Editor’s Note: Like many of you, we’ve been engaged in more than a few heated discussions with Autostraddle writers and editors about what’s at stake in the upcoming 2020 presidential election. And based on those discussions, and as a basis of our overall election coverage this fall, we wanted to share the messy, complex thoughts and feelings that Kamala Puligandla, Editor-In-Chief, and Carmen Phillips, Deputy Editor, have been wrestling with as we close in on this election.
Kamala: In August, when we began to map out Autostraddle’s coverage for the 2020 presidential race, the idea that I might have anything supportive to say about Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the Democratic ticket, felt absurd. I am 35 and I have not aged out of believing that we have to be the change we seek in the world, and voting for differences on the exact details of how we continue to disenfranchise people in this stolen country with this illegitimate government doesn’t spark a single flame of hope in me.
There had been discussion amongst Autostraddle leadership about our responsibility, as a platform, to make an endorsement of a presidential candidate. As the new EIC of this site, I found myself wondering: What is even the point of queer, independent media, if on the same site where we encourage people to bravely dream up and organize the changes we need, where we claim to champion a future where Black trans people thrive, not just survive — if on that same site our most effective move in a 2020 election is to echo every other remotely “liberal” publication and align ourselves with a party and candidates who, at best, inspire not-totally-erotic yesses and at worst, represent a long legacy of state violence?
Carmen: Yeah, I definitely share a lack of enthusiasm around this ticket, for sure. Our TV/Film Editor and Social Media Editor Heather Hogan recently wrote about Joe Biden specifically that “He obviously was not my first, second, third… seventh choice” and I laughed so hard because yes! That’s my feelings exactly. In fact, I spent most of the last two years bemoaning that the only way someone could get me — a registered, lifelong Democrat mind you — to vote for Joe Biden is if the other choice was literally Donald Trump. To be really honest with you, I don’t know if I’ll fully forgive the majority of Democratic primary voters for their lack of bravery or imagination that led us to this decision at all to begin with.
Kamala: It does feel like a commitment to completely ignoring the ways things are currently UNIQUELY bad.
Carmen: Right. In Heather’s post, she also linked to a video that Representative Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez posted on Instagram the night of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing (a night that I spent drinking a lot of wine, because I’m not as eloquent as AOC, though I often aspire to be). In it, she said something that rang so true for me that it’s kind of become my mantra to get through the next month:
“We need to vote. And I want to talk to some of my brothers and sisters and some of my brethren that don’t vote. And they don’t vote, not out of apathy, but actually, because they feel so heartbroken at our democracy. Because I understand why people say, ‘I don’t vote. What’s the point?’ I really empathize with it. I’m not here to dismiss you. I’m not here to poo-poo you. I’m not here to say you’re wrong or that you’re a bad person. What I’m here to say is that this year, this election, voting for Joe Biden is not about whether you agree with him. It’s a vote to let our democracy live another day. That’s what it’s about.”
That crystallized so much for me. I don’t believe that voting is the only form of valid or valued or necessary political participation and how we serve or protect our communities. Honestly, I think voting is basic — it’s a first step and if you vote then you also have a responsibility to do so much more than just vote. You should still be giving to mutual aid funds, you should still be increasing your knowledge and education about what can be done to protect those most vulnerable in our communities, you should still be protesting (please still be protesting!). You should organize and also listen to organizers and show the fuck up the other 364 days a year that aren’t election day. Because that’s how we change this world.
I deeply believe we must vote. I believe that it’s good hygiene, like brushing our teeth or cleaning our sex toys. It doesn’t have to be exciting. It doesn’t have to inspire an erotic, euphoric “Yes!”. That’s not the point to me.
And also I deeply believe we must vote. In every election. I believe that it’s good hygiene, like brushing our teeth or cleaning our sex toys. It doesn’t have to be exciting. It doesn’t have to inspire an erotic, euphoric “Yes!”. That’s not the point to me. Much like other hygiene acts, it’s a necessary responsibility you do because it’s a part of how we protect ourselves and others around us from the various supremely Worst Case Scenarios. (To paraphrase AOC, in this instance the worst case scenario is not the spread of oral disease or an STI… but the irreparable end of democracy in the face of certain fascism.) That is also part of being in community.
Kamala: This is true. There are so many ways that we can be responsible for protecting our communities. I understand this hygiene comparison, it makes sense to me! That said, I do live in a queer bubble in LA and in addition to being acquainted with the different kinds of hygiene that matter most to people, I understand that people engage differently with their political power too. I know that voting for Biden/Harris doesn’t feel the same for all people, that some people are making a choice that inspires some hope in them and that others are choosing the action that they can live with. I also knew upon entering a conversation on how we were framing voting and responsibility in this election at Autostraddle, that I wasn’t just representing myself and my own fringe queer bubble, I was going to have to listen and make compromises.
Carmen: I don’t know how much of the fringe you’re on, really! I think especially when we talk about Autostraddle’s broader community, so many of us are queer folks who live in purposefully designed queer bubbles that reflect our values, as we see them, back to us every day.
As we kept talking about Autostraddle’s election coverage with other editors and the rest of our team, I will say I was surprised by how many people are coming from places that are perhaps unexpected! And not just around geographical borders, a lot of us are in major cities with large queer populations on the coasts, but I live in the Midwest. Some of our writers live in the South. But everyone, and it really did feel like everyone, had strong opinions.
