I’ve been traveling a lot these past few months: from Alaska to Florida, California to Ohio, Texas to Virginia, Alabama to North Carolina, and Colorado to my home state of New Mexico. Most of this travel has been to support grassroots organizations lead by women of color build their power and broaden their influence, often through civic-engagement operations such as voter registration drives. Since I moved into my new apartment in Brooklyn on Sep. 1, I’ve slept in my bed 17 nights in the past 50 days.
After coming back to my apartment from one of those trips, I realized, to my horror, that I was out of toilet paper. I ran down to the nearest bodega to buy some TP, because when you gotta go, you gotta go. All the bodega had was the cheapo kind that feels like sandpaper and flattens forests, and for a split second I contemplated not buying any. But when I envisioned the (even messier) result, I quickly came to my senses, bought the crap TP, and got to doing my business.
While on the toilet, it dawned on me: Voting for Hillary Clinton is like buying cheap toilet paper: not ideal, but better than the alternative.
Voting is a choice, and between the two candidates we’ve been given, it should be an obvious one. Just because Clinton isn’t my ideal president, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t vote for her—just like if I don’t like the cheap toilet paper stocked at the local bodega, I don’t refuse to go to the bathroom until they stock my preferred brand. (And four years is a long time between number twos.) In life, you buy the best option available. This doesn’t prevent you from working for better options in the future.
After months spent working with people of color, women, and millennials this election, I’ve become fascinated by the misguided notion that who you vote for says something world-encompassing about your identity. A lot of people who were enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders (as I was) feel that their vote is an extension of their soul. These people tell me they aren’t willing to vote for Clinton (and they of course won’t vote for Trump). Instead, they’re considering not voting at all.
I feel ya. But the thing is, a vote in the United States is just a vote. And you are not your vote.
While who we vote for is important, it is ultimately just a strategic choice, and it certainly doesn’t define us. Over the course of our lives, we will make thousands, if not millions of choices; some big, most little, but no one (or even many) makes us who we are. We are not our votes, and our values are bigger than any election.
Democracy doesn’t begin or end on Election Day (and it’s not as if Trump cares about democracy, anyway). If we really believe in democracy and justice, we need to practice those values every day: Sometimes we do amazing, transformative things, but often we are okay with just making it through the afternoon. Presidential Election Day is merely one day every four years that gets way too much attention—but it is an opportunity for influence.
While I wish being active in your community and speaking your mind was encouraged throughout the year, I do think elections matter. This presidential election should be viewed as an opportunity: By turning out in high numbers to reject Trump, voters can position ourselves to have even more influence in the decisions that affect our lives every day.
By making a choice—by voting—we can try to steer what happens after the election. By abstaining, we weaken our voice and decrease our collective power. The best way to hold our government accountable is to ensure that we turn out in large numbers, because regardless of who wins, we will be able to push them to do what we want them to do—to do the things that represent our values of inclusion, equality, and democracy.
We make choices every day—some that mirror our deepest values, and many that don’t. Voting for Clinton is the best choice in this presidential election. Then we can just wipe ourselves clean of this whole situation.