Atlanta Teen Voices / all

“What we have now is not sustainable,” writes VOX ATL’s Zariah Taylor. “In the path to a better and just world, we need to be willing to brainstorm a life beyond our current government systems.”

Art illustration by Zariah Taylor/VOX ATL

Looking Beyond Our Government: Why Voting Won’t Save Us [OPINION]

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In the 2016 presidential election, Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of nearly 3 million votes. Despite this, Donald Trump was declared the winner of the election and became our 45th President. For many young Americans, this was our first introduction to the electoral college — the institution of 538 electors who decide who becomes president, regardless of the people’s will. From this moment on, I came to recognize that the country I grew up in was not a democracy as I was taught; even if you earned the most votes, you were not guaranteed to be elected. 

Though there is no state level equivalent to the electoral college, additional barriers present themselves in local elections. Gerrymandering, the purging of voter rolls, faulty electronic voting systems, the closing of voting sites in minority communities, and sometimes all of the above – as the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election showed us – prevent state elections from fair process, and often go unchecked by government officials.

In the aftermath of devastatingly regressive government decisions, like the recent Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade, our representatives and their loyal supporters promote elections as a means to enact change. “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” they say, and watch as all of your problems fade away. I’ve heard these cries all my life, and perhaps believed them to some degree, as I was never presented with an alternative option. But now, as an 18-year old who’s eligible to vote in the state of Georgia, I find myself disillusioned by our current system and unsure if I will participate in this year’s general election.

In our current political climate, it is no surprise that teens are jaded by the concept of voting. In the two elections that most of us are old enough to remember – 2016 and 2020 – the messaging from adults was the same. Social studies teachers, politicians, news commentators, and social media pundits alike taught us that a strong voter turnout for the right candidate would be the answer to the problems that plagued our daily lives – poverty, discrimination, gun violence. 

Yet, we witnessed the contradictions to these statements in real time. Because despite a historic voter turnout in 2020 that resulted in both a Democratic President and a majority Democratic house, we have almost nothing to show for it besides a few strongly worded Tweets from the politicians in charge that read like empty threats. 

In fact, it appears to me that our society has only deteriorated since then – in addition to dystopian-like abortion laws, in this year alone there has also been historically high gas prices, continued gun violence in schools, woefully inadequate pandemic relief, and a likely recession that economists are predicting to occur as soon as 2023. 

Too often, Democratic politicians hang these issues over the heads of their constituents, remaining stagnant in their efforts to end them, yet using them as reasons why they should be elected for another term. “Roe is on the ballot in November,” said President Biden, with similar echoes from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as if the Democratic party hasn’t been promising to codify Roe since 2008. These broken promises dispensed at the hands of supposedly progressive, blue politicians provide little incentive to teens considering whether or not to exercise their right to vote.

The issues that plague our country are ones that cannot be voted away. Politicians come and go, but our system – the one that allows nine judges, all above the age of 50 and rich, thus not affected by the laws that they pass to decide our rights  – is so deeply embedded in the fabric of America that it is practically impossible to defeat with a singular vote. You cannot vote out the electoral college. You cannot vote out the Supreme Court. You cannot vote out Congress. You cannot vote out gerrymandering, or voter suppression, or any of the other corrupt government systems that prevent us from achieving true change. 

Yet we participate in this system like cogs in a machine every election, never stopping to imagine what life could look like outside of this. We promote a culture unwilling to question its own morality when we constantly present voting as the most urgent path to change. 

Achieving change should not be this hard. The lives of millions should not be in the hands of a few politicians. When you stop to think about it, it is actually quite inane that our taxes go into the salaries of senators who spend their entire careers debating over whether or not the working class deserves rights. 

What we have now is not sustainable. In the path to a better and just world, we need to be willing to brainstorm a life beyond our current government systems. I have no idea what that will look like. But the issue is that we are not even having these conversations. Instead, we’re constantly mobilizing for the next election, unwilling to address material conditions and creating a cycle of inaction. 

If you can agree that voting and the culture surrounding it is unproductive, your next question might be, “What else can we do?” With voting no longer a sensible option in my mind, I now look to protest, mutual aid, and direct action as vehicles by which true change can be achieved. A mass class revolution is not only reasonable, but it is also backed by history – since the beginning of civilization, no major civil rights triumph has been achieved without a large group of individuals willing to forcibly stand up against the status quo. In protest, I find hope, hope that one day our society can achieve class consciousness and rise up against the oppressive 1%.

Imagining shared class consciousness in a country where we’re still trying to convince people to say gay, where transgender athletes can’t compete in sports, where schools can’t teach their students about race, and where more regressive legislation is being passed on the daily, plus the looming and imminent threat of climate change, is difficult. In times like these where it feels as if no solution is in sight, it’s easy to fall into despair and hopelessness. 

Still, I think that hope can be found in the people we love and the communities we hope to serve. Too few Americans are unaware of the collective power we have as citizens; as the saying goes, there are more of us than them. Helping more people realize this fact through education and community conversation is impactful. When we organize our family, our workplace, and our community, we are making strides towards a better future.

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