When Barack Obama was still our president, I was one of those people who was so mesmerized by his magical speeches that I dismissed racism as a thing of the past. I thought that my job as a citizen was done simply by voting for the first Black president – twice. I did not pay attention to the foreign bombings he authorized or why he was nicknamed “Deporter in Chief.” The birtherism and racist attacks on Obama by Donald Trump and Republicans provided a convenient distraction for liberals from all things Obama did wrong. I was also oblivious to how the police were militarized under progressive leadership in many cities.
For a while after Donald Trump was elected president, it seemed that Democrats were united in removing not just Trump but also the circumstances that allowed an openly racist person to be elected to the highest office. That bubble burst during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary elections as the Democratic Party quickly rallied around Joe Biden — the most conservative Democratic primary candidate — to make him the presumptive nominee.
Imagine this awful scenario for a moment: Your spouse and child have been kidnapped. The kidnappers present you with two options. Option A is that you get to pick between your spouse and your child. Only one of them gets to live. Option B is you say no and let them both die. This is the situation in which many people who identify as being somewhere on the liberal spectrum finding themselves today – where Option A is Biden and Option B is Trump.
Most people would feel forced to choose option A. I get it. They would look at the choices before them and do what they think is least harmful in the moment. But what if there was a third, less obvious option – an Option C? What if we could zoom out of this situation and say, “Who are these kidnappers? Why have they kidnapped my family and what will stop them from doing this again?” Option C is rejecting the false choices before us, mobilizing our community and rescuing our family. Once we are done with that, we abolish the kidnappers and eliminate the circumstances that allow kidnapping to occur in the first place.
Even if we picked option A, Biden, health care is a human right only if our insurance plan approves it. We can still get evicted in a pandemic. We are still racially profiled, and because we are expendable; we are forced to come to work in unsafe conditions during a pandemic. So, option A guarantees our right to live but only if we can afford to.
In this real-world false-choice scenario, the kidnappers are white supremacy and the capitalist systems that support it. Biden’s being the presumptive Democratic nominee is the biggest giveaway that the Democratic Party is just as invested in upholding white supremacy as the Republican Party, just not in a Klannish way. It is a thinly veiled attempt to court white conservative Americans (“the real Americans”) by giving them a candidate who is Republican enough but is also not Trump. As for the rest of us, the Democratic Party will tell us that they support Black lives and other nice things. They will tell us that we will get our basic human rights – eventually. What they will not tell you explicitly is that they must first allay white anxiety before they will support Black lives.
National uprisings in response to police killings and corporations making record profits in a pandemic as workers get sick all point to the fact that people no longer trust electoral politics and have no reason to. As both Trump and Biden refuse to rise to this moment, these uprisings are our option C. People all over the country are embracing option C because they do not trust our institutions and leaders to look out for us. We are doing so through mutual aid, civil disobedience, protesting and by being street medics. Option C means refusing to choose our oppressor (a white supremacist president or a white supremacy-friendly neoliberal president) and instead choosing to not be oppressed. Option C means not falling for vote-shaming tactics. It means telling the Democratic Party that it does not have power over us, that — election after election — it cannot continue to hold us hostage and that members of the party knew what the odds were when they chose Biden as our savior.
Option C does not necessarily preclude one from voting for Biden. Regardless of whom people vote for or don’t vote for, option C calls out the game for being rigged, and unapologetically states that we will no longer follow rules that prescribe our oppression.
Adnan Ahmed, MBBS, is a community psychiatrist in Minneapolis.
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