To whom it may concern,
As of March 5, 2020, Senator Elizabeth Warren is out of the race for the Democratic nomination and the battle is now down to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. If Warren was your candidate, this probably feels terribly unjust. You believed in her plans, you trusted her judgment, you respected her intelligence and the doggedness with which she fought. Perhaps you hoped Warren would accomplish what Hillary Clinton couldn’t: become the first woman President. My top choice for 2020 is Bernie Sanders, as was the case in 2016, which is to say that I get your pain today and possibly through the end of this interminable primary. In 2016, by the time I cast my vote for Sanders in the District of Columbia, it was already June and any hope that he’d clinch the nomination had long evaporated. Still, I felt tremendously proud to give him my vote, and was crushed when the nomination went to Hillary Clinton, even though I knew it was coming. This may have been how you felt on Super Tuesday. Or perhaps you never got the chance to vote for Warren at all because your primary is still to come. For this, you have my sincere compassion.
I understand, too, that there’s probably a certain bittersweetness about this moment. While I believe the stories about the unusual virulence of Sanders supporters are exaggerated and cherry-picked at best, it’s true that some of you have indeed had nasty exchanges with Sanders supporters online, or have been offended by their treatment of your candidate. Certainly, many of you hoped that you’d never have to choose anyone other than Warren at the polls. With your vote now up for grabs, it might be tempting to remind the unnamed swaths of Sanders supporters, who you may believe to be particularly toxic (despite evidence to the contrary), to give you respect if they wish to earn your vote. There may be no greater feeling than to announce that you’ll go wherever Warren will go, once she endorses (if ever she endorses). It might feel even more righteous to blame Sanders supporters publicly for your personal tilt towards Biden, knowing that his vision for the future—a return to the former status quo—is diametrically opposed to both Warren and Sanders’ bold platforms. After all, this is your time to stick it to Sanders’ supporters, to watch them squirm as you remind them that if Sanders loses, they will have no one to blame but themselves. Trust me when I say that I relate to each of those feelings, too. For better or worse, I am a petty person myself.
But as a Black woman who once handed $640 to USCIS for the right to citizenship, and therefore the right to vote, only to end up living in Washington, a city that enjoys no meaningful representation in Congress—(see where I’m going with this yet?)—I must politely suggest that you snap the hell out of it. Here’s the thing. Millions of livelihoods depend on the outcome in this upcoming election, including the livelihoods of people who cannot vote for many reasons: because they have a criminal record, because they have the wrong passport, because their states decided to close hundreds of polling stations with little notice, because their counties failed to adequately prepare for high turnouts, because they are a little too young, because they are taking care of too many people to make it to the polls, because they have no home address, because there are no buses to physically take them, because voting would tell their abusers exactly where they live. Generations of women and Black Americans fought and died for everyone to have a say this election and yet, many people will have none.
But that’s not you, is it? No, you’re an adult citizen with the ability and intent to vote, as you planned to do, or already did, for Elizabeth Warren. The degree of independent thinking that you exercised to settle on Warren is the same thinking that will inform your next pick regardless of how any Sanders supporters behave. I suspect that this will be true of whether these supporters are nasty or kind to you online. You will either choose who to vote for with an open mind, and study up on Sanders’ policies, or you will take the information that best supports your predetermined narrative and ignore what undermines it. Because, let’s be honest, you’ve probably already made up your mind, whether it’s Biden, Sanders, or staying home. I’m sure you have your reasons. Perhaps you’d rather not support the person willing to fight for similar, more universal versions of Warren’s plans because the torchbearer is a septuagenarian man rather than a septuagenarian woman. Perhaps decency and civility matter more to you than achieving any of these plans. Or maybe you think Sanders’ plans are impossible, and doubt that the sort of tremendous change that has happened before in this country can happen again. Maybe you simply don’t care about Biden’s declining cognitive abilities and long history of sexism. Or, maybe the thought of a Jewish man in the Oval Office simply makes you more uncomfortable than you’d care to admit. Whatever it is, your feelings are your own! But that’s precisely the point. If you vote for Joe Biden, it’s because you chose to vote for Joe Biden. If you have the ability to vote on primary day and choose to stay home to stick it to Sanders supporters, it’s because you decided to stay home. You can make as many social media posts blaming Sanders’ supporters as you feel necessary to soothe your conscience, but this will not change the basic facts. You are a grown adult, and no one made you do anything.
Now you’re probably right that, unless your state has already voted, my preferred candidate will probably need your vote to get to the finish line. And sure, I’d love for you to vote for Sanders because I firmly believe that enacting the policies in his platform would improve millions of lives. But you are in for a rude awakening if you believe Sanders supporters, myself included, will accept any responsibility for your choices. There’s a narrow context in which I care about what you do on primary day, but when it comes to you and me, personally? We are strangers on the internet. I am neither your campaign point-of-contact nor your keeper. Vote for Sanders or vote for Biden. Write in Elizabeth Warren, or Amy Klobuchar, or take a selfie with a doodle of Hermione Granger on your ballot. Your right to vote might have been hard-earned by others but it is yours to apply as you see fit. All I ask is, in the name of all that’s holy, whatever choice you make: Own Your Shit.
Vanessa A. Bee
Image from the Chicago Art Department courtesy of flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagoartdepartment/2919452629