrisy that wade in the cesspool of the Republican Party are an anomaly to me, but the policies of the Democrats fare no different.

Northam is quick to condemn the hatemongering of Gillespie on undocumented peoples in America, while he was practicing the same hate speech in 2007. Now, it may very well be that he has changed his stances and grown as a person. But if the political landscape has taught us one thing, it is to be more cynical in our assessment of politicians. What is more likely is that Northam knew that in order to win this election and gain power, he had to attract those who were more well-off and left-leaning. This is the ugly truth of party and identity politics. So what is the remedy?

We as a people need to start looking toward third party candidates. Politics is a long-term game, but you have been misinformed by public perception of dwelling too much on the here and now and short term, instead of being in the here and now and long term. If we start giving more and more votes to third parties which cater to our needs as a people, then eventually percentage votes will go up, and such representatives will be given a bigger platform. A bigger platform, in turn, allows for the message of true hope to reach a wider audience of the marginalized spread throughout. A vote is as powerful as a bullet; just make sure that bullet hits the right target.

Nathan Amanuel