With authoritarianism at our door, the policies that progressives are driving for will be dependent on whether the fundamental institutions of democracy are protected at all.
I believe every vote needs to be earned, and every candidate needs to be worthy of that vote on the strength of their policies. So, no surprise, I know a lot of people who are progressives or leftists who are skeptical or completely unconvinced about voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Hell, I've been clear that he was one of my least favorite of the many other excellent Democratic candidates during this year's primaries.
I can rattle off the policies to which you all object, but it’s a familiar list, because I probably share most of the same objections. Whether it’s carceral approaches to justice or militarism or centrist or neoliberal fiscal policies on every issue from education to healthcare, I understand (and agree with a lot of) the concerns. I promise you, my argument is not at all like one you'd hear from his campaign.
I also know about the fatigue. After struggling with school debt and no jobs and brutal policing, to hear a bunch of boomers telling you to vote in a tone that too often sounds like you’re being scolded about some obligation to them is just… too much.
My argument is simpler. And it’s predicated on two simple things: The risk is about having the systems and infrastructure to push for justice, and you don’t have to concede power to participate.
What we got wrong
I grew up in the Reagan 80s. For far too many years, I didn’t know how brainwashed we were, how much we were fed lies about compromise and bipartisanship and ended up giving away far too many fundamental needs. So I am thankful to have been taught by so many of today’s activists and organizers, especially young ones, that principles and policies come first.
Looking back, I see how we were inculcated to reward personalities and performativity over substance, and while I still think being an inspiring and passionate leader matters, I know why there's such skepticism or contempt for Democratic voters who seem too willing to focus only on the superficial.
But what I want to argue for here is not respectability politics or why you should be moved by soaring rhetroic. It's simple: There is a fundamental system at risk, and we need your support (and yes, your vote) to protect it. It’s as fundamental as healthcare, education, a living wage, or anything else.
It’s no secret there’s been a massive global rise in authoritarianism in recent years. We see fascists on the street around the world. So many of you have marched to stand up against it, especially in its virulent white supremacist form. But I can’t overstate how fragile democracy is in America right now. We know about voter suppression. We know about misinformation. But the very mechanics that enable the possibility of just laws and fairer systems in the future are in danger.
Counterintuitively, it is with that risk that the more conservative tendencies of a Biden administration have one essential positive trait: they will reinforce the possibility of American democracy in the short term. For all their faults, the people of a Biden administration do believe in a functional American government and are not trying to install a dictator for life.
The comfortable boomers do not understand that this threat to democracy is an actual risk. The #resistance folks with pink hats are too busy getting hyped up in all the ways that make you cringe. Honestly, none of them really get that authoritarianism is at our door.
Interestingly, in this year's Democratic convention, Bernie said it straight out. (Notably, so did Obama.) We're at risk of an unabashedly authoritarian government in America. They’re right. And the bulwark is you, and your energy and organizing and engagement.
It's only a first step
I'm not under any illusion that authoritarianism can be stopped solely with a ballot. It certainly is not enough. But if we want to have the space and stability to fight that threat, we need to slow the stampede to fascism.
I do understand that for many of you, there are principles you feel you cannot compromise. You can never vote for a person who has Biden (or Harris’) view on the issues you care about most. But I want you to have the chance to elect that candidate who will support you on those issues. There’s a very real threat that you won’t have that option if we aren't able to hold things together this year.
Some folks will say I’m being alarmist, but they're folks who don't have as much to lose. I’m old enough to know, we genuinely have not seen things be this bad, or this fragile, before. The economic crisis on top of the health crisis on top of the climate crisis will only exacerbate the threat. The folks who think this concern is overblown are also the ones who are not going to see what happens when the seas rise.
And finally, I’ll tell you why I’m asking you to vote for Biden even though I’ve never been a Democrat, and never will be. I decided not to sign up for that party when I was 18, because they were wrong being against the (then-new) idea of marriage equality. I still held that policy failure against them as late as when I did vote for Obama, but I took a leap and pulled the lever. I wondered if I’d gotten cynical and too conciliatory as I got older, that maybe I'd gotten too willing to compromise or too swayed by such a charismatic candidate.
But interestingly, a few years later it was Joe Biden who actually helped amplify and strengthen the work of all the activists over the years who’d fought for marriage equality. He had heard them, and gave voice to the simple moral clarity of those activists' demands, before it was party policy. The entire administration's (and then the country's) position was forced to evolve because he had simply found it impossible not to say the compassionate thing when he'd heard the plain arguments activists had been making. I do think that's still a real avenue for activists to drive the change we need.
It doesn’t happen often enough. It doesn’t happen fast enough. But it does happen and you can make it happen just as you’ve made the unimaginable happen around defunding the police and fighting for a $15 wage and so many other vital issues. I want that to happen for you for Medicare for All and for student loan forgiveness, and for so many other things where Biden's position needs to be pushed to what's right instead of what's a good compromise for centrist swing voters.
If I’m being honest, I don't really even feel like the boomers deserve you saving their asses. They didn’t save the planet for you. But you do deserve a functional democratic infrastructure with which to build a new better, America. My motivation in asking for your vote is based on wanting you to have the chance to get what you want and deserve, and seeing that the only path there is a counterintuitive one.
Things like the Green New Deal or large scale defunding or divestment can only happen if we have our underlying democratic institutions intact. The egregious biases and flaws and injustices of those institutions can only be addressed if they exist.
We’re in that much danger. I don’t say it lightly when I ask you to make a leap of trust you may not be willing to make. And I will always support you being fiercely critical of Biden if he gets into office, with all of the access and voice I can lend in support.
But I’m asking you to vote Joe Biden in. The progress we need to make in the future really will depend on it.