Elections 2012

Here in California, there’s only two more days to register to vote.  And if you haven’t, I urge you to do so.  Now, I have to say my circles of friends and acquaintances include few if any potential Romney voters.  But they do include people who are so disaffected, or feel so frustrated, angry and disempowered by the political system, that even the sheer raw theater of it doesn’t move them to participate.  And others who enjoy saying, “Don’t vote, it only encourages them,” which is funny but patently untrue in an election year when the far right is working so hard to discourage people from voting.  If they’re going to such lengths to keep people from the polls, there must be something there that we want!

I’m thinking about an exchange I had with a young woman who was in our job training program last year.  We’ll call her Shawna.  I asked the group if they voted.  Shawna said she registered when she turned eighteen, but they sent her the sample ballot, “and I couldn’t figure out all that bullshit.  I threw it away.”

“But Shawna,” I said, “Did you know that all over the country, rich white guys are trying every trick in the book to keep young African-Americans like yourself from voting?”

“They don’t have to try,” she said, “cuz I ain’t gonna do it!”

Shawna grew up in public housing, on welfare.  At eighteen, she’s already spent many months incarcerated in juvenile hall.  Her boyfriend was murdered, another victim of gang violence.  She’s bright, and likes to read, but her education did not prepare her well for either college or a job—and those months in juvie didn’t help.

I didn’t have much success in persuading Shawna that voting was relevant to her life.  Our discussion took place long before this election, and the current crop of propositions wasn’t yet on the ballot.  But were I able to talk with her today, here’s some ways that voting on the issues just here in California might make a difference to her life:

Prop 30 would raise money for better public schools.

Defeating Prop 32 would keep the Koch brothers and the corporate power-mongers from effectively excluding the unions and the candidates who back the interests of working people from political power.

Prop 34 would end the death penalty in California!  Which inordinately affects people of color.

Prop 36  would reform our horrific ‘three strikes, you’re out’—another issue that is of deep concern to communities of color who are targeted for prison.  Right now, a person who is charged with even a nonviolent offense or a petty crime can go to jail for life, with no judicial discretion.  The reform would make it so that offenses need to be serious, violent ones.  And dramatically reduce the chance that Shawna or her friends would spend a lifetime in prison for some stupid shit they do to be cool at nineteen!

Prop 37 would require labeling of genetically modified foods, giving us all an informed choice about what we eat, and ending the free ride Monsanto and the GMO-producing companies have gotten to inflict their unwanted, unsafe and damaging products on the unknowing public.

And that’s just the propositions!  What about voting for President?

It’s true, neither Obama nor Romney espouse my personal ideals nor champion some of my most important issues.  But there are many, many ways in which an Obama victory would make life better for Shawna, and for me.

Shawna doesn’t want to get pregnant, like so many of her girlfriends have done.  Obama and the Democrats stand strong for women’s reproductive freedom, for making contraceptives available and part of insured health plans, and for protecting a woman’s right to choose.  Romney et al have promised to make abortion illegal—some of them have stated in all circumstances, even rape (because they claim that a woman can’t get pregnant if the rape is ‘legitimate’) or when the woman’s life is in danger (they claim it’s never in danger from pregnancy!?!)  The next president will likely appoint two supreme court justices, which will have a huge impact on protecting Roe vs. Wade and many other issues for decades to come.

Shawna is thinking of enlisting in the military.  For her, that seems like the best option to some sort of future.  While Obama is no pacifist, and continues to support a drone program I find immoral and unconscionable, he did get us out of Iraq.  He is moving us out of Afghanistan, more slowly than I’d like, but at least he’s moving in the right direction.  Romney, on the other hand, objects to any timetable to get out of Afghanistan, and is highly likely to let his warmongering advisers get us into a whole new war with Iran.  Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is closest to my ideals but has no potential to actually win—and if by some miracle she did, she’d have no party backing in Congress, no experience and no clout.

