A Message to Every Protest Voter

By Kelly Michels (Poet from Raleigh, North Carolina)

Like millions of Americans, I woke up in a state of shock on November 9th. I was in shock not because I found this world changed, but because I found a world so fundamentally unchanged. On November 8th, I voted for Hillary Clinton. I believed she would win. I believed the country would continue with the progress being made. I believed she had energetic, inspiring, passionate messages: “Stronger Together” and “Love Trumps Hate!” Then I woke up the next day to news pundits dissecting the downfall of a campaign that just hours before was viewed as brilliant. I woke up to thousands gathering in the streets and general feelings of utter disbelief. And as the days passed, I woke up to polls and demographic analyses showing a complete lack of Democratic turnout with late night hosts citing a “lack of excitement” in the Democratic Party and “lack of star power.”In effect, I woke up to a world where triumphing over hate isn’t the most exciting, motivating factor that moves us as human beings every day. When push came to shove, people stayed home or voted third party. They wanted a star. I guess they got one. Now we have a reality TV star in office.

Your Lack of a Vote Was An Action

Inaction is an action just as silence is a communicative gesture. Not voting is an action. Protest voting is an action. Donald Trump did not begin his infringement on the rights of others when the election ended. He was doing it for years through his businesses and rhetoric, but such infringement did not move millions of white Democrats to act. Instead, they sulked in complacency, brainwashed in a delusional cry of individuality, perceived selflessness, and rigid principle.Ironically, this is the exact type of complacency that has allowed hate to thrive in the first place.

Hillary Clinton is Not to Blame

You can say that Hillary Clinton’s message failed, but you cannot say that she didn’t have the right message. The fact that such a basic, fundamental message, “Love Trumps Hate,” was no longer pivotal and that this alone did not move people to (or in) the voting booth, is not an indictment on a campaign; it is an indictment on humanity and our view of democracy.Democracy has never been about the individual. It is not about voting for your personal likes or dislikes. It is not about star power or whether a politician is personally good enough for you. Rather, it is about voting for the rights of others. It’s about doing what is good for the collective whole. Everything good about our democracy was achieved this way, whether it was the drafting of the constitution, the abolition of slavery, the 19th amendment, the Civil Rights Act, or the legalization of gay marriage.

Your Individuality is Not what an Election is About

When we believe we can vote the same way we can choose the toppings on a pizza, when we believe it is our personal right to sit-out an election because we didn’t get everything we wanted, when we believe that we are entitled enough to “not settle” until a candidate has everything on our mythical checklist, is the day we let other people go hungry. It’s the day our neighbor with cancer can’t get health insurance. It’s the day our friend is afraid for her personal safety because she is a Muslim. It’s the day when everyone’s rights are threatened, simply because we, as individuals, protested or sat-out an election so our individuality could triumph over the collective.But without the collective, individual rights do not exist, and we are realizing that now.We should have realized it before.

You Missed Out On The Biggest Revolution

“Stronger Together” and “Love Trumps Hate” should have moved us. It should have gotten us up out of our seats. It should have motivated us; it should have sent us screaming through the streets, but instead we took the progress of this country for granted. Millions of democrats failed to vote or decided to protest vote because they simply “weren’t that excited.” “Make America Great Again” was a better catch phrase. Donald Trump had more exciting sound bites. Hillary wasn’t flashy. She wasn’t revolutionary enough.So for every protest voter out there, I have one question: What could possibly be more revolutionary than fighting against hate?Hillary Clinton was the most revolutionary candidate in this election, not because she was a woman, but because she was human.It is the end of democracy when the excitement of such a central message like “Love Trumps Hate” becomes exhausted, when human rights cease to be a central motivating factor in our vote for President. And it is not the fault of a campaign or a single individual that such a central principle becomes exhausted, it is a failure of the collective imagination. It is a failure of millions of people to imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes. It is this failure alone that is to blame, and it is one of the most dangerous things any democratic country faces. Because when there is an absolute failure of the collective imagination, the unimaginable and unthinkable happens.