Reflections on the Mitten’s Midterms

To say I was relieved when I checked Michigan’s midterm election results this morning is an understatement. When I went to bed, I was feeling afraid of what sort of Michigan we’d be waking up to. There was a lot hanging in the balance— for queer and trans people, for people of colour, for working class and poor people, for disabled people, for women, for immigrants and refugees.

At the time of writing, Michigan voters have passed Proposal 3, which will enshrine a measure of protection for abortion rights. Gretchen Whitmer has won a majority of votes and has just been declared the winner of the gubernatorial race. Thank god, we have spurned Tudor Dixon and more overt control of our state by the DeVos posse and their Dutch settler christian supremacist ilk. Elissa Slotkin has held onto the 7th District in a race that was too close for comfort. (To be clear: Slotkin is high cringe and the only reason her win is a comfort at all is because Barrett is so virulently misogynist, racist, and anti-poor.) All the electoral races that mattered most to me— for 7th District House rep, governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General— were too close for comfort.

It seems doubtful that the Democratic Party will receive these narrow wins as a wake-up call. For most of the election cycles of my adult life, voters are berated if we do not turn out, but Dems self-congratulate if we keep them in power and do not address the needs of oppressed people. We’re told to wait. We’re rhetorically asked, “Would you rather they [vague gesture toward the increasingly authoritarian GOP] were in power?” And if we refuse to engage in these diversions, Dems simply give a suit-yourself shrug, because most of those who actually maintain any level of power or share control of their party can afford to; the existential threat of settler christian white supremacist heteropatriarchal tyranny bears down first on us, not them, and deep down I imagine most of them know this. Most of them are happy consumer-citizens, protected by white, cisheteronormative, patriarchal, ableist, and (upper-)middle class privileges.

It’s important to celebrate victories, no doubt. But electoral “wins” in a two-party system controlled by corporocrats just don’t feel like victories to me. It’s frustrating to participate in a massive diversion, before which we are told, “To save yourselves, you must vote! There is no alternative [TINA]!” And after which, the Dems tend to frame it as a reckoning. “The people have spoken.” Then they pat themselves on the back. WTF? Voting is barely even damage control anymore; it can hardly be a reckoning. When anyone points this out, Dems (and blue Boomers and enthusiastic liberals) assert, “Well would you rather they won?” (“They” being the GOP and the alt-right, of course.) This, again, is premised on the logic of TINA, which is rooted in the scarcity politics Americans have internalized as normal. There isn’t enough to go around, and we are all constantly locked in a life-or-death game of tug-of-war in which there are only two sides. Non-participation is not an option— unless we want to proclaim our nihilistic attitude of defeat, or even betrayal of oppressed people (this is how Dems interpret non-participation).

At best, the two-party electoral system is a cumbrous machinery designed to slow change to a crawl. Since this system is christian, white supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchal, and settler colonial, it is by default protecting a status quo that upholds the power of white, cis, straight, christian, middle and upper-middle class, and elite consumer-citizens. So what the electoral system is designed to hinder is any change that shifts the balance of that power. At worst, the two-party electoral system enables the rise and empowerment of overtly nationalist, eugenicist, and fascistic leaders.

Dems (and, of course, Republicans) are asking for our continued investment in this system that detracts from serious, immediate measures for positive change for the oppressed people who are suffering most. And this aspect of the system works flawlessly to maintain the racist, ableist, misogynist, anti-queer, anti-poor status quo of power because if it actually invited change, the votes of oppressed voters would vastly outweigh those of our oppressors. But many oppressed voters— especially incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, Black and brown people, immigrants, poor people, homeless people, working class people, genderqueer and trans people, and disabled people— are strategically targeted for disenfranchisement from voting, running for office, and other forms of electoral participation (e.g. serving as election workers). This is entirely by design. The fact that we have to petition for voting rights and protections for those rights indicates this.

So, sure, let’s breathe a sigh of relief and give a hip hip hooray. And let’s be real that the band-aid of voting is not a holistic solution to fighting the racist, fascistic, neoliberal, and corpocratic ideological and material forces (like carcerality, landlordism, poverty wages, and the strategic dismantlement of social safety nets) that maintain interlocking systems of oppression. We don’t have to celebrate the maintenance of the violent status quo.

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