FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, Bernie Sanders isn’t going to get the Democratic Nomination. What’s perhaps most frustrating about this — for those of us who weren’t totally feeling the Bern — is that the Sanders campaign whipped up one of the most exciting, passionate progressive campaigns in years. Even Obama couldn’t make people excited about European-style democratic socialism. The idea of that excitement leaking out of the current Presidential race is depressing, and not just because we desperately need the political revolution to continue.
It’s because we need progressives to still vote in November. And not because Hillary is the “lesser of two evils,” or because we need to do everything we possibly can to stop a Trump Presidency. It’s because American democracy is infinitely more than a single elected position.
Even if you don’t vote for Hillary, your vote is important.
States still have the power to do a lot of good. And a lot of bad.
A few years ago, Colorado legalized pot. Since then, a few more states (and the District of Columbia) have followed suit. This was done in spite of federal law, which still states that marijuana is an illegal substance. Since legalization, violent crime has gone down. Jobs have been created. Traffic fatalities have dropped. Millions have been raised in taxes. Overall, ending this one aspect of the drug war — something that was unthinkable even ten years ago — has been proven to be an excellent policy. The Federal Government has kept an interested eye on Colorado and the other states, and will inevitably start to readjust accordingly.
The reason this happened is because American democracy allows states to be policy laboratories. If a state adopts a policy and it’s really effective, other states can take note and adopt the policy as well. If a policy is terrible for a state, other states can learn from them.
Take North Carolina. This year, North Carolina has been taking a ton of much-deserved flak for their discriminatory “bathroom bill,” which targets LGBT (specifically transgender) people. While the rest of the country is growing more and more accepting of the LGBT community, this one state, thanks to a conservative state government, has taken a huge step backward.
Our state and local governments are much less burdened by partisanship and gridlock than our national Congress. This isn’t to say that debates on the state level aren’t contentious or sometimes downright nasty — they just tend to be more productive. And a good progressive policy can then be replicated all across the country. So electing good state and local representatives can not only do your hometown a ton of good, but it can eventually do everyone in America a ton of good.
If progressives showed up in the smaller races, we’d have a much different country.
It’s understandable that many people have become disillusioned during the Obama Presidency. A lot of the stuff he said he would do just didn’t get done. But that was, in part, thanks to progressives’ failure to focus on the smaller local elections and their failure to show up at midterms. Had the last eight years seen a more left-leaning Congress, we would have been able to get immigration reform passed. Less time would’ve been wasted trying to repeal Obamacare. Some serious climate reform could’ve happened. The President’s judicial nominees wouldn’t have been obstructed, and we’d have a solidly progressive Supreme Court. Republican-controlled states wouldn’t get to gerrymander the shit out of their districts so they could cling to power in a country that’s increasingly becoming more diverse, tolerant, and progressive.
It’s become cliche to say, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” This is, in total honesty, complete bullshit. Your right to comment on the state of your existence doesn’t disappear just because you skipped the voting booth. But American democracy is designed to benefit those who actively participate in it. If the only people participating are rich, anti-science, corrupt, racist, homophobic, intolerant bigots, then that’s who the system is going to skew towards.
This is an uphill battle. But it’s still a battle we can win, with or without Bernie.