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When elected officials tell us to vote for them instead of leading, we need new ones
All around me, I see very discouraged friends, ones who are hopeless, as the Supreme Court pillages our rights and as mass shootings happen time and again. We live in difficult times, and we want relief from them. We want help. We want leadership. But our elected leaders are failing us. In the face of their action, we need to continue to stay engaged. This isn't inevitable. We are tired, but things can still change.
My line of reasoning shouldn’t be surprising to my readers. I just wrote a book that called Christians to make political comments in favor of the oppressed, as Jesus himself sides with them. My encouragement is to overcome vanity and anxiety around political action, to shy away from moderation and “third way” thinking, and to be bold with our alliance with the oppressed. In my book I call for many forms of political action, and one of them is voting. I have voted in every election I’ve been eligible to vote in, because I have always believed it was a practical way to participate in politics. Given the choice between two candidates, I could usually find one that would advance progress for the oppressed the most. That isn’t always the case, but so far it has been for me.
I value voting because so many oppressed people have fought for the right to do it. I value expanding voting rights and access and making it as available as we can. I think it is an incredibly important, if not the most important, part of a democracy. When we vote for a candidate, we assume that the work they will do while they hold office will benefit us, our interests, and move the country, or state, or local municipality, in a direction that we want. In Jesus Takes A Side, I argue that we need to vote for the sake of the oppressed. And I think many people did that in 2020 when they cast their vote for Joe Biden. Facing a cruel and worsening pandemic, growing white supremacy, blatant misogyny, and many other evils, Americans cast their ballot for Biden and he defeated Donald Trump.
Biden campaigned on defeating white supremacy. In fact, when he announced his candidacy, Biden named the white supremacy at Charlottesville as motivating him to run. Biden was certainly an establishment pick. Despite appearing as a moderate compared to his primary rivals, Biden’s platform was still the most progressive in history. And when he won office, his early actions, primarily the huge covid packages, were promising. Biden’s signature legislative achievement was his “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” which was a fraction of its proposed size. Biden couldn’t get the rest of his legislation passed, which was all about creating jobs and boosting the economy. Some blame the fact that they seem inflationary, but practically speaking, a couple of Senators, namely Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, kept these major bills from passing. Because the Senate couldn’t reform the filibuster rule without the support of these Senators, these bills needed to exceed a 60-vote threshold to pass. Biden’s agenda stalled in a budget reconciliation process, and remains dead.
Ultimately, the failure of Biden’s agenda falls on the leaders of the Democratic Party. The ineptitude of Congress, coupled with the cowardice of the administration, left Americans in worse positions. Ultimately, it is disillusioning to vote when it feels like those we’ve voted for are not doing what they said they would. Why participate in a democracy if our democratically-elected leaders aren’t doing anything?
Meanwhile, the minority party, because it actually did something when it has power, has a Supreme Court pushing its agenda. In just a few short weeks, reproductive rights were stolen from us, the EPA was limited in how it could protect the environment, state and local gun control became harder, and the rights of Native Americans to their lands have been diminished. We don’t know fate awaits us, but it feels the party we voted out of power is still in power.
In the face of mass shooting after mass shooting, we are horrified at the inaction of our elected officials. What’s worse is that when they contact us, they tell us to give them more money for their campaigns and ask us to vote. It is as if voting is all we can do. But the problem is, we already voted for them. And we don’t have enough results to warrant continuing to do so. I understand that if the power shifted in the Senate just a bit, even to displace the influence of the aforementioned Senators Manchin and Simena, things could be different. But the lack of messaging, direction, and leadership from the Democratic Party is sickening in the face of these tragedies.
Even when confronting an insurrectionist president, our political leaders couldn’t leverage his heinous actions to remove him from the possibility of running again. Democratic leaders ran the impeachment trial so incompetently they called no witnesses (such as Cassidy Hutchinson whose damning testimony could have cooked Trump), and they delayed striking while the iron was hot, weeks after January 6, when a trial starting the following day may have garnered them enough GOP votes to remove Trump.
It is disheartening to witness such awful leadership. But we are under no obligation to vote for ineffectual leaders. In fact, it is their obligation to compel us to vote. Some of the civic-minded among us (admittedly, like me) will continue to vote. But for those disillusioned Americans who don’t want to vote unless they get immediate results are not duty-bound in the same way, and they can’t be faulted for it.
The truth is that we can’t vote our way to liberation. We can’t vote our way out of our oppression. We can’t vote our way out of the despair we face. Our political leaders must stop telling us that is our only option. They need to lead us and, thus, compel us to support them. If you are disheartened and cynical, remember, it is your leaders that led you down that path, due to their inaction. It is not your fault, it is plainly theirs.
So yes, I think voting is good. I will continue to do it. But some problems need to be addressed immediately by the people we’ve already voted for. Telling us to vote after a mass shooting or another regressive Supreme Court ruling instead of using your power to change things now is disgusting. This isn’t about your power—it’s about our lives!
Ultimately, my hope isn’t in the electoral process. As a Christian, I put my trust Jesus, who is my Lord. But the hope Jesus offers me is transcendent in the sense that I know full liberation awaits me. That hope fuels me to act politically immanently as well. Voting may be one thing we can do, giving money to campaigns may be another thing, but I encourage everyone to continue to make their dissatisfaction known. We need new leadership to overcome the Democratic Party’s aging leadership, and we need it now.
If our leaders don’t entitle themselves to our fidelity, they may start acting differently. We are seeing growing dissatisfaction in that party. And this rumble may allow for a strong agenda that favors the most vulnerable to actually happen. In my opinion, that makes Democratic candidates even more viable in elections. Results count. The people need to feel them. Reassure us that our rights will come back, reassure us you will pass laws that help stop gun violence, reassure us that as the prices rise, relief will come. Show us that our votes aren’t in vain by leading, don’t entitle yourselves to our support, while you do nothing.