Voting is an important part of the political process, and many would call it a pillar of democracy. But here's the problem: Our political process does not serve everyone, and the United States is not really a democracy. For the sake of full transparency, I do intend to vote in this election — I only became a citizen last year, and it will be my first time casting a ballot. But I have no right to accuse other marginalized people who don't vote of being complicit if Donald Trump is elected.
Many people argue that by not voting, marginalized people have no right to complain if nothing changes. Others argue that not voting at all is downright dangerous, because it demonstrates a lack of engagement in domestic and foreign policy. Because I've been an organizer for much longer than I've been a citizen, I agreed with this mentality for a long time — if people had a chance to vote and change the system whereas I didn't even have the right, why wouldn't they?
But that's not always how change works. Imagine, for a moment, that the government has never served you. Imagine, despite all the work civil rights activists worked to give you the right to vote, that you are still institutionally disenfranchised. Imagine that you live in Flint, Michigan, or anywhere else with lead-infected water, and after years of having your water poisoned, the federal government keeps promising change but never quite follows through.
You might have to imagine this, but for many people, these have been and continue to be their realities. When did voting in a U.S. election produce truly progressive change? When did voting in a U.S. election dismantle systemic oppression? I'm sure people can produce a variety of arguments — "Lincoln ended slavery!" or "Look at all the changes FDR made!" — but when you think about presidents who have done something apparently positive, you also have to think about who actually benefited and who was erased.
Even President Obama, who ran on a platform of hope and will soon leave office with an unusually high favorable rating, has managed to retain a largely progressive reputation while simultaneously deporting millions of people and carrying out drone strikes.
I can't blame people for being disillusioned by this political system, and if they choose not to vote, then they are choosing to reclaim their agency and fight injustice in other ways, outside the system. Trump already has the Republican nomination, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party establishment's favorite to receive their nomination. That's not a really a sustainable choice for marginalized people.
Some of us might try to support a third party, but for those who don't vote — they would not be complicit in a potential Trump presidency. The people who voted for him would be, as would the people in power who have allowed systemic injustice to run rampant and unchecked for so long.