In response to my last blog post, my friend Sharon asked me if I had used my vote, as in a previous blog post I had explained that I do not vote, and that one day I would write a post about why.
Given what I posted in my last post, it is a legitimate question.
I did not vote. No.
Does that make anything I said in my last post less true? Or less sad or difficult? No.
Does it make people I respect think less of me? Yes, almost certainly.
I can’t change that. I can only tell you how it is for me.
There are two common arguments I come across:
If you do not vote, you do not have a right to express your opinion on political matters/the state of the nation etc
Women died for your right to vote and you are insulting their memory by not voting.
Here is my response.
I am absolutely appreciative of the fact that suffragettes fought and died for the rights of women to cast their vote. I believe in enfranchisement for ALL. If the right to vote were taken away from me because of my sex, I would be one of the first people out there, protesting. Similarly, if the right to vote were taken away from men, I would also be out there, shouting the odds.
Having said that, I find it very troubling that people use a stick from the past to try and beat people in the present to do what THEY want you to. People feel it is justified because quite rightly (in my opinion) they feel that equality for women is a good thing, and so they can emotionally load their argument with reference to it, but it is no more reasonable or fair than trying to force children to eat all their dinner because the little black babies in Africa would be grateful for it. Of course they would, but if I’m full and I don’t want any more dinner what does that have to do with anything, and if I don’t eat it, are you going to send them my dinner in an envelope? No. You aren’t.
I’m grateful for the suffragettes, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t exercise my right to think for myself when it comes to what I choose to do and believe and act upon as a woman. The suffragettes aren’t an excuse for never using brain cells again and blindly following the herd, and I don’t choose not to vote because I simply can’t be arsed to think about it, or because I’d rather talk about nail polish and what to cook my man for his tea.
Just because I have the right to vote, does not mean that I should be forced to exercise it, or that people should be allowed to tell me how and when to use my vote. What gives people the right to tell me to use my vote, any more than the right to tell me I am not worthy to have a vote in the first place?
When women did not have the right to vote, they had no choice to exercise. That is despicable.
When women do have the right to vote, what is absolutely infuriating to me is that other people see it as their ‘right’ to pressure people into using their vote, rather than giving individuals, whether men or women the CHOICE to vote or not vote as they see fit, or even engage them in debate about it without dragging out some kind of emotional hoary old chestnut trump card.
If I didn’t keep up with current affairs, didn’t know anything about the political life of this country, didn’t speak out against injustice etc, and chose not to vote because I was too lazy to go to the polls, I could understand why someone might get angry with me.
When this debate comes up, people often use the word ‘apathy’. I am not apathetic. Nobody who knows me could ever accuse me of apathy, about anything other than ironing. And I come from a long line of politically militant, clued up, powerful women, so it’s not like I ever had the choice to ignore politics.
What really annoys me about this particular argument is that I have the right to do lots of things. I have the right to join the army, for example, something, like the vote, which was also denied to women for many years, and certainly many years longer than their right to vote. If I joined the army and went off to Afghanistan and killed a lot of people would you think that was a good thing because I am exercising a ‘right’ I was denied for so long?
My feeling is, that as a man or a woman, the right to choose whether to use your vote or not is important. How and why you exercise that right is up to you.
I feel about voting, the way I feel about joining the army. I’d always choose to be a conscientious objector.
I do not vote because I do not feel that any of the political parties, or politicians, has anything to say to me that would make me want to cast my vote in their favour. If I did vote, it would be for purely tactical purposes, to try and stop someone like Nigel Farage, for example, getting into power.
Our political system, which we think of as a democracy, is not in fact a democracy at all. We do not run an electoral system where it is one person, one vote, as a true democracy would be. Our system is muddied by percentages and swings and tactics which means that ultimately, if you think your vote counts for anything much of anything at all other than at the most general level, you are wrong.
It is not even that I do not believe in what the political parties stand for, and I don’t, it is that I don’t believe in the system upon which it is built. I do not wish my vote, spoiled or unspoiled, to count for a system that I do not support in any way. If I vote at all, I am tacitly giving my agreement that the system that we have is a good one, because I am supporting it. I do not support it, so why should I vote?
Michael Moore once said that there is so little difference between the American political parties that it is like going to a restaurant that forces you to choose between bread sticks and croutons, and with only those two things on the menu. That is how I think of our parties, only if I vote at all, I feel like I am also voting for the whole damn restaurant to stay open, and keep on offering me shitty food and reprehensible service on the grounds that it is better than starving.
It feels like blackmail to me.
I feel like people who tell me that because they voted they have a right to an opinion they deny me are missing the point. What does your vote actually do? What do you actually do? When you come out of the polling station, do you do anything else, anything that supports your political convictions, or is your vote enough for you to go home and sleep the sleep of the righteous that you have done your bit?
I feel like voting and not meaning it is a bit like joining the Catholic Church but not actually endorsing any of its beliefs and refusing to go to church any time other than Christmas.
So, what do I believe in?
As it stands, voting means that we give our tacit agreement that change comes from the top down, and that only change that comes from the top down matters. This is despite the fact that this is largely given the lie by most of history, and we still have a hugely disenfranchised underclass who rarely, if ever, have their needs served by government – in my opinion.
Me, I believe in grass roots change. I believe in responsibility. I believe in education. I believe in putting your money where your mouth is. If you want things to change, then change them. That’s what I believe.
What do I do? Well, I regularly and freely give my time and expertise to causes I believe in. I volunteer, I help where I can. I donate funds to causes I think are worthwhile. I write about what I endorse, and what I don’t. I educate my children to be humane, thoughtful people who are clued in to what is going on in the world, which is why I have a teenager who rather than hanging around shopping malls for fun, writes regularly to her local MP about the state of hospitals, the environment and education. She hasn’t learned about that because of osmosis. She learned about that because that is the kind of thing we talk about round our dinner table.
What I don’t do, is follow other people because it is safer, quieter, less upsetting. What I don’t do is trust that things will get better if I leave it up to the politicians. Where is the evidence that it will? What I don’t do is put a cross in a box because it will do, even though I don’t agree with 98% of policy.
I know that I am in a minority. I know that my views are not popular. I know that my choosing to kick against the traces won’t change the bigger picture, but I also know that if I put an X in the box for someone I don’t believe in, that’s not going to change the bigger picture either. I know that change starts with me, and that every time I speak out, take a stand, help someone else, donate a food parcel, help to teach someone to read, that I am making a change I can believe in and be proud of. So that’s what I do.
I’m not asking you to approve. I’m not asking you to change the way you think or vote for me. You have your choice to make, and I trust that if you make your choice politically you make it for very good reasons, reasons I may not agree with, but I support your right to have them.
Having said all that:
I did seriously think about voting this time around, for the very purpose of trying to block the UKIP/BNP vote, but I got so angry at the thought that if I did this, it would tacitly endorse another party who I despise almost as much, that I put my polling card back into the bin.
But next time I may actually do it, because if things get worse it may force my hand, and that makes me bloody furious.