the end of democracy as we know it: why i’m voting 3rd party

You’re about to not like what I have to say.

I’m voting 3rd party.

Go ahead, criticize. Berate, vilify me. Tell me I’m about to bring the downfall of democracy as we know it. I’ve heard it already. From church people. School teachers. Trusted friends. My dentist. People I care about. All with good thoughts and reasons. Worthy of response. So I’ll try.

First, as have some of you, Bernie Sanders, my once and perhaps future political hero, has proclaimed “this is not the time for a protest vote.” But he knows better. He knows, because he has been a protester. He knows this is exactly the time for a protest vote.

It’s the time, for the same reason teachers don’t protest during summer break (that, and because they are probably working second jobs). The same reason Kaepernick didn’t wait to take a knee during the untelevised off-season. If you’re thinking this isn’t the time, maybe you’re also thinking that Black Lives Matter shouldn’t be shutting down streets during rush hour, and those bus boycotters back in the day should only have boycotted from 9 am to 5 pm – from just after they arrived at work until right before they needed to go home. Maybe they could have made a good enough statement by not riding the bus at all during the work day. (Except, of course, for the ones who worked nights and weekends, but they so often don’t count anyway.)

The right time, in fact, is precisely when there is most opportunity to have an impact.

But, say some, there is too much on the line. The hyperventilation is epidemic, as the party leaders try to save us from the sky that is falling (a little Munchausen-esque, if you ask me). Could you imagine Trump as president? No, but I didn’t nominate him. What about the Supreme Court? As my mother would have said about my own childhood bad choices, “you should have thought about that before.”

Then there’s my favorite: you have to work within the system. But the system is the very problem. The system is exterminating and imprisoning black men. The system is exploiting immigrant labor while making immigrants a perennial political punching bag. The system is feeding our ever-growing addiction to poor people, while pretending to give a damn that people are poor. The system is gorging itself on corporate wealth, while pretending to care about income inequality. The system is distorting, dismantling and manipulating our communities and populations, to ensure its own longevity. The system is broken. And for the record, we who voted in the primaries did try to work within the system. The system swatted us away like gnats and went back to what it was doing. The Democratic party part of the system anointed its candidate before the voters spoke, then demanded we pledge allegiance.

Perhaps, at this moment, you believe I’ve wandered from astute political observer to wild-eyed conspiracy theorist. That could be true. Maybe you’re just bothered that my vote matters more than yours. I live in a swing state, so this may also be true. Michigan is one to watch. And if you’re mad that my vote matters more than yours, please keep in mind that I didn’t create that reality either. My preference would be for all votes to matter (just as I wish all lives mattered, but they don’t). I especially wished that in the years I voted in South Carolina, Texas and Kentucky. But that’s not the system we have.

I keep thinking of Lucy, Charlie Brown and that elusive football. Or, less entertaining, a family, a dysfunctional family, in which a single unproductive member regularly spends the rent money on something that is not rent, and then begs for more. That family member isn’t likely to do anything different as long as the replacement rent money keeps appearing – as long as the system keeps covering for his bad behavior, even while believing that this time will be different. But why would he change anything? He gets to behave badly with no consequences. So a healthy family may have to make the very painful decision to change its own behavior, even if it means seeing the beloved child living on the street. (Now I’ve lost your endorsement as a parent, too.) If you want something to be different, you have to do something different.

Those who benefit from our poisonous political system can’t be expected to change anything at all. The DNC wants us to believe they have nominated the person most likely to reform the system, but that’s a lie. Secret speeches to wealthy donors and lobbyists should be our clearest assurance that the DNC is as committed as ever to the system we have.

And if that doesn’t convince you, consider the numbers of Republicans announcing they’ll vote Democratic this time. A testament to how far right the DNC has moved. Rest assured, those GOP loyalists are getting what they want: a candidate who speaks to their issues, far afield of the Common Good.

The party plea to “elect us so we can fix this,” or “give us what we want and we’ll change next time,” rings hollow; next time never comes. At some point, mentally healthy people just refuse to participate in a fucked-up system. If this were a family system and we were in therapy, you know that’s what the therapist would say.

Now, it is possible you’re blaming all this 3rd party talk on “young Bernie supporters” who are new to the political process, who don’t have any patience, who need to grow up and learn how the real world works. Folks are saying a lot of that. But that’s not me. I’m middle-aged. I’m not naïve or ignorant. I’ve been through some election cycles. I’ve been a faithful Democrat and I’ve trusted the party. But it just keeps getting worse, as the party keeps moving further and further to the right. And I’m tired of the same old shit.

I live in a swing state now, and this is the most attention my vote has ever gotten. This may be the only time in my life that my vote matters at all. Of course I’m going to try to use it to change the system. Even if it threatens to bring down democracy as we know it. In fact, that’s pretty much what I’m hoping for.

It’s why I ever bother to vote at all.

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About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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