In the Bayview, when there’s money for summer jobs and training, the murder rate goes down.  When the money dries up, the murder rate climbs.  Obama’s stimulus resulted in lots of jobs that summer for Shawna and her friends, and fewer deaths.  Under Romney, the chances of any money for improving the lives of Shawna and her friends are as likely as my becoming a champion girl jockey and winning the Kentucky Derby.  Under Obama—especially if we could get the obstructionist Republicans out of the way—we’d see more resources and more hope.

Then there’s health care.  Under Romney, Shawna’s best hope of getting health insurance would be to go on welfare and qualify for Medicaid, or succumb to the forces driving young people from her ‘hood into prison.  As for me, a self-employed writer closing in on the age where I could soon qualify for Medicare, health insurance remains my single largest expense, more than my house payments, more than food.  And that’s after dropping down to a minimal policy.  Obamacare is not the single payer system I’d prefer and which would make most moral and fiscal sense.  But it’s hella better than what we’ve got now, especially for someone who is not part of some big corporation that helps pay for my insurance.  And should Romney get in and turn Medicare into a private voucher system, it would have a devastating effect on my chances of avoiding a destitute old age!

Beyond Obama and Romney, think what a Republican victory would say about us, the people of the United States.  If Romney wins, no matter by how small a margin or by how many dirty tricks and miscounted ballots, his folks will claim a mandate for the most extreme, right-wing policies.  It would vindicate the right of the 1% to skim the cream and leave the dregs for the rest of us.  The lies, the trickery, the influence of immense wealth, the voter-suppression tactics, the intimidation, the cheating and the overt and covert racism will all be rewarded.

And don’t try to tell me that under a Romney presidency, things will get so bad that people will finally rise up and make a revolution.  I’ve been hearing that since Nixon ran against Humphrey in 1968, and you know what—it’s never happened, yet.  Never even gotten close.  Under a really bad, right-wing President things get worse, and people get more discouraged, more downtrodden, more hopeless and more apathetic.  Organizing and motivating people to take action gets harder, not easier!

If Obama wins, it will show that the American people want something else—a place where the playing field is leveled, where everybody gets a fair chance.  That doesn’t mean I’m under the illusion that Obama will give it to us.  He’ll do what’s doable—and it will be up to us to make it not only doable but inescapable.  Not in the voting booth, but in all the places where we organize and agitate and protest and build alternatives.  That’s never easy—but under Obama the conditions for organizing will be far better than under Romney, if only because hope disappointed is more galvanizing than despair confirmed.

Elections are not the arena where I express my ideals–I do that in the garden, and in my writing, and in the streets.   Elections are where I get pragmatic, because they do matter, and the differences between the candidates can mean life or death to folks like Shawna and to me.

So if you’re not voting out of principle, or you’re in a swing state refusing to vote for Obama because of his real failures to live up to the values he originally espoused, I’d ask you just to stop for a moment and think about Shawna.  Think about me–and not just the impact on my mental health of having to watch that snide, lying, con artist for the next four years!   Include in your ideals the real-life impact a Republican victory would have on a young black woman from the inner city, on an aging writer, on hundreds and thousands of other folks here and around the world for whom the nuances of difference might mean life or death.

Then vote your conscience.  But for Goddess sake, get off your high horse and your butts and get out there and vote!

Here’s a couple of links to people who have said this all far more eloquently than I:

Daniel Ellsberg.  “Defeat Romney, Without Illusions About Obama.”


Stephen Zunes. “My Support for Ralph Nader: Ten Years Later: Lessons Learned.”


Rebecca Solnit.  “The Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to my Dismal Allies.”


KQED Guide to the California Propositions:


29 comments to Elections 2012

  • Bird

    Thank you for this, and for the links at the end. The small percentage of undecided voters, and those who have been too overwhelmed to even consider it, are exactly the ones who will decide this election.
    I will be sharing your words.

