At this point in the ethically and democratically questionable process of choosing the next president of the United States, both “major” parties are ramping up the rhetoric of fear and intimidation to impress upon a rather disillusioned citizenry the imperative of “coming together,” building party unity, in the impending battle of the unlikeable and the untrustworthy. From one side we hear, “You must vote for Hillary, she’s the first woman to receive the nomination of a major political party. More importantly, anything is better than Donald Trump!” From the other side we hear, “You must vote for Donald Trump, he will make America great again. More importantly, anything is better than Hillary Clinton!” What is clear is that many, if not most, sincere and rational voters on either side lack enthusiasm for their party’s presumptive nominee. “Oh, if it could only be otherwise!” they sigh, and offer the observation that the process is imperfect (who would dispute that?), and decry the resultant dilemma that we must forget our principles and values, and make the difficult, though pragmatic (moral?) “choice” to vote for one or the other, the lesser evil. There are no better alternatives available, they tell us, at least none that are “electable.”
The quandary that I and many persons of conscience face in such a scenario is clear. How to vote on one’s principles when neither candidate inspires confidence, that if elected, he/she can be trusted to address the important issues that concern progressives — waging peace, ending perpetual war, the destruction of the environment, economic inequality, racism, poverty, etc. Certainly, Donald Trump must not be elected under any circumstance; that’s a no-brainer. Should that alone determine my vote? Does the specter of a Trump presidency entail drastic measures, a compromise of my principles? Should I heed the warning of the self-proclaimed (Democrat) pragmatist who reasons that I should vote for Clinton, the lesser evil, to keep Trump from being elected? Or should I hold to my principles and express my outrage and dismay with the process by not voting at all? But wouldn’t that give Trump a better chance at victory?
I think, however, this scenario, this rhetoric of fear and intimidation, this false disjunctive that it is either Clinton or it is Trump must be rejected. We must not be dismayed as there is yet real hope for change! Like Occupy Wall Street a few years ago, Bernie Sanders’ movement has mobilized the voiceless and established the groundwork for this “revolution.” For those of us who advocate nonviolence and who see the vote as at least offering a possibility for change, it seems to me that we should not squander this opportunity. This is the revolution, or at least it can be.
After suffering many years of frustration as an activist, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm and hope that the Sanders’ campaign has inspired. I believe we are at a crucial juncture in our history, a juncture at which principled and courageous action is required if positive change is ever to occur. If you truly believe that Clinton or Trump is the person to bring about this change, by all means go ahead and cast your vote. That is, after all, what democracy is about. But, if, like me, you are convinced that neither “major” party’s presumptive nominee has demonstrated an appreciation of or a willingness to effect such change, don’t be bullied into violating your principles and accepting defeat. Nor should you be dismayed into abandoning the process quite yet.
As educators, dreamers, radicals, and revolutionaries, therefore, we must strive not to discourage the motivation and enthusiasm for change, but to sustain it. Instead of urging “unification” to become complicit in maintaining the status quo, or worse, we should be encouraging voters, especially young voters, to continue, even intensify, the struggle for positive change. We should let them know that if the world is ever to improve, we must take risks, and embrace the”revolution.” That change IS possible and their hopes and dreams are not irrational or impractical. We must not allow the naysayers, the cowards, and power brokers to convince the forward thinkers to abandon hope and again be intimidated into acquiescing to the status quo, a not so lesser evil. We must urge young people not to become disheartened because their struggle hasn’t proceeded as easily as they had hoped. When has real change ever been easy? We should offer counsel that they not be discouraged from their idealism, from taking a stand, and from their efforts to bring about an America and a world in which they, and we, would want to live. Most importantly, they must be encouraged not to abandon the process (at least not yet) and become complacent. They are not defeated unless they choose to be.