Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
To say that the current administration wields a new brand of violence against the disenfranchised is dishonest. This nation’s marginalized communities have long memories. As historians of whiteness, we remember generations of oppression and strategies that protect an American ideal, specifically white spaces, versions of faith, historical accounts, brawn and agility, and empire. Marginalized communities understand that challenging the American ideal, whether it be in search of equity or justice, evokes retribution.
The audacity of the disenfranchised to speak up and speak back through voting has historically been met with intentional suppression, a function of the administration’s reprisal. The same government that once only bestowed white, male landowners the right to vote is the same government that revoked Constitutional voting rights from men newly freed from enslavement; required citizens to pay a fee to vote; required citizens to pass a rigorous, poorly-worded literacy test to receive voting rights; and arbitrarily decided which identification cards were not valid during an election. Thus recent news of purged voter rolls, shuttered polling places, voter lines as long as the day, and uninstalled blue mailboxes is par for the course. The instability of our voting process is not merely the result of occasional rigging; it’s part of a bigger tradition of preserving the American ideal.
While this administration propagandizes that this country was not made for the disenfranchised, it is ours too. We might receive treatment to the contrary – be made to feel estranged in our home and be asked to prove our worth to be here. We, however, never need to justify our value in a nation built on shifting rubrics.
Defending our merits is a bad habit marginalized communities relapsed into in the last five years. Each time Donald Trump asserts who is not part of the American ideal (thus far immigrants from non-European countries, Muslims, disabled people, women, Chinese, Native Americans, the imprisoned, those who oppose autocracy, those against police militarization and brutality, those with pre-existing conditions and low-income housing residents), we post our life resumes – all our good work and morals – on social media to show how we have contributed to this nation. We write op-eds about our families’ and ancestors’ stakes in this country. All manner of I-deserve-to-be-here commentary swarms the media. Yet none among us can persuade an administration that doesn’t care what we have given and wouldn’t ask for those life resumes in the first place.
We are not the value of our contributions to the empire; rather we are each whole, thoughtful humans who deserve to live and participate in this country without the disorientation and homesickness that this administration has created. For those of us who can legally vote, I urge persistence. Expect deterrence, but cast your ballot. For those of us who cannot vote, staff the phone banks and the campaign offices. Leverage your social media. Volunteer for campaigns that allow us all to lean into our uncontestable worth, to be seen and heard clearly, and to thrive in this nation.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Dr. Ashaki M. Jackson is the author of two chapter-length books, most recently Language Lesson (Miel, 2016). She is a researcher and program evaluator who lives in Los Angeles, CA.