About 20 years ago, some pranksters in Philadelphia set up an election-day voting station… only they used porta-potties instead of voting booths.
There are elections when you feel like you have to hold your nose when you get in the voting booth, as you chose between the lesser of two evils — or the evil of two lesser, as some have put it.
My friend Dr. John Perkins often quips, “We have the best politicians – that money can buy.” It does often seem that it could simplify our plutocracy just to auction off congressional seats rather than give people the illusion we are a healthy democracy.
Sometimes voting can feel futile, like it doesn’t really make a difference. Sometimes you wonder why you should vote for a County Commissioner when you aren’t even sure what a County Commissioner does.
I get it. And yet…
In 2016, as he sought the votes of African Americans, Donald Trump said: “What do you have to lose?” As if American democracy was like a racial Superbowl with a final play, and Black folks were down 8 points with a fourth down and 20 yards to go. But we now know the answer to Trump’s question — Black folks have a whole lot to lose. So does everyone else.
After the election, my wife asked some of the kids in our North Philly neighborhood what they thought about the election results. Their answers were wrenching and candid. One asked, “Are we going to be forced to be slaves again?” Another said, “My friend Mohammad is Muslim. Is he going to be allowed to live here?” Another little one chimed in, “Will my family be sent back to Puerto Rico?” And on and on.
Hopefully the last two years have shown us how much we have to lose. Not voting is a privilege some folks cannot afford. Their lives are at stake. So even if it is one of the most disimpassioned things you do this year, please vote.
The word “vote” shares the same root as “voice.” It is one way we speak truth to power by voting people out of office, or into office. Not the only way — but a way.
A little over a year ago, my friend Larry Krasner called me and told me he was running for District Attorney. I laughed out loud, almost until I wheezed. He is a legendary civil rights attorney opposed to nearly everything the DA’s office has been known for. He has sued bad police officers as the DA tried to defend them. He defended my friends and I many times as we went to jail challenging oppressive policies and for breaking unjust laws.
And Larry Krasner won in a landslide, historic tipping point. I read one article that asked, “How fed up with the criminal justice system are Pennsylvanians?” The answer was clear: so much that we elected a radical defense attorney as the highest prosecutor in our city. Now he is taking on corrupt cops, cash bail, stop and frisk, and the death penalty — as District Attorney. He’s casting out the demons from the criminal justice system. And he is changing what it means to be a DA, as we see others now running on a similar revolutionary platform.
So vote for revolution this election day.
Vote from your heart — not from empty ideologies and stale rhetoric. Think beyond yourself. Vote with the common good in mind.
Vote for the poor and oppressed. Vote for the immigrants and refugees. Vote for those whose lives are cut short by gun violence. Vote for those in need of health care. Vote for those in prison and those whose vote has been taken away. Vote for those who need clean water in places like Flint. Vote for those in Puerto Rico who are citizens without a right to vote. Vote for those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”
And vote for life — not just on one issue.
Life in the womb is precious — so is life outside the womb. Gun violence. Military spending. Health care. Racism. Immigration. The environment. The death penalty. These are all issues where lives are at stake. Being “pro-life” does not just mean being anti-abortion. Too many politicians are pro-life on abortion but anti-life on almost everything else.
Consider the particularities of some offices that are up for grabs. Several of the gubernatorial elections could have massive ramifications when it comes to ending the death penalty in actively-executing states like Georgia and Florida. Several other states have halted executions because governors have declared a moratorium on killing, and those moratoriums could be in jeopardy. Lives are at stake. A new governor could mean the end of the death penalty.
Not voting has consequences. Among the many ways we can advocate and stand in solidarity with others is by voting against those who continue to protect guns instead of people, who allow fear rather than love to drive their policies on things like immigration.
Let us vote for love, and vote against fear. Fear is the enemy of love.
As a Christian, I am reminded of a verse in the Bible that reads: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). And we can see that fear casts out love. And when fear rather than love is driving our policies, we do terrible things to people. History proves that true over and over. I’m choosing love. I hope you will too.
So go vote today if you haven’t already. But don’t stop there. How we live on November 7 is just as important as how we vote on November 6. It is a terrible thing to confine our voice to a ballot box, to think the only way we can make a difference in the world is one day every two or four years. That’s a lie.
Vote every day. Use your voice on behalf of the marginalized. Vote with your money by what you fund and what you defund. Vote by what you endorse and by what you boycott. Vote by using your platform and privilege to amplify the voices that are not being heard. Use your voice on November 6, and November 7, and November 8.
No matter who wins the election today, we will need to hold them accountable tomorrow. Get in the voting booths today. And let’s get in the streets tomorrow.
Oh, and as for that prank with the porta-potties 20 years ago, I can neither confirm nor deny that I know who did it.