Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Spark of Wisdom: Your right to vote does not overrule another's right to exist

image This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

Voting is one of the core rights of a democracy. It's one of the founding rights that makes a democracy a democracy. It has also been one of the core rights that have been denied over the centuries of democracy's history to disenfranchise bodies from power. It has been one of the most obvious and easily used tools to make it clear that a people are considered less and that their opinion and say has no merit, a way to establish who has a right to lead, who has a right to question the leaders and who were silenced and controlled.

Voting, therefore, is an essential right, a foundation right, a right on which our societies very precariously rest upon. It is also, sadly, one of those rights that have been abused most mightily by those wishing to oppress others. Naturally, we expect many attempts to deny the vote - and history is certainly full of them - as a way to

The right to vote does not mean:

You get to be consulted on every little thing

Very few of us live in a pure democracy (I would say none of us, but I know someone would pipe up proving me wrong). Quite simply because it doesn't work. Seriously - you can't have the whole country have a referendum on every little issue - you can't even have the whole country have a referendum on an issue that is important to someone - everything is important to someone by definition.

We live in representative democracies for a reason. Not holding a referendum doesn't make a decision illegitimate. Not holding a referendum doesn't violate your right to vote. Not holding a referendum is not an act of oppression or violation of your rights.

Your right to vote does not overrule another's right to exist

Also known as the Tyranny of the Majority.

Just because prejudice is so prevalent and prejudiced people make up the majority doesn't mean they can violate the rights of others - or shouldn't. Prejudice does not stop being prejudice just because the majority share it. Bigotry is no less bigotry because it is common. It's not right, it's not acceptable and it's not (or shouldn't be) supported in law.

A right, at it's core, is a base line, a bare minimum, the line we do not cross except under extreme circumstances and sometimes not even then. That means it can't be violated on the whims of the majority. That means if it can be violated and cast aside then it is no longer a right or a protection - it's a privilege or a tradition that is maintained only so long as enough people agree you can keep it.

Because, guess what? The majority don't NEED many of these rights. No straight, cis-gendered, white, TAB, able bodied Christian man needs the right of equal protection. The privileged and powerful are not going to be persecuted, or very rarely at least. They are not as dependent on these shields - and the minute you make rights subject to the whims of the populace, you effectively deny them to all but those who do not need them.

This is why, in so many cases, the battles for equality and justice are fought in the courts, not the ballot box. Because, when it comes to rights, the opinion of the populace is (or should be) irrelevant. Because justice is not a matter of majority opinion and a right that can be voted away is no right at all.

The majority is not always right

Yes you voted. Yes you voted a certain way. Yes most people voted a certain way. But that doesn't make it inherently correct. Someone criticising a vote or decision is not somehow violating your right to vote. Criticism of a vote is not voter suppression. Criticism of a candidate is not voter suppression. Calling everyone who voted for someone/something a brainless bigot in sore need of a slap upside the head isn't even violating your right to vote.

You have a right to vote. You have a right to vote for silly things. That doesn't mean that the vote, when counted, becomes divine writ never to be challenged so-help-me-deity. That doesn't mean you can't be wrong and it doesn't prevent others from disagreeing with you - nor does it mean that the vote should not be challenged with future votes or in the courts.

Denial, oppression and suppression of the right to vote has a long and severely disturbing history. It is one of the iconic battles for freedom our histories share. Do not abuse and disrespect that history, that fight, that battle with whining attempts to use their struggle to allow you to abuse others. Respect what they have won for you - for all of us.