Colin Kaepernick’s right to not vote
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision not to vote deserves understanding, not condemnation, writes Nation columnist.
THERE IS one pledge I'm making after this election: For my mental, physical and especially political health, I'm done ingesting bullshit. I'm done with the hot-take bloviating culture--in sports and politics--that, as Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, bears as much accountability for the absurdity of Donald Trump's being president as anything else.
A great example of this could be seen in the response to Colin Kaepernick's comments about the election. For those who missed it, the anthem-protesting 49ers quarterback said he wasn't voting, explaining it this way: "I've been very disconnected from the systematic oppression as a whole. So, for me, it's another face that's going to be the face of that system of oppression. To me, it didn't really matter who went in there. The system still remains intact that oppresses people of color."
People might not like the fact that Kaep chose not to vote, but he was hardly alone. Hillary Clinton won almost 10 million fewer votes than Barack Obama in 2008. Hell, Donald Trump got 1.5 million fewer votes than Mitt Romney. People stayed home in record numbers because this election season was nauseating. They stayed home because the number-one issue according to all the polls was the economy, but the media, and for the most part the candidates, spent a year and a half talking about bullshit. We spent 18 precious months of our lives discussing polls and haircuts and e-mails and pantsuits and tweets. We didn't talk--at least not after Bernie Sanders was vanquished by the DNC--about how this economy has flattened working people and people of color for 40 years and what the nominees were going to do about it.
I'm far less angry at Colin Kaepernick for not voting than I am at the Democratic Party for taking away the choice that we deserved to make: a choice between--as one protester in D.C. said so well--whether we would have a white nationalist/scapegoating economy or whether we would have a social economy. That's not just about Bernie. It's about Senator Elizabeth Warren's choosing not to run. It's about coronating someone from the neoliberal wing of the party just because it was her turn. The Democrats did not give us that choice, so now we're going have to fight for it. There are demonstrations ripping out across the country, and the one called for inauguration weekend is going to be a doozy. I have been in three demonstrations in D.C. in the last week. A young person at one of these demos said to me: "I couldn't stop thinking about Trump winning. I was at work, and I couldn't stop crying. It's not about Hillary Clinton. It's about the Democratic machine and the way they ran their candidate of choice through the system. So we see that the liberal elites were just as out of touch as we have known."
MEDIA SCOLDS invariably say in their most hectoring tones that so many people died for our right to vote and to not exercise it is a slap in the face to their sacrifice. I think the slap in the face to their sacrifice is having our choices limited to candidates who don't represent the pressing questions we face in our lives. It's a slap in the face to their sacrifice that we have an Electoral College–a relic designed to give disproportionate power to slave states--that put the person with the lesser number of votes in office. It's a slap in the face that we have a voting system that effectively put a poll tax on people of color with four-hour lines and limited hours.
I understand where Colin Kaepernick is coming from, and I respect all he has done this year to raise awareness about police violence and putting that question in uncomfortable spaces. It has taken courage in the face of threats to his career and threats to his life.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, however, disagrees. This is what he says:
As far as I'm concerned, Colin Kaepernick is absolutely irrelevant. I don't want to see him again, I don't want hear from him again, I don't want to hear a [darn] word about anything he has to say about our nation...He comes across as a flaming hypocrite...After all this noise that you made, even though you didn't intended to do so, by offending our military service men and women, and pointing out about how you wanted to bring attention to racial injustices and beyond in this country, to turn around and not even take your behind to the polls to vote for a particular candidate, it is shameful! Absolutely shameful! For him not to vote, as far as I'm concerned, everything he said meant absolutely nothing.
My only comment about this carnival barker's political wheeze is what I said at the start. I'm done ingesting this kind of bullshit. It's bad for my health and makes a mockery of the very real, very tough choices that we are going to face in the years ahead. Let the pundits in sports and talk radio yell at each other until they're blue in the face. If we have learned nothing else this election season, it's that none of it means a goddamn thing. In my life at least, their existence is officially on mute. We should treat them as something even less important than the lonely tree that falls in the forest. At least trees give oxygen instead of sucking it out of the room.
First published at TheNation.com.