  • Phoebe

    Dear Star, Please let us know your thinking re Prop 35. To me, criminalizing one voluntary sex worker could be worth saving 10 trafficked children, or even one if that didn’t throw the sex worker’s kids into as precarious a trap. I can’t tell how likely that would be. the kqed program is clearly biased in favor of 35 because they did not include an articulate, appropriate opponent such as someone from the aclu, fcl etc or such as these 3 prop 35 opponents who have worked against human trafficking:

    looks like 35 will pass, because the opposition has no funding and who–on the surface–could vote against reducing trafficking, but the council of churches, UULM, aclu northern Ca, fcl etc oppose 35 for being overly broad so that it would also punish the poorest of the poor, women who voluntarily (to feed their kids) sell their bodies. what do you think?

  • Yundah Oakselkie

    I took a class of college students on a “civil rights” tour this Spring. We visited Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma and Memphis. My students were struck by the work and suffering and the need to vote, to be able to participate that they saw in both the past and the present. This semester, while talking about voting and the issues we face here in Michigan, other students (diverse ethnicities) made comments about it not mattering, too much trouble, etc. One of the students who had gone on the trip with me shared his story. He did not vote in his first election. When he went home and his grandmother asked him if had done so, he had to answer no. His gran looked at him and said “after all we did?” and walked away. He said that he was so ashamed of not voting and not respecting the work his elders had done, that he had voted in every election since.
    I remind my female students that the only right they have guaranteed in the constitution (at least not subject to judicial interpretation) is the right to vote. That usually gets them thinking, and hopefully, voting.

  • This makes me sad. It could be condensed into one sentence: “PLEASE, for the love of everything, set aside your morals and put your vote behind murder, neoliberalism, free-market capitalism, the war on drugs, and record deportations, among other things!”

    I just can’t. Sorry.

  • Dave Miller

    Your writing is so balanced and is real life. Thanks for encouraging voting. Look up http://www.SpookHandy.com or YouTube for his song “Vote”


    He says it all and well.

  • Dear Starhawk,
    I believe our mothers were friends in their 20’s.
    I’m very appreciative of this sensible approach and information. We may have higher hopes for our country, but there are differences between red and blue and the people they bring in with them.


    • Really? Who was your mother? And where? I believe my mother spent most of her twenties in Washington DC, working as a secretary during WW2. She went back to college when she was 29,

      • My mother was from Virginia, Minnesota and had a friend named Ruthie. My mom died young so I don’t have too many details. Does that sound familiar? Somehow your name came up at some point and I thought you were her friend’s daughter but I may have it wrong…

  • Lady Feileacan

    The thing people have lost sight of is there are more than two candidates, out there. Has anyone who is anti Obama or Romney bothered to look at Gary Johnson who is on the libertarian ticket. Liberally conservative, pro gay marriage, pro legalization of pot, pro ssi, and can keep a budget. Better than a closet socialist or a self serving republican candidate. Why vote for the lesser of two evils when a good candidate is available?

  • Trisha Dee

    Here’s a view from Albion (or the United Kingdom, as others would have it). Not something I’d normally do, but in this case I’ll make an exception, because this time, the way that America votes will have, I fear, a profound impact on the rest of the World. And seeing as I live There, for once I feel entitled…

    While Obama, were there no Republican party, would be seen as Conservative over here, he shows no inclination to boost the alleged ‘interests’ of the USA by carrying out military action in the Middle East and elsewhere, nor to plunge the US into a state of new barbarism. It’s a sad fact of life that what happens in the US tends to be reflected elsewhere, and we’re already seeing attacks over here on womens’ right of Choice and a rise in Fundamentalism as an expression of Christian belief.

    At this time and place, Obama represents the best hope there is for the World. If you have the vote, please vote for him.

    And if you’re reluctant to do so, then remember that democracy isnt always about voting For, it’s very often about voting Against.

