This is going to be an unpopular post.
A few weeks ago, I announced on social media that I would not be voting for Biden and would instead be voting for the Green Party candidates, Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. What followed was a firestorm of fury from my progressive friends and acquaintances. The responses ranged from patronizing attempts to educate me to accusations of racism, sexism, and LGBT-phobia.
Let me preface what follows by saying that I’m not trying to convince you or anyone else how to vote or, if you’ve already voted, that your vote was wrong. If you voted for Biden/Harris, good for you. Believe me, I get the “lesser argument”. It’s almost persuasive to me. Almost.
But here’s where I think I differ from a lot of the people who have decided to hold their noses and vote Democrat: I really believe that we are at the beginning of the end of the world. And by “the end of the world”, I mean the end of America, then end of industrial-capitalist civilization, the end of human “progress”, and possibly the end of the Earth’s capacity to support human life.
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we have 10 years to cut carbon emissions by 45% and 30 years to cut 100%. To be clear, this isn’t just about building solar panels and windmills. It’s about cutting consumption. It’s about degrowing our economy. It’s about an economic contraction which would make the Great Depression look like halcyon days. Cutting emissions to the necessary degree, says the IPCC, will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” What’s more, “there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions.” What would “far-reaching and unprecedented changes” would look like?
“… a complete rebuilding of the entire energy infrastructure of the world, a thorough reworking of agricultural practices and diet to entirely eliminate carbon emissions from farming, and a battery of cultural changes to the way those of us in the wealthy West, at least, conduct our lives.”— David Wallace-Wells, “UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That.” Intelligencer (10/10/18)
It was in this context that I watched the Vice Presidential debates and saw Kamala Harris repeatedly shake her head when Pence accused Biden of supporting a fracking ban and the Green New Deal. Then following the debates, Democratic support for a fracking ban dropped 16 points from 69% to 49%!
I’m sorry. I really do want to stand in solidarity with progressives. But I can’t. I really do want to believe that we have the luxury of the lesser evil. But I don’t. I just cannot bring myself to cast a vote for the end of the world. And that is, I believe, what a vote for Biden is.
Below I want to respond to the five most common objections I have heard to voting Green in this election.
1. “Not voting for Biden is racist/sexist/LGBT-phobic.”
First of all, the Green Party VP candidate is female, Black, and bisexual. What’s more, the Green Party platform is far more progressive on social justice issues than the Democratic Party. And don’t even get me started on Uncle Joe’s problems with women and people of color.
I get how voting Green can appear to be a function of privilege, especially when it’s a White cis-het man like me. But for the record, it’s for marginalized people that I am voting Green. If I was just voting for my interest, as a White middle-class male, I would vote for Biden. But if you’re a person of color, or you don’t have health insurance, or you’re not fully employed, or you want to go to college, or if you fucking want a planet that can support human life when your grandchildren are old–then Biden does not represent your interests.
I think a lot of people who will vote or have voted for Biden know this. And that’s why they’re so angry at those voting Green. Every person who said they’re voting green is a challenge to the assumption that progressives have no other choice.
2. “I’ll vote for Biden and then fight him.”
The notion that Biden will be susceptible to influence from progressives (much less Leftists) after winning this election is unrealistic. Biden will take his victory as a mandate for his neoliberal policies. And make no mistake, those policies mean the end of the world. (See above.)
“If there’s one political cause that really can’t wait until 2024 or 2028, it’s the climate crisis. … eight years of rule by a centrist Democrat in hock to corporate donors left the planet still hurtling towards catastrophe. And this year, the Democratic establishment moved heaven and earth to stop the only candidate who proposed to do something about it.
“Just as they did in 2004, Democratic leaders have sealed off the possibility of doing something about the most urgent moral and political issue of the day. No socialist who campaigned for Bernie Sanders should feel guilty about abandoning them and concentrating on building a movement that is the only real hope for the planet’s future.”— Daniel Finn, “An Open Letter from SDS Veterans Haranguing Young Socialists to Back Biden Was a Bad Idea,” Jacboin (4/17/20)
Also, I just don’t believe that most progressives will really do this. Most progressive voters think the be-all and end-all of their civic duty is showing up once every four years to select a “less-worse” neoliberal, corporatist candidate. And many of those who are more politically active will be so relieved to be rid of Trump, they will go back to sleep–just like we did when Obama was elected.
Remember Obama? Obama, who in spite of having both houses under Democratic control for four years, did nothing to advance the cause of progressivism. Obama who bailed out the big banks. Obama who carried on the wars started by his predecessor. Obama who expanded the domestic surveillance state and international drone strikes. Obama who deported more immigrants than Bush and even more than Trump. Obama who gave us a health care plan that was a gift to insurance companies. And Obama who oversaw no significant change in greenhouse gas emissions.
The progressives will go back to sleep. Meanwhile the alt-right will continue to organize, just like they did during the Obama years. Capitalists will keep pillaging, just like they did during the Obama years. And the world will continue to burn, just like it did during the Obama years.
