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Why I Didn’t Vote for Biden

A Left Voice editor gives a personal account of her own decision not to vote for Joe Biden, or Howie Hawkins, or any other candidate running on the ticket of a bourgeois party. 

Olivia Wood

October 30, 2020
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Photo: Nam Y. Huh

Hello, my name is Olivia. I’m a writer and editor for Left Voice, I grew up in suburban North Carolina, and now I teach college writing in New York City. In 2012, I was not yet old enough to vote for president, but I was a proud Obama supporter, and I cut my teeth researching and writing about politics that year. In 2016, when I was 21, I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries and Hillary Clinton in the general election. I didn’t like her politics, but she seemed better than the alternative. So, for those who are voting for Joe Biden this year for the same reasons, I sympathize. But I did not vote for Joe Biden, and I’m here to tell you why.

Biden is a bad candidate even by progressive standards. He doesn’t support Medicare for All. He is pro-fracking and refuses to commit to even the minimal reforms of the Green New Deal. As part of the Obama administration, he supported record-high detainments and deportations of immigrants who were already within the United States. He masterminded Plan Columbia, which has been described as the Central American equivalent of the 1994 Crime Bill (i.e. incredibly damaging). He supports the police, Zionism, and bombing people in the Middle East. And he is an accused sexual assaulter. Joe Biden is no good. But most people I know agree with all of this, yet are voting for him anyway. Why aren’t I doing the same?

I’m not anti-voting, or anti-participation in elections, even if it’s all to elect a bourgeois government anyway. I love voting. It makes me happy. I even like to vote in the primaries in the off-years. Voting makes me think about my great-grandma growing up before the 19th Amendment, what it meant to her when it passed, and how seriously she took voting every year of her life after that. But I didn’t vote for Joe Biden. I didn’t vote for Howie Hawkins either, or the Libertarian. (I also didn’t vote for Trump, although I hope that goes without saying.) 

I thought about voting for Hawkins. I did vote for him for governor of New York, in 2018. I put off filling out my ballot because I had a last-minute crisis about it. I had just edited our article on why socialists should not vote for any multi-class parties, even with a self-described socialist at the helm, and it made sense to me. But then, suddenly, I wasn’t sure. It was actually reading the case for voting for Hawkins that we published as a response to the first article that made me decide not to do it. It boiled down to the penultimate paragraph

In the face of calls from prominent leftists like Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, and Cornel West, as well as, and all the more unfortunately, Dan La Botz, for us to vote for Biden, we must reject lesser evilism in all of its forms even when our own comrades are promoting it. Similarly, we should reject the notion that supporting Howie Hawkins is tantamount to its own kind of lesser evilism. 

It’s the “similarly” that lost me. In the previous two paragraphs, Palmucci admits that “the Green Party’s existence is predicated upon our failure to reconstitute a socialist party. In the absence of a socialist party, the Greens have become the token party of the US Left” and that “there is an obvious contradiction that exists between Hawkins, a socialist, and the multi-class Green Party.” Palmucci’s own analysis of the Green Party was the same line of reasoning that led me to reject not only Joe Biden, but also Bernie Sanders’s viability as a candidate as long as he was running as part of the Democratic Party. At the end of the day, I believe the class character of a party matters. It will never make sense to have capitalists in charge of workers’ rights, because capitalists’ interests and workers’ interests are always at odds with each other. The Green Party is, on average, further left than the Democrats. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same structural (and thus strategic) issues. Any party that includes capitalists will ultimately end up serving capitalist interests. So, I didn’t vote for Howie Hawkins. 

For those who say: “By choosing your abstract principles over voting Trump out, you are telling marginalized people you don’t care about their real lives” — I empathize with this. As a queer working class woman, there are many issues I’m concerned about for myself, particularly relating to the Supreme Court, and many issues I’m concerned about on behalf of those in other marginalized communities. But it also makes me think about this comic, as well as people like these who have been abandoned by the Democrats who claim to fight for them. Although most people I know are voting for Biden as a way to vote against Trump, a vote for Biden is still also a vote for something. 