  • Thank you, Starhawk, for taking the time to lay out the argument for voting for Obama rather than, say, Jill Stein. I am nearly convinced, I’ll admit. But there is one thing you didn’t talk about, and it seems nobody else is talking about it, either: the NDAA and its provisions for indefinite detention of Americans without trial.

    Late last year I sent an e-mail to the White House (the first time I’ve ever done so). I said that I would not vote for Obama again if he signed the NDAA with that language still in it. Well, he signed it (on New Year’s eve, while we were all out partying). Now his Justice Department is agressively defending that language, which I consider to be unconstitutional and reminiscent of the worst dictatorships.

    I’m a California progressive–Obama doesn’t really care what I think, and my vote will not take California away from him. But perhaps a message needs to be sent.

    Love and blessings,

    Don Traxler

    • I think for those of us in California, voting for Obama is less crucial than in the swing states. And i agree with you on the NDAA. Unfortunately, if Romney wins I don’t believe the Democrats will go–Oh dear, we betrayed our progressive base and look what happened! Instead, they tend to go–This is a right-wing country and we were too far to the left. I believe we best send them the contrary message by organizing and protesting when they’re in, and I sincerely hope that I can spend the next four years badgering Obama to actually do what he orignially promised–rather than having to spend them being ignored by tan avowed intransigent avowed right-wing panderer!

      • Sam

        I disagree with you. Obama has whittled at our civil rights and if he is reelected I am afraid there will be no more rights. Also, I worked in community action where we had the summer work program for youth. Yes, it is important, however, under Obama is when we had no money to put the kids to work. Under Obama I and most of my fellow workers lost our jobs. He gave us way too much stimulus money to spend really fast(not enough thought) then he cut our budget in half. So all those jobs it created were lost and most of the jobs that were there before the stimulus were lost as well. Obama does not care what we think he believes he can put anything into place with the executive order. There are lot of things i disagree with Romney about, but, I feel he is the better choice of the two. I would vote for Mr. Johnson if I felt he had a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting elected.

        • Sam, if you think Romney will be a better protector of our civil rights than Obama, you are sadly mistaken! I agree that Obama has been a disapointment in many areas–some of them because of the obstructions of the Republicans, some of them his own failings. But the Republicans have blocked his jobs bill which would have put lots of people back to work. I look forward to holding his feet to the fire for the next four years! But if Romney is elected, he will claim a mandate for cutting social programs and restricting our rights. If you truly disagree with Obama–I urge you to vote for an independent candidate or for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

    • patricia Williams

      Donald, I am not going to comment to much on what you said about NDAA. The fact is this. It does not allow for the indefinate detention of American Citizens. It just does not. If you read the sections that talk about this you will clearly see they do not. The words are clear. And further, this document gets signed by a president annually. It’s about funding of not just the Military,it is about their families, healthcare, housing and even provides for a home for military dogs should their handler no longer be available. Many people are so misinformed about this. I would also like to remind everyone that the president is the Commander In Chief and it is his sworn duty and responsibility to take care of the armed forces and America. Whether anyone agrees with that or not, it is a fact and President Obama takes his responsibilities very seriously. Rather him at the helm then Romney who would increase military spending and probably attack Iran. If anyone would like me to post the sections of the NDAA that say that american citizens will not be detained let me know.

  • Katherine Cooper

    Thank you for your thoughts on the election. Your words are eloquent and I wish more people could be offered the opportunity of reading this article. I too find it frightening to think what would happen to our country should, as you say, if Romney wins “is folks will claim a mandate for the most extreme, right-wing policies. It would vindicate the right of the 1% to skim the cream and leave the dregs for the rest of us. The lies, the trickery, the influence of immense wealth, the voter-suppression tactics, the intimidation, the cheating and the overt and covert racism will all be rewarded.” This is very frightening.

  • Just like to say I voted for Obama yesterday even though he isn’t perfect, look what he has had to deal with in Congress.

