Poison pills titled "voter apathy" are dropped into a bin of documents containing progressive policies.
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In the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, I’ve witnessed a concerning sentiment spread on my Twitter feed. It’s one that I’ve seen before, but now it feels much more prevalent. The left — progressives and young voters in particular — seem incensed at Democratic politicians and groups calling on voters to vote. Progressive Gen Zers and millennials, who just a few years ago led the charge in emphasizing the importance of getting out the vote, and indeed turned out to vote, now seem to have an outright dismissive attitude toward calls to vote.

Of course, Twitter can be an imperfect barometer. It’s the site of the loud minority, disproportionately filled by young people, a demographic that has poor voter turnout not just in the United States, but globally. But even in my offline life, I’ve recently encountered, among both family and friends, individuals who are otherwise active in politics, partake in the democratic process and are politically savvy enough to understand the nature of American government, echo the same anti-voting sentiment.

When Democratic politicians like President Joe Biden attempted to capitalize on the event to emphasize to citizens the importance of voting in the upcoming midterms and illustrate how left-of-center voters staying home allowed for anti-abortion Republicans to win, it did not go over well. “There’s a fine line between the recent events pushing someone to never vote again or pushing someone to vote with that righteous anger and bring friends with them,” one young voter responded. Even U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted that Democrats “cannot make promises, hector people to vote, and then refuse to use our full power.”

These lines of thinking, representative of a sizable swath of the left, are deeply concerning and misplaced. First, the idea of Democrats using their full power, the details of which are often conveniently left out, is usually associated with things Biden legally cannot do or does not have the votes in Congress to do. Motivating the electorate to vote and elect more Democrats to Congress is the only solution progressives should push. There is no magical “good governance” way to change the fact that you don’t have the votes.

The harsh, yet forever true, reality is that politics is a numbers game. And despite what some may convince you to think, Democrats don’t have the legislative manpower to accomplish what is so desperately needed.

Many of the main issues these cohorts of young progressives are passionate about — codifying Roe v. Wade, passing voting rights legislation and abolishing the filibuster — all would otherwise have been possible if adequate amounts of people had done exactly what they decry: vote. Had Democrats won the 2020 Senate races in Maine and North Carolina, they would have had the votes to accomplish all of the aforementioned goals. 

The reality is that there is no other solution than voting — another option simply does not exist. We do not live in an anarchist society. We live in one bound by laws and guidelines. No matter how much Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yell, complain and pound their desks, total political power is not in their hands. And while it is true that for some, largely less-fortunate and minority communities, voting is not exactly easy, registering to vote and casting a ballot has become far less time consuming — especially for those on Twitter, where users have higher incomes than the average American.

Voting is a continual responsibility. Elections happen every year, without fail. Saying, “I voted, then didn’t get what I wanted, so I have no will to vote again,” is just not an effective political strategy. Republicans achieved Roe v. Wade’s erasure by voting again and again for candidates who promised to work to overturn it, and eventually, when enough people on the left stayed home, they completed their long-sought goal via former President Donald Trump.

Perhaps a better way to understand the importance of voting is by imagining an alternate reality in which Democrats voted even less. If voters had not turned out in the Georgia runoffs, Democrats would not hold the Senate, and the whole political world would be different.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would be majority leader, the American Rescue Plan may not have been passed and Biden may have appointed a judge less liberal than Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, or would have not appointed one at all. And if that were the case, I have a hunch the same people complaining about inaction now would have been blaming Biden and Democrats at large for failing to do the aforementioned things.

Of course, it would not have been the Democrats’ fault; they simply wouldn’t have had the votes. Thankfully, Democrats did win the Georgia runoffs, and liberal legislation and judicial appointments followed. It’s no different for codifying Roe v. Wade. Two more Senate seats, and Democrats could have abolished the filibuster and codified the right to choose. 

But that did not happen, and so we must look forward. There is no mystery here. Hold the House, elect two more pro-choice, anti-filibuster Democrats in the Senate and Roe is codified. It’s numbers, and it’s right in front of voters’ faces. If the same cohort of voters continue this dangerous anti-voting avenue of thinking, then the numbers game, and in turn the success of progressive politics, will only get worse in 2022.

Devon Hesano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at dehesano@umich.edu.