I’ve never been particularly involved in politics. Really, the most involved I’ve ever been is participating in the 2004 Iowa (Democratic) Caucus, and that was as much a whim as anything else. So paying attention to the candidates in the current cycle and seeing all of that mess is a bit of a new thing for me. I wanted to talk a bit about what it’s meant for me to be an uninformed voter, and why having the opportunity for everybody to learn about the candidates is an important part of democracy.
When I participated in the 2004 caucus, I really appreciated the fact that I could go there, talk to people, and find out about the candidates before making my decision. I didn’t need to come in with any research done (which is not to say I shouldn’t have done any, but given the person I was at the time, that wasn’t going to happen). After moving to Illinois, I’ve realized what a unique opportunity the caucus system really is.
See, moving to Illinois came with moving in with J. And J is far more politically involved than I am, at least in terms of knowing about the candidates and paying attention to what they do and say. He’s the sort of guy who comes home from work and immediately starts watching videos on YouTube about politics. I have no doubt that if we had a TV, he’d spend much of his free time watching political news there, too.
This last fall, J became really interested in the Ron Paul campaign. He even made some contributions on the big donation days, and he was telling everyone he knew about this guy. I’d never heard of him before, but I listened to J talk about him, and saw how excited everyone was getting, and I thought “Hey, maybe there’s something to this guy.” So I listened to his speeches, and thought “Okay, no foreign involvement, not going to happen but that makes sense.” Then I did something I hadn’t ever done with a candidate before: I looked at his official positions. And then I was confused. Pro-life, pro-gun, all of that. An immigration stance that includes the call to “End birthright citizenship.” (What does that even mean? How should citizenship be defined, then?) But also anti-Iraq, and supported by veterans. J’s dad is a veteran, so I can see why J values those issues.
But this isn’t about Ron Paul. See, while J was talking up Ron Paul to other people, there was always the other side – why he wouldn’t vote for a Democrat in the primary. (J is more of a Democrat than a Republican, all things considered.) All the Democratic candidates received an assessment, but the one that always stuck out in my mind was that for Hillary – “she’s just scary”. I don’t think he meant this in a sexist way; I think he was talking about her stance on the issues. Though honestly, I don’t know. And here’s where this gets hard for me to talk about, because I’m embarrassed to admit: I never looked at any other candidate before I voted in the Illinois primary. I’m not sure why exactly. It’s probably the same reason I don’t do other things that I know I should, or that are good for me – whatever that reason is.
Super Tuesday rolled around, and J and I walked over to the polling place. I didn’t really want to go. After all, I didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision. On my own, I might have accepted that the time had come to do the research I’d procrastinated on, and spent a little time looking around before I went. But J wanted to go right now, as he usually does when he sets his mind to something, and so I went.
And this is the point where feminism and being an uninformed voter meet. See, in the Illinois primary, you walk in and ask for either a Republican or a Democrat ticket. J went first, and got his Republican ballot so he could vote for Ron Paul. Then I had a moment to think – vote for the candidate I know a little about, or choose between several I know nothing about? Well, I took the Republican ballot. And I’ll never forget – J said, in a shocked sort of way, “You’re going to do it?”
I wish I hadn’t.
That sort of thing is why I love J. He gets things sometimes that I haven’t yet fully come to understand. In this case, he understood that no matter how much he talked about Ron Paul and badmouthed the Democrats, he would not think me less of a person if I voted for one of them. J understands that I have the full agency to vote my conscience, even if I disagree with him, and that he has no right to judge my personhood based on my choice.
In part, I think J is able to understand this because he occupies a privileged position in society in most ways. Because of that, he is able to exercise his agency as a person without expecting that he will lose opportunities or status if he makes the “wrong” choice. In other words, he can honestly not care what other people think. J is a feminist (aka, an all-around great guy) he respects all people as full people, with the ability to make their own decisions. That’s a big part of why I love him.
It’s also why I need feminism, and why I am a feminist. Because the patriarchal system of power taught me to place so much value in other people’s opinions. So much value that I saw my vote as mattering, not for the effect it would have on the election, but for the effect it would have on J’s opinion of me. I’m not the first one to be in that position, and unless we work to give all people the same agency regardless of their opinions, I won’t be the last.