  • A rather inspiring article! I was finally moved to re-register to vote yesterday. It feels a little like Sleeping Beauty waking, but back into the dreamtime rather than out of it. This morning I am gifted with a waking dream, perhaps one of those memes of power. A dragon forms out of the tree branches outside my bedroom window and well She takes me for a ride, thru the Midwest, up into New York, and down into DC. I am surrounded and protected by elemental dragon children. I dismount and find myself standing in front of the White House holding a tool ( a rather artistically rendered stylized U shaped instrument with a laser focused beam, made of light {such as the light in children’s eyes} and heart . I hold it like a hug gently in my arms ) . It is a MAGIC OF MASS CREATION.

  • Thanks, Starhawk. As always, your words bring me to tears with their potency and power. I will share them with any I know who are undecided or leaning right.

    I pray for you, Shawna and all the other children of the Goddess in this crazy time. May the results of this election support the highest good of our country and planet. Blessings!

  • You know, instead of simply urging people to vote, perhaps we need more education on HOW to vote.

    Ballots and voting machines can be intimidating even without the addition of being worried about voter ID laws and such. I can still remember having to use one of those old machines with the levers one of the first times that I voted, and I am absolutely sure that I missed some of the races because I was too nervous to really understand the instructions.

    Later, I would feel clueless and overwhelmed by all the names in the smaller, non-partisan races that I knew nothing about. As an intelligent woman, I felt that I should be informed about all these races, but I want walk in without the information that I needed to feel secure in my choices.

    It took me about 20 years, and the evolution of the internet, to get comfortable with voting and to find my routine: I print out my sample ballot (I have to go to the State Board of Elections website to get it); sit down with a local voter guide that leans the same way that I do, but that gives information on all the candidates and details why they selected the ones that they did; look up the websites of the candidates I’m not sure about, and take a completed sample ballot in with me when I vote.

    Not all states provide all the voter information and easy access to mail in-ballots that California does. I loved how easy it was out there, but here, in the South, I am very lucky to live in an area where there is a local publication that leans the same way that I do and goes into actual detail about the candidates to help summarize things for me. To get mail-in ballots, we need to individually request one in writing for each election, but we are lucky enough to have early voting locations open now, with extended hours next week, which means that they will be open for an hour after I get off from work.

    Voter education would include both information on how different voting methods work and how to research candidates, as well as what the laws are in one’s state for requesting absentee ballots, provisional ballots, etc. A lot is online now, but some people might benefit from just having someone sit down with them and show them how things work and the resources that are available to them.

    Thinking Women For Obama

  • CandyMan

    The comment by Rhuddlwm Gawr to look at what Obama had to work with in Congress; he had a majority in both the House & Senate for 2 years & couldn’t get much of what he promised done.

    • patricia Williams

      CandyMan, Republican Filibuster and obstruction. He did however accomplish a lot. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for One. Saving the auto industry. Keeping America from sinking further into the quagmire and a depression. The Stimulous that was able to at least start a renewal program. And the slow decline of unemployment. There is so much more however it would fill up this page and I think it behooves everyone to research that. A Romney and a Ryan presidency would not only take away our basic human rights, such as health care, womens reproductive health and as Starhawk has clearly said our Old Age access to Social Security and Medicare. A voucher just will not cut it. And all that being said, the religious right has long had an agenda to make America into a theocracy. And you all know what that means for pagans. Ancient history has shown us that. Starhawk has written some terrific books about that. One being made into a movie. And Margaret Atwoods book The Handmaids Tale. Is a tale we don’t want in real life.
      Romney is a Mormon Bishop and the church has a similiar idea about America.

  • […] Still not convinced you should bother to vote? Check out Starhawk’s call to action: “for Goddess sake, get off your high horse and your butts and get out there and vote!” […]

  • Trisha Dee

    Thank you, America!

    The rest of the world will sleep easier tonight.

  • […] Tuesday.Still not convinced you should bother to vote? Check out Starhawk’s call to action: “for Goddess sake, get off your high horse and your butts and get out there and vote!” Sarah Whedon is Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill […]

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