For every presidential election, never any local or state office elections, the same cadre of people come out of the woodwork to post dark thoughts on the uselessness of the two party system and often, voting itself.
As someone whose heart and mind is fully steeped in cynicism, I am aware of how they feel. I have voted for third parties before and I know special interests and big donors play a huge role in the two parties. But this election season, I saw more posts than ever encouraging people not to vote, or to stop throwing this do-goody voting thing in their faces. Some of the posts suggested that social issues like gay marriage and abortion were hijacking the debate.
As I read these posts, something else sank in. My female friends and gay friends consistently posted on the importance of the election and urged people to get out and vote. Gay men argued they couldn’t be friends with people who voted against their rights. I saw similar posts from many of my younger female friends. This election was very personal to them. They didn’t encourage people to vote for Obama because he was infallible, or because he was a nice singer with a funny, fashionable wife. They felt that their lives were inextricably less important to a President Romney than other lives, namely wealthy white men.
And then I noticed something else. I noticed it not only when I looked through the endless feed of election related Facebook posts, but looking back to every single time I heard the apathetic mumbles of my generation. Those snide, holier than thou remarks, telling us that our votes don’t really count. Who did they come from? Young white men.
Young white men have plenty to lose in a general election. But they don’t have as much to lose. It is the luxury of a privileged group to separate itself from the drab responsibilities of every day life and look down upon the conventional, less than perfect path ahead. It is the luxury of a group that has always had the right to vote since the country’s founding, to take that vote for granted. It is the luxury of a privileged group to tell less privileged groups to calm down, because even if the other guy wins, your rights aren’t really in danger.
It’s easier to call Democrats’ appeal to women voters fear mongering when you haven’t actually wondered how soon a group of politicians would start to chip away at your personal agency. It feels more comfortable to say these things when you don’t have to think about the right to call your love as legitimate as the nuclear family’s next door or to maintain the ability to get accepted into an Ivy League school so you could say you were the first in your family to attend Harvard.
There is a reason why white and minority women, minority men and queer people decided they couldn’t sit out on this election. It’s because they can’t afford to.