Correction: This letter, originally published Oct. 26, was updated on Oct. 30. The letter said DD Adams was a candidate for the Senate, however, DD Adams is a candidate for the House of Representatives. The Appalachian regrets this error.
I’ll admit that my political background and beliefs do not line up with my upbringing. I was raised in southern Pennsylvania in close proximity to Gettysburg, a deep-red, rural county with nearly as many Confederate flags as Union graves. My high school did its best to present a balanced and objective worldview, but the people teaching us were people who lived there — and so our economics teacher defended Reagan, our world cultures class was shot through with American exceptionalism and so on.
And yet, here I am, a junior in college and a staunch leftist. The wave of political acceleration we’ve seen since 2016 has shaped people’s ideas and thoughts in radical ways. My journey from voluntarily ignorant to liberal to socialist has remolded a lot of things I believe about the world and clarified the root causes of America’s endless strife and anger.
But, something I have yet to see remolded is my earnest belief in democracy. Is the American electoral system weighted, flawed and at times outright hostile to the working voter? Yes. Is it maintained by a ruling class whose ultimate goal is to reduce the lower castes who provide their wealth to voiceless cattle? Also, yes. Are capitalism and democracy incompatible at the basest level? That’s a third yes. But I still vote.
America’s two big parties occupy nearly the same ideological spot on the spectrum. Although there are differences in social policy and presentation, both the modern Democrats and Republicans are what philosophers would call “classical liberals,” who both believe in upholding capitalism and the broken, oppressive power structure it creates. Neither party, as the capitalist ruling class is able to fund so many elections, is willing to come out against them and to many leftists, that’s a failing of the two-party system. For some, this failing is so total, such a travesty of classical democracy, that they abstain completely, opting to make change in more academic or more direct ways.
So much of the radical left (and, more openly, the radical right) is embroiled in a fog of negativity. The further from the falsely sunny center you stray, the harsher and darker worldviews become. This isn’t to say that pessimism reigns in these areas— a mantra of modern socialism that I believe unshakably reads “A better world is inevitable”— but there’s a loss of faith in the current system.
And for that reason, a lot of local leftists are dismissive about voting. It’s seen as a smokescreen, a veneer of democracy over a system that, at its core, defies the will of the many in favor of the ultrarich elite. And, having read the philosophy and the history and the principles of anticapitalism, I can see all these flaws and acknowledge them, and I understand that for the government to reflect the will of the governed, we need to make some radical changes.
And yet, here I am, double-checking my registration and marking on my calendar when early voting opens at the student union. I’m handing out registration forms and encouraging as many people as I can reach to do their part. Most students, no matter what they believe, understand the principle that those who don’t vote have no right to complain. It’s not so hard to convince them to turn out — point at the state of things and say, “Hey, no matter which way you want things to go you probably agree they’re not great right now, so put your name down on this form and slip a ballot in the box and get a sticker.”
It’s the radicals I have the hardest time convincing. To people who have already read the stairway of books by increasingly esoteric, dead Europeans and now understand reality as an ongoing battle of abstractions and dialectics, voting is a waste. Things have only truly changed through mass revolt, they say, and voting is a pacifier in the mouth of the potential beast that is the American poor.
As radicalized as I become, and as many of those books as I read, I continue to carry a torch that in a shoddy political cartoon of myself would be labeled “DO WHAT YOU CAN.”
In this moment and in this place I’m playing an organizational short game. This is true of all “moderate” leftists.
Would I like to see Lenin’s utopia realized and a classless society emerge in which people are reunited with the products of their labor and each truly gives according to their abilities and takes according to their needs? Yeah, sure. Do I believe that such a grand transformation is practical overnight? Absolutely not.
I represent the moderate, surface-level left that has been (to nationwide excitement) increasing its electoral presence as of late. Just months ago, young Democratic-Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in NY-14, a success echoed in state and local races across the country — Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Arizona and Hawaii. In the age of Trump, when conservatism has finally shed its civil veil to reveal that it is, in fact, an ideology built on paranoia and on protecting oppressors of all kinds, the awakening of America to the idea that things could be different— indeed, could be a hell of a lot better— is beginning to show signs.
Are those signs well within the system we should eventually seek to replace? Yes, sure. But how else should a revolution start? America has reached a pivotal intersection in the fabric of class, society and government, and the decisions we make and people we elect in the next five or 10 years will shape the new era of Western ideology. That’s exciting! It’s absurd to treat the chance to influence the next century of policy in the most powerful nation on Earth as a chore, no matter how you want to steer the ship.
Even when the palette of options you’re handed isn’t what you want, go with the best you’ve got. My strategy is, and will always be, to vote as far left as I can. If there’s a socialist running who’s got a decent shot (like here in Boone?) great, there’s my vote. If not, I’ll vote for a centrist Democrat if I need to, or even an ineffectual, bland conservative over a screaming, gun-flailing nutjob (like back home). I admire and respect those pushing for radical change and direct action, but I see no harm in setting those goals against a backdrop of gradualism.
So my plea to the radicals of all stripes is to vote. Participate in the system no matter how harsh your critique of American democracy; because a true reformist will use every scrap of leverage they’ve got to push their agenda. Maybe you don’t think of voting as a great option, and in many cases I’d agree. But here and now, in the short game, it’s the best option available, and we must collectively take it as a step toward the future we want for this country.
Finally, while I’m up here on this platform, I’d like to endorse DD Adams for House of Representatives, and Anybody Who Is Not Jim Jordan for State House.
Written by: Jack Grimes, President of Boone Democratic Socialists of America