Given a choice between a comfortable status quo where most everyone sleeps their way into oblivion and a crazy nightmare political reality where everybody and their grandmother is taking to the streets … well, at least the second scenario gives us a fighting chance.
3. “Not voting for Biden is a vote for fascism.”
I am not voting for Trump. Let me repeat that: I am not voting for Trump.
Voting for the Green Party is not the equivalent of voting for Trump. If Trump gets re-elected, it will not be the fault of people who voted for the Green Party. In my opinion, it will be the fault of the following, in this order:
- The people who actually voted for Trump.
- The Democratic party, who forced yet another neoliberal, corporatist candidate on us.
- The people who are complicit in the silencing of any criticism of the Democratic party in the interest of “unity”.
As far as fascism, I’m very concerned about the risk that a second-term Trump poses. But I’m even more concerned about the fascist who comes after Trump. We need to remember that Trump is not an anomaly. He is a product of 35 years of neo-liberalism–both Republican and Democrat. He is the direct result of eight years of Obama’s neoliberalism. And voting for another neo-liberal today just sets us up for another, probably worse, fascist in four to eight years.
“Technocratic neoliberalism of the Clinton-Obama era has been the bedrock of the party’s economic policies for some time now. To a significant extent, that paved the way for Trump — who is a symptom of a larger problem, not an isolated cause. …
“If the populist left gives up on offering an alternative to the status quo, … the far right will continue to thrive. …
“Yet the suggestion from some corners seems to be that all a Democratic candidate has to do is be slightly better than whatever right-winger the GOP puts up … Any surrender to this idea threatens to render the progressive left irrelevant.
“If being marginally better than Trump replaces all other considerations, things will only get worse, with the GOP putting up ever more Trumpian candidates each election cycle and Democrats lowering the bar for theirs.”— Varsha Gandikot-Nellutla, “You don’t owe Joe Biden anything: Shaming the left is immoral — and bad politics,” Salon (5/9/20)
4. “Voting Green is a wasted vote.”
The idea that anybody’s vote could be “wasted”–assuming they are voting for the person who they believe to be the best candidate–is disturbing to me. While I understand the appeal of strategic voting (i.e., voting for the “electable” candidate), it’s not the only valid way to vote. Nor is it necessarily the most effective way to vote.
I don’t think the people who voted for Trump in the 2016 Republican primary did so because they thought he was the “most electable” or that he was the candidate most likely to beat the Democrats. I think they voted for him because they thought he was the best candidate (for whatever reason). Maybe we on the left need to start doing the same thing. Maybe we need to stop voting in reaction to what we think other people are thinking and just vote for who we think is the best candidate.
The whole argument against third party voting is based on the assumption that other people won’t vote for third parties (“they can’t win”, “wasted vote” etc.) But it’s a tautology. People think third parties don’t win, because people don’t vote for them, because they think third parties can’t win …. and so on. I realize the system is rigged against third parties and there’s fundraising issues, but all that starts to change when people just start voting for them.
I’m voting for the person who I think is the candidate for people and for the planet, pure and simple. I’m voting for the candidate who best reflects my values: a safe and healthy society for people of color, LGBT people, and women and a habitable and healthy planet for future generations.
5. “Politics Is the Art of the Possible.”
This is a variation of #4 above. It’s a quote which comes from Otto von Bismarck, a 19th century conservative statesman, which makes it weird to hear coming out of the mouths of my progressive friends.
But the quote begs the question. What is possible? And who gets to define what is possible?
“The adage implies forcefully that minimal improvements or lesser evils are the only realistic aim–and any demand for more is self-indulgence. It’s an injunction not only to compromise, but to get your compromise in first.
“… Here, as in so many instances, the ‘possible’ is a code word for what vested interests will permit.
“… But for those who seek in politics a means of changing society for the better, it must be the art of redefining the possible.”Mike Marqusee, The problem with “the art of the possible”, Socialist Worker (2/10/10)
It’s quite surprising actually to hear progressives talking so unimaginatively about what is and isn’t possible in 2020. This is our reality after all:
- A reality-TV star who courts literal Nazis and praises fascist dictators is the President of the United States, and has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
- We are in the middle of a once-in-a century worldwide pandemic and wearing masks has become a political statement that half of America considers unconscionably burdensome.
- The facially innocuous statement, “Black Lives Matter,” is now considered to be unpatriotic and inciting violence by about half of the country.
- The last time atmospheric carbon levels were this high was before human beings even existed on the planet and we are on track for a rise in global temperatures which will make the planet uninhabitable for humans.
- The fossil fuels which have been driving the growth of industrial civilization from its beginning have peaked and there are no renewable energy sources which come close to the net energy output of fossil fuels.
- Our best scientists say we have 10 years to implement “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” but the progressive candidate for the presidency does not support a Green New Deal.
It seems to me that we are living in “impossible” times, and maybe, just maybe, it is time for us citizens to start redefining what is “possible.”