Opinion: Don’t tell me to “vote blue”

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Marisa EmotoMarisa Emoto

If you have an Instagram account, you might have seen a few posts asking you to “Vote Blue No Matter Who!” At first glance, I had no problem with these demands. I generally identify with the Democratic party and hope that enough senators from the Democratic party will be elected this year to secure a blue majority in the U.S. Senate. Likewise, I plan to “settle for Biden” and give him my vote. Voting blue no matter the candidate is not so much about their policies, but about voting for the “lesser of two evils,” even if it means a couple of your own values must be compromised. In the large scheme of things, the vote blue argument says “it could have been worse.”

That argument stands up pretty well for someone of my background. I am white, I am financially secure and I live in a city where my politics are not outside of the norm. I am passionate about politics, but I rarely have a personal stake in them; my healthcare is not at stake if my vote sacrifices universal coverage. However, voters like myself are too frequently making these compromises. If white voters continuously favor the “lesser of two evils,” then the status quo remains; progressive policy change is abandoned. And yet, I still do not feel the effects of compromising my own values and policies in my vote. Unfortunately, I only recently became aware of how my background allows me to vote so leniently.

I come from a white and privileged family living in the “liberal bubble” of Seattle. Seattle has sheltered me into thinking the world is as liberal as my city. Seattle is securely blue. I remember spending first grade recess on the playground chanting, “McCain is lame!” It all came back to my thwarted perception. In my eyes, Democrats were good and Republicans were evil. I am ashamed to say that my stance did not shift until I saw the harm that Democratic leaders — representing supposedly liberal cities — can do.

Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan is a Democrat. In my former binary view of Democrats and Republicans, I would’ve hailed her as a saint. Now, however, I could not disagree with that more. This year’s Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests illuminated the damage that even blue leaders may incite. In the past few months, I have watched Durkan speak in support of the police’s use of tear gas on BLM protesters, mourn property damage more than people and set city-wide curfews in response to protesting. As a resolution from the 36th, 37th and 43rd District Democrats asking for Durkan’s resignation states, Durkan “has failed to uphold the values of the Democratic Party, has failed in her responsibility to keep the people of Seattle safe, and has lost the trust of the people of Seattle.”

This statement begs the question: whose trust did she have in the first place? I cannot speak to the experience of communities of color in Seattle under the leadership of passive politicians such as Durkan. I do know, however, that Durkan had the trust of white liberals such as myself. The effects of voting “Blue no matter who” did not greatly impact my own life until the protests interrupted it, and I watched Durkan mourn for property damage and not for the damage to human bodies.

The same patterns recur in the track record of LA district attorney Jackie Lacey. According to BLM LA, over 400 people have been killed by law enforcement or died in custody in LA County during Lacey’s tenure, yet she has only charged one deputy with voluntary manslaughter. Once again, a liberal elected leader picks and chooses which issues their progressive stance applies to. In the cases of Durkan and Lacey, the criminal justice system does not receive the liberal approach leaders like Durkan advertise. This is not to say that those who voted for Lacey or Durkan are explicit supporters of their dismissive attitudes towards issues such as criminal justice. Rather, data on who gets arrested, who is victim to police brutality and who gets prosecuted shows that voters like myself do not feel the effects of and are able to ignore Durkan and Lacey’s apathetic approach to the criminal justice system.

A huge portion of Seattlites want leaders like Durkan out. Just one petition for the mayor’s resignation received over 11,000 signatures. Durkan’s response to BLM showed me and many others how corrupt and harmful supposedly liberal governments can be. Unfortunately, we had to see the effects ourselves to understand how even blue politicians overwhelmingly choose to sacrifice on issues that do not affect white voters such as myself.
I am ashamed to admit how late I was to undo my generalization of the Democratic party. And yet, I know I was not the only one to provide blind support for all Democrats for so long. My advice is not just to think critically about who you vote for next, but also to push back on politicians now. There is power in numbers, and that certainly applies to political pressure. People hurting from the effects of leaders like Durkan have been using their power for a long time. Now, it is time for me and those like me to step up, protest and vote blue depending on whom.