What are you voting for?

Sunday, October 25, 2020 - 11:27am

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Illustration by Eileen Kelly

When it comes to voting and elections the most common question anyone gets is: Who are you voting for? Yet, reading the breaking news headlines every morning, watching the Climate Clock in New York City tick, hearing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death or living through the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, I am reminded of the importance of using my vote as a means of advocacy and voice in this election. 

While filling out my absentee ballot I found myself not thinking about who I am voting for, but rather what I am voting for. I am voting for policies that don’t place a monetary value on human life. I am voting for the belief in science — to save our planet and the lives of so many Americans amid a pandemic. I am voting for a woman’s right to choose. 

I cannot talk about women’s rights without briefly mentioning RBG’s legacy and the confirmation of the new SCOTUS, the former United States federal judge Amy Coney Barett. RBG was a champion of women’s equality, along with many other progressive ideals. RBG particularly advocated for women's rights, seen specifically when she continuously protected the precedent established in Roe v. Wade — the right to an abortion — during future cases that may have potentially threatened the ruling. In Roe v. Wade, the court framed the right to an abortion as a matter of privacy. Even though RBG was not on the court at the time of this decision, she cleverly and accurately framed her opinion on the case as a matter of gender equality, rather than privacy.  

Even though overturning a Supreme Court case is both highly unlikely and challenging, more recently, the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade has become reality. With RBG’s death leaving a vacant seat in the Supreme Court of the United States, the intersection between the election and the battle over the vacant Supreme Court seat surfaced. While Republicans pushed to fill the seat before the election, Democrats argued that we are in the midst of an election, and the seat should not have been filled until after the Presidential election. Democrats plead that with the new SCOTUS nominee nearly half a century of legal precedent has the potential to be overturned — the right to choose, the right to vote, dreamers who are risked of being expelled from the only country they have ever known, union workers who are at risk of losing their right to collectively bargain. Democrats plead that because millions of Americans have already cast their ballots, they deserve to have their voices heard. 

Did President Trump think appointing an attractive young woman will indemnify the loss of RBG? President Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett was strategic: Put a woman on the Supreme Court to fill RBG’s seat to appear progressive and equate her role. Maybe it would be if Barrett could follow, or even more importantly enhance, RBG’s legacy. However, Amy Coney Barrett will do just the opposite. Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation means two things: The court will shift to a 6-3 conservative majority, and the potential of Roe v. Wade to be overturned is real — as a law professor Judge Barrett was a member of an anti-abortion group, Faculty for Life, where she expressed her skepitcism for the decision and her willingness to revisit the case. 

I found myself asking what this means with an election around the corner, and the answer came all too quickly: As a woman, my rights are on the ballot.

I was curious about what students of different identities than mine would say in response to the same question. However, I was surprised to find a common denominator in the responses from everyone I spoke to: While all these students are voting for something, they are foremostly voting against something. 

For LSA junior Katharine Boasberg, this election means voting against hate and ignorance. In a phone interview with The Daily, Boasberg explained that the fact that “Black Lives Matter” is political speaks to the value we put on human life, or lack thereof. 

“We don’t value the lives of women, minorities or poor people. All we value are the lives of the people already in power,” Boasberg said. “Because morality has been politicized, we are fighting a battle against humanity and hate.”

Due to this, Boasberg said that “[she] is voting against using race, gender and socio-economic status as a means of putting a level of value on human life.” 

Similarly, Ross junior Oliver Ginns stated that this election means “voting against divisiveness, against a lack of empathy and, most importantly, for human decency,” in a phone interview with The Daily. 

To LSA senior Alexa Bates, this election means voting against the rhetoric of hate. In a phone interview with The Daily, Bates explained that she is aware hate will not necessarily go away just because of a change in office. Nonetheless, she is voting to “take away the power and authority that gives people the notion that hate is OK.” 

For some, voting represents a departure from their past education or family life; it allows for largely autonomous decision-making in the face of difficult policy points.

In a phone interview, LSA junior Allison Gonzalez said that this election means voting against what she was indoctrinated to believe in her previous education of attending an all girls Catholic school. For Gonzalez’s whole education, she has been taught that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Now, however, she can make her own decision.

“I began to be critical about my education,” Gonzalez said. “I was able to form my own opinions on issues I realized are important for me: women’s rights.” 

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In the final presidential debate on Thursday Oct. 22, Joe Biden said, “character is on the ballot.” The president’s character has the ability to either encourage or hinder hate. 

Ginns was cautiously optimistic when explaining that if Biden is to win the election, saying “things won’t be fixed with a snap of the fingers.” However, Ginns noted that we, as a country, will be on the trajectory to fixing things. 

Like Ginns, I am well aware that this election is not going to automatically fix the many injustices in our society, the economy or the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic. Nor do I expect it to. However, this election is a testament for what the future holds. This election is not a matter of being a Democrat or Republican — it is not a partisan issue. It is a human rights issue. 

It is difficult for me to prioritize one issue in this election because there is so much at stake, and there is a connectedness amongst every issue. There is an intersection between the economy and racial justice; there is an intersection between climate change and the economy. It is not merely a coincidence that when the economy shut down because of COVID-19, we began to see clearer skies and higher air quality. It is not merely a coincidence that low-wage workers and single parent households, many of whom need unemployment insurance (because they lost their work due to COVID), cannot get it. It is not merely a coincidence that COVID-19 hits low-income, minority communities the hardest. All of these issues will not magically be remedied with a favorable election outcome. What this election will do is ensure they are seen as issues and treated like issues that must be addressed and resolved. 

It is undeniable that this is a symbolic election. There is much more on the ballot than just a candidate, just as there is much more power behind simply shading in the name of a candidate. Our vote is a form of speech. It allows us to express what we condemn and what we condone. As John Lewis, former civil rights leader and former U.S. Representative compellingly said at the prescient commencement speech he gave in 2016, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It’s the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it.” 


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