Federman: Be a Rebel: Vote Mainstream

Voting mainstream is the true rebellious path, and I urge you to take it.

| 11/8/16 12:15am

Newly on the brink of adulthood, Dartmouth students are tasked with great responsibility, especially during this election season. It is a test of your character and it asks that you embrace the noble art of being uncool.

Everywhere there is talk about how our country is deeply divided. Regardless of what you may have heard, however, it is not more divided than at any previous time in our history. More recently than many of us, you have read about the American Civil War; you know about the shaky early national period; you have been quizzed on the so-called “Revolution of 1800,” when a sitting vice president ran against his own president and won. As students, you bring more historical context to bear on these current events than most people do.

I’m willing to bet that most of you believe in progress and equality as well as social, racial and economic justice. You may be worried that a vote for Hillary Clinton is not an authentic demonstration of those values. You might think that a protest vote will put you on the right side of history. Maybe you’re tempted to join friends in supporting a third-party candidate, or writing in Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ name or even staying home on Election Day. You might think this will give you credibility as a true rebel, an activist or a fighter.

In simple terms, it won’t.

And it won’t get you what you want. A true rebel is not drawn to empty symbolic gestures, to winning a battle but losing the war.

I know you’re probably not that interested in my opinion. As a Dartmouth ’98, I am the age of some of your parents. I could be your uncool aunt. I left Dartmouth when the youngest among you were born. I was already working and living on my own when third-party candidate Ralph Nader galvanized young people and, by many accounts, cost the Democratic Party the 2000 presidential election, resulting in the eight-year disaster that was the George W. Bush presidency.

Nor do I have the credibility of having served on the front lines of an insurgency. Rather, I write quietly from my living room, where I to try to help under-privileged African-Americans and Hispanics gain access to a college education and to improve their career prospects upon graduation. I joined Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park five years ago, and I marched in New York and D.C. against the Iraq War. Like you, I will do my best to continue to fight the good fight.

But I’m older than you, which means I’ve had time to see that dramatic change is often quiet. Let’s ignore for now the progress Al Gore would have made for climate change. Let’s simply consider two disastrous results of Bush’s conservative appointments to the Supreme Court: Citizens United and stripped voting rights for hundreds and thousands of minorities. Together, they have radically undermined our democracy.

The next president will elect up to four justices. They will shape the country for decades to come. They will decide whether we move toward equality or descend further into the hands of angry, white supremacists. They decide whether we adopt common-sense gun laws, or stay paralyzed with fear about the next mass shooting while doing nothing to stop it. They decide whether we continue to uphold healthcare as a basic human right, or whether we believe it is a privilege reserved for the few. Many now forget that before Obamacare, anyone with “a pre-existing condition” — even a child born with one — could be denied health insurance.

A protest vote might give you a momentary high. But, in the end, it will only help uphold the unfair system you want so badly to change.

A protest vote is a surrender. It means you, young as you are, have already given up. It means you are forgetting the struggle and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. You are forgetting that “...we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

Yes, take Clinton to task. Press her on Wall Street regulation. Push her on criminal justice reform. March on Washington. Write letters. Call your representatives in Congress. But do not be enchanted by false promises of purity.

Think about your future. Be a rebel. Vote mainstream.