In high school, when Republican friends would say to me, “Well Obama keeps doing drone strikes in the Middle East, do you still like him now?” I said I didn’t know that much about his foreign policy, but I liked his domestic policy. At the time, that was true. But now when I think about the same question, I think about how by voting for Biden, I would be saying that I am okay with people in other countries continuing to suffer at the hands of the U.S. military and imperialist economic policies, and saying that I’m okay with people within the U.S. continuing to suffer from things like low wages, mass incarceration, police violence, and austerity, as long as some positive reforms get passed/upheld. By saying, “well, if both of them are going to do it, I might as well vote for the one who is less bad in other ways,” I am writing off some people’s suffering, both here and abroad, as something that’s inevitable, something that will never change, something I’m willing to accept in the world in exchange for the benefit of others’ comfort — like in the story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. LeGuin. Instead of accepting all of this suffering as an unfortunate reality, I believe we need to build a force that can change all of this. I believe that building such a force is possible, and that we need to start that process now. 

For those who say: “I’m going to vote for Biden on November 3 and start protesting him on November 4” — I believe some people will 100% follow through on this (in principle if not literally). But I also believe a lot of people won’t; they will want to wait until after the inauguration to see what Biden does, and then wait a little longer to give him a chance to actually accomplish his goals. Then it will be the 2022 midterms, and then the 2024 election will be just around the corner. There’s always a reason to wait and see, always a reason why this or that election is an exception, and that is how movements stagnate and die. Momentum from the summer is already dissipating, as the Democratic party co-opts the protests into electoral activism; we can’t afford to wait even longer while people are unemployed en masse, coronavirus continues to spread, police violence continues, people are getting evicted, etc. After all, enhanced unemployment benefits expired in July, and there has still been only minimal additional relief.

I also believe a lot of people will respond to criticism of Biden with, “Well, at least he’s better than Trump.” True or not, that functions as a suppressant for the anger and action that have been moving a lot of people under the Trump administration. In the event that Biden wins an overwhelmingly conclusive victory on Election Day (rather than needing to wait for mail-in ballots to be counted), will the progressives be in the streets, ready to fight Biden’s neoliberalism, like they were the night after Trump’s election? I doubt it. I believe that the bulk of the work that will make a meaningful difference (collective organizing of working class and oppressed people for the rights of everyone) remains the same regardless of who is president, although tactics and individual policies or events to respond to will differ.

It’s just objectively false that every vote counts, or at least that every vote counts the same. The Electoral College, the role of swing states in election outcomes, the influence of corporate money, voter suppression and gerrymandering, and the dominance of the two-party system all make some people’s votes have more weight than others. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t vote, though — it means people should be mad about a “democracy” that makes some people’s participation mean very little, that prevents others from participating at all, and that forces people to feel like they have to choose between two bad options.

No one who knows me would describe me as politically apathetic or politically cold-hearted. Probably some would call me overly-idealist or accuse me of lacking pragmatism, but probably just as many (hi, Mom!) would call me the opposite — overly-cynical. But these are all accusations thrown at Leftists who are refusing to vote for Biden.

Ultimately, the biggest issues I care about in federal elections are imperialism and climate change. These are not the issues that directly affect me and my loved ones the most right now, but they are the ones that, in my view, affect the largest number of people in the world in the most far-reaching ways. Both Trump and Biden are really bad on both issues, but beyond that, no bourgeois government will ever end imperialism or do what is necessary to fight climate change. The reason is simple: these goals are inherently incompatible with capitalism. As Marx explains in the Communist Manifesto, capitalists can cope with the inevitable crises of production in three ways: by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces…by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.” Capitalism cannot exist without imperialism and eventual climate disaster, because they are capitalism’s natural consequences. More and more recent scientific research is confirming that catastrophic climate disaster is coming in the next 30-40 years, and it can only be averted through incredibly rapid space colonization, significant population reduction (only possible at this stage via mass genocide), or overthrowing capitalism. I will always pick overthrowing capitalism, which is why I cannot vote for a candidate from a capitalist party.

There’s lots more to say on all of these topics, but that’s all I have for now. Please peruse other articles on our site for more news and strategy from a revolutionary socialist perspective.

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Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and lecturer in English at the City University of New York (CUNY).

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