The Pride and Privilege of Symbolic Voting

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

The state of New York has been blue in the last seven presidential elections and 2016 will (more than likely) go the same way. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. senator for New York, is projected to win the state in a landslide.

It’s an easy election for a progressive lefty living in a progressive state to hang back. Maybe you don’t like Clinton’s centrist politics or her role in the Iraq war or the actions of the DNC during primary season, and you’re thinking of sitting this one out. Lucky for you and your moralizing, you can stay away from the polling booths, not vote for Hillary, and safely assume that, even without your help, your state will not go to Trump. From that place of immense privilege, you can dismiss other people’s excitement to cast their ballot for Clinton/Kaine as performative or symbolic, maybe even entirely unnecessary, and—as one Gizmodo Media Group colleague of mine noted—you might even be right.

Earlier today, I walked to my neighborhood polling place wearing the same Barack Obama t-shirt that I wore when I voted for the very first time in 2008. I thanked the lady who handed me my ballot for donating her time to the noble cause of voting. I walked into the booth where I then cast my vote for Hillary Clinton, getting a little weepy as I did so, because I feel so immensely fortunate to vote for the person whom I hope and believe will become the first woman president. It was symbolic and it was performative, but what an honor to wear this symbol, to perform this role.


I’ve yet to encounter a woman who doesn’t get why this matters. I scroll through my Instagram and Facebook feeds and see so many of them—of all different ages and backgrounds—proudly sporting their “I Voted” stickers, whether their votes “actually” count or not. I take pride in their pride just as they take pride in mine. A network of female voters across the country—I can think of few symbols more beautiful.

I wish I could say the same for many of my male loved ones and colleagues, liberal men—many of whom are white—who are all in favor of progress and moving the needle, but only, apparently, until it reaches a place where it no longer benefits them directly. “I waited three hours to vote,” a female coworker announced proudly this morning. “Too bad your vote doesn’t matter,” responded a chorus of male voices. How damning, disappointing, and predictable.

A vote for Hillary (or Jill Stein or—in previous years—Barack Obama) only fails to matter if you’re used to voting for someone like you. White Democrats and progressives have their Kennedys, Carters, and Clintons. After hundreds of years, we finally elected a black president and now, I hope, a woman.

If we continue to move forward rather than slide back into this threatening Trumpian hellmouth of hate and bigotry, we might be lucky enough to arrive at a point where voting for a woman or voting for a black man doesn’t feel merely symbolic. Perhaps, in the future, proudly and loudly declining to vote can be an entitlement that we all feel is rightfully ours. But not yet. 


My vote might not matter, but it certainly matters to me.

Managing Editor, Jezebel

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Global Beet

OK there is no way you guys aren’t shading the bro-chads over at Deadspin. And I agree with the shade. Few things more obnoxious than aloof white boys whose aloofness is courtesy of them having no skin in a game that could end with a white supremacist in the oval office.