Americans need to do more than just vote


Brady Saylor

In the United States, we often think of politics as just a two-sided battle between Republicans and Democrats that pops up every four years for a presidential election and dissipates until the next election rolls along, and the only “political” thing you can do is simply vote for a candidate. While we may perceive this to be the true nature of politics, there’s far more beyond party lines, and far more beyond just voting. In tough times, when politicians fail us, it’s important to do more than just vote, and we can do a lot more than just vote.

Political ideology is extremely vast, likewise are the things we can do to take part in politics or engage in our ideology. Voting is of course important within democracy, but beyond that there is protest, organizing, working with campaigns, joining unions, donating to political candidates, or even–in extreme circumstances, of course–revolution.

This isn’t all to say that violence and extremity is the solution to our bugged political landscape; however, apathy is the root problem, and there are many peaceful and effective things we should do to support ourselves when the government doesn’t–one historical example of such being the idea of harm reduction during the AIDS crisis, something still useful now.

Harm reduction is a term for practical strategies used to lessen the physical or social damage caused by various behaviours such as recreational drug use or sex work. Harm reduction among different communities were immensely helpful during the AIDS crisis.

The negligence with which the Reagan administration treated the AIDS crisis led many LGBT communities to take things into their own hands, distributing clean, sterile syringes to drug users in their communities to prevent infection from used syringes, something the government wasn’t doing. Similarly are the communal breakfast programs and health centers set up by the early Black Panthers in the 1960s.

The necessity for communal organization and mutual aid in the first place shows that elected officials–and by extension, voting–can fail us. Voting may be a diplomatic and simple way to influence politics, but it’s clear that more needs to be done from within the working class to support ourselves when voting fails.

These communal methods of mutual aid and harm reduction are crucial for survival, especially so for disenfranchised groups like ethnic minorities and the poor. With citizens taking actions themselves rather than being apathetic, it’s possible that thousands of lives had been saved in just the AIDS crisis alone.

These ideas are still relevant today, with the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic. With millions of people losing their jobs, their healthcare, and their housing in a time where government intervention has been underwhelming at best, communal mutual aid and cooperation is essential to survival still.

Earlier in the year, when there was an extreme shortage of personal protective equipment and ventilators in many parts of the country, mutual aid was and is essential to helping the health of millions. If it weren’t for food banks, the free distribution of masks, and other charities, the degree of death and damage caused by our apathetic government would be absolutely destructive.

Outside of mutual aid and charity, this year has been full of protests of police violence, another political act citizens can do to bring change. The outcry and protest from the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have led to increased discussion about police reform and abolition, and even directly led to the investigation of Breonna Taylor’s death happening in the first place. Without communal action, these people would have never seen even a sliver of justice.

In tough times, it’s more important than ever to work together and cooperate with one another to bring aid and support beyond just voting, especially with a president as controversial as the one we have now. Whether it be charity, protest, mutual aid, or harm reduction, we need to be more than just apathetic, to do more than just vote, and to do more than just rely on institutions to bring about change and a better world.