The Spiteful Patriot
Happy Election Day. There are so many, many excellent reasons to vote today.
Because you have an inspiring new candidate running in your Congressional district.
Because you want a representative who will protect your pre-existing condition coverage (particularly one who hasn't voted against it and then lied about it).
Because you want a better future for your neighbours, your children, your neighbours' children, for the children of strangers.
Because you love your country with all your heart and believe voting is a responsibility born of that love.
All of these are noble and laudable reasons for exercising the franchise. But today, fellow citizen, I'd like to ask you: have you considered voting out of spite?
We The People (But Not You, Lady)
Face facts: if you're an American today, the chances are excellent that our Founding Fathers never, ever meant for you to vote. Although New Jersey let certain ladies and Native Americans vote on the sly for a few years following the revolution, most states restricted voting to white male landowners over the age of 21. As it happened, only about 6% of the U.S. population was eligible to vote when George Washington was elected president in 1789.
"Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level."
Imagine having to vote with young men, and the poor, and women! We would have to consider their needs and wants when passing laws, and we already have enough to do keeping the damn Southerners happy.
Speaking of the damn Southerners....
Scourge of Democracy
Gradually, the property requirements for voting wore away, mainly because the landowning classes reckoned they could use poorer men as pawns against rival landowners over things like taxes and slavery. But this relinquishment of restrictions was only offered begrudgingly.
In the South, popularised democracy was actually looked on with something approaching horror, with one landowner calling it a "mobocracy". Keri Leigh Merrit, a Georgia-based scholar, writes that:
"Men who had been previously convicted of certain crimes, or who did not have a long period of continuous residence in a certain state and locality, or could not afford to pay a poll tax of close to a day’s wages, were liable to become disenfranchised. In South Carolina, the most anti-democratic state in the South, paupers were particularly singled out as ineligible for the franchise. A person’s poverty could be used to render them politically impotent.
"Widespread illiteracy and semi-literacy among the lower classes — as well as the South’s stringent censorship laws — further prevented poorer whites from involvement in the political process. When the rich did allow the non-slaveholders to vote, they were still able to control the outcome of elections, as one man observed, by 'means of the votes of the poor whites whom he owns, in owning all by which they can live for another day.'"
Of course, that last man quoted was referring to owning poor whites in a metaphorical sense. The people he actually owned weren't even considered full human beings, although they were useful for boosting the slave states' clout in the electoral college: in Article 2 of the 1787 Constitution, it was agreed that anyone who was not a free citizen could be counted as 3/5 of a person when determining a state's electoral votes, giving the slave states an advantage over states that banned or restricted slavery.*
The Fight for Five-Fifths Never Ends
The abolition of slavery and the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution forbade states from restricting African-American men from voting. States across the nation quickly leapt into action, expanding access to schools for former slaves, including broad-based civic education that-- no, no, sorry. I meant they established bullshit literacy tests and poll taxes because, as the Tuscaloosa News (of Alabama) explained at the time:
"This newspaper believes in white supremacy, and it believes that the poll tax is one of the essentials for the preservation of white supremacy."
And when African-American citizens got around the literacy tests and poll taxes, racists terrorised and lynched their African-American neighbours instead. Suppressing the rights of black people to maintain white power was the Ku Klux Klan's raison d'etre, and the primary preoccupation of former Confederate states' legislative agendas for more than a hundred years to come.
Most of us know the Hollywood-biopic version of how African-Americans fought to have their voting rights recognised equally with their white neighbours'. Dr. King gave a speech, there was some marching, a bald eagle cried tears, and LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and all was well.
At least until 2013, when the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County vs. Holder struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which is why, if you're reading this in a certain part of Georgia today, you're doing it during your third hour standing in line to vote. Or if you're in North Dakota and happen to be Native American, it's why you suddenly had to jump through new hoops to secure acceptable ID to vote (historical irony alert: Native Americans, the original inhabitants of this country, weren't considered US citizens until 1924, and didn't have access to full voting rights until 1947).
Making it harder for people of color to vote is a key strategy of white supremacy, and if some poor white people are discouraged from voting or even disenfranchised into the bargain, hey, you gotta break some eggs, etc. After all, voting is a privilege, as Senator Mitch McConnell (R - TheWorst) said recently.
Do It for Ida and Sue
Then you have the women. The American suffrage movement kicked into gear in the 1860s, swiftly tripped over its own hoop skirts because of infighting about race, and eventually got its act together in the early 20th Century, bringing several states on board with women's suffrage before finally seeing the Nineteenth Amendment ratified in August 1920. Odds are if you're reading this, you know or knew a woman close to you who was born before this date.
Because everything old and horrible is new again, including Nazis, white supremacy, and homeopathy, there is of course a growing grumble about women maintaining the franchise. It comes from the people you'd suspect: certain members of the religious right, GamerGaters, the "incel" movement, fuckwit ghouls like Ann Coulter.
Any way you slice it, the American voting pie has never yet been offered to the whole table equally. And various forces are arrayed against that offering ever happening. Here's an eye-opener of a thread from a Beto O'Rourke organiser talking about the many, many hoops and obstacles she's had to help people navigate just to get registered to vote, let alone to the polls:
I urge you to read that, so you understand what some of your fellow citizens, who are ever so slightly less lucky than you, have to do to exercise their basic right to vote. And then I want you to get pissed off.
Forget about voting for a better tomorrow. Vote because your blood's been battery acid since 2016, and it's time to burn somebody.
Vote because other Americans going back centuries didn't want you to, whether it was because of your gender or your race or your income level. Fuck those people, even Alexander Hamilton.
Vote because you get the satisfaction of cancelling out one of those tiki-torch Nazis. Fuck those chinless master race assholes.
Vote because Ted Cruz's tears are delicious, like soup.
Vote because last week, one terrorist targeted two of our former presidents with bombs while another one murdered eleven of your Jewish neighbours, and we can't let the fucking terrorists win.
Vote against anyone who didn't speak out against separating refugee families at the border, because we've committed enough atrocities during this century, and this is one we can stop.
Vote because it would be fun to see Maxine Waters as chair of the Financial Services Committee, sending cold-blooded subpoenas to Trump about his tax returns.
Vote to give all the stuffed-shirt patriots who scream about the "Home of the Brave" while believing that 15,000 troops are necessary to see off a caravan of 1,000 shoeless migrants something to really cry about.
Vote because you want to show the rich people trying to buy our elections, the racists trying to block people of colour from voting in them, and the politicians who go along with them to maintain power that where it says "We the People", it means all the people, and not just the ones who look like you, think like you, or are willing to suck up to you.
Vote so tomorrow you can waste time at work laughing at the president's tweetstorm.
Vote because they think you won't, you fucking snowflake. Vote to bury them.
A poem, in more earnest vein, found here:
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you.
~ Sheenagh Pugh