Kamala: I have to say that it is heartening to me that everyone has really strong opinions. After hearing very personal and very moving reasons for why people felt it was imperative to not just accept, but endorse the Democratic ticket on Autostraddle, I did wrestle with the question of whether or not to do that. I read and breathed, felt loved and enjoyed nature. I listened to the activists and artists I respect, who brought beauty to making sense of the indignation I felt, while still emphasizing the necessity of voting for Biden/Harris in order to move forward.
Part of me needed to hear from people like Janaya Khan, whose life work is about not accepting underwhelming, practical solutions, who are committed to always doing the bold, hard thing and building their own path, who are not limited in their imaginations of what is possible in this world. I also needed to hear from people like Amanda Faye Jimenez on how difficult it is to talk about the ways we’re being torn.
Part of me needed to hear from people… who are committed to always doing the bold, hard thing and building their own path, who are not limited in their imaginations of what is possible in this world.
I needed to hear them notice that there was opportunity present in a Biden/Harris administration, even though they are also candidates who, in the past, have made decisions I don’t agree with on war, drugs, economics, incarceration, policing and sex work, just to name a few. I recognize that the past six months and the past four years have exacerbated a powerlessness that is the basis on which this country was built: the difficulty for many people to keep their loved ones together, healthy, fed, housed and breathing — which should not be confused for living.
It was helpful for me to understand that this vote was not a surrender of my beliefs, but one piece, like a floor tile, of a much larger structure, and that whatever I did want to see — even in the alt-queer-side-world where I live — was going to require this floor.
Carmen: You shared at least some of those readings and thoughts with me, as we grappled with what we wanted to say about voting for the presidential ticket in November and the overall tone of political coverage on our site this fall.
In particular, I found adrienne marie brown’s writing in the days following the Kamala Harris Vice-Presidential announcement to stick to my bones. She talks about how voting doesn’t necessarily have to be your political home, because “we have those outside of the electoral process, places and people to whom we feel accountable. This is for mass strategy, mass protection, high level policy protection of the communities we love.”
And I still do struggle! If voting is for the “high level policy protection of the communities we love” then how can I engage in the electoral process (or our coverage of it) when I know that some of the most urgent problems facing our community fundamentally cannot be solved at the ballot box? The United States government was founded on imperialism and white supremacy; that’s baked right into the job at the highest level. Whoever sits in the seat won’t make all Black people, or trans folks, or sex workers feel safer. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in particular have, in their collective past, enacted policies and enforced or argued for court decisions that have done direct harm. I’m not naive to that either. So then, knowing the full brunt and weight of that history — how can I settle all this in my heart and still vote?
Going back nearly 100 years, there really is no apt comparison to the terror and violence that’s been brought on in the mass scale of the Trump administration.
I can do it because going back nearly 100 years, there really is no apt comparison to the terror and violence that’s been brought on in the mass scale of the Trump administration. Kamala you said this to me once, that it’s hard to push back against the “what about”-ism that plagues this election (and past elections) — in part because Donald Trump already gets away with so much, and in the bright open air. He gets away with it because we don’t even have words yet to describe the evil of his actions. His repugnancy and danger shocks us beyond the limits of our words. Just look at Tuesday night’s debate — when instead of condemning the white supremacy group the Proud Boys, he told them to “Stand Back and Stand By!” That’s the point.
When I steel my mind on those terms, it’s abundantly clear what so many of the Black feminists that I respect most have been saying. Our strategy only has one next move: To remove Donald Trump and to remove every single Republican that we can from office (tbh, some of those moderate Democrats can go, too). They are holding our country fucking hostage. That’s it. And then we keep going with the hard, backbreaking work of building the queer world we want to live in.
Kamala: Yes, totally. Ultimately, many Black feminists also led me to the conclusion that this election is not EITHER about the people who are most at-risk of being detained, deported, incarcerated, evicted, buried by debt, denied healthcare, denied fair wages, exposed to COVID-19 and countless other things OR the people who demand more than incremental systemic change, who cannot wait any longer, and who are working their asses off to force the effective, radical change we need now. Like most things in life, both exist together.
So in Autostraddle’s coverage of the election, there will absolutely be discussion of Biden/Harris as a powerful strategy to impede further reckless horror from the Trump Administration, for all of the reasons we’ve discussed. Yet, something we did decide in the end, was that going forward, any presidential endorsement on behalf of this entire website, will only come when it’s truly representative of the myriad voices who make up our community — perhaps in some parallel dream future, when we are talking about candidates who do represent, in literal, concrete terms the “high level policy protection for the communities we love.”
I went back and reframed my original question to myself: What is the point of independent queer media if we can’t hold our contradictions and differences at the same time, maybe learn from them, maybe even with warmth and grace? There isn’t a single path to meaningful change, there isn’t a single queer reality — this country needs to be taken from every direction.
The many conversations that Carmen and I had led to us articulating some of the things we do believe in:
- Listening to the Black voices and leaders who inspire us and champion this ticket.
- Affecting change for people most at-risk under the current U.S. administration — especially as we look ahead to the longer term effects of the pandemic.
- Seeing a smart, powerful, multi-ethnic, Black woman in office.
- Supporting these candidates so that we can better hold them accountable and make our voices heard.
- Building a better foundation for working toward radical change.
- Believing in the capacity for people to do better (From Kamala: “When some of the most skeptical people in this office are telling me this, I listen up!”)
- Bringing in critical perspectives that also fairly hold Biden accountable for his record, and don’t hold Harris to unreasonable or double standard expectations as a Black woman in politics.
- Publishing posts that hold Biden and Harris responsible for directly harming people in Black, trans and sex working communities, and calling for change.
- Voting on local measures and candidates is hugely important.
- Political responsibility is more than voting: for those who have access, voting is one step, and other forms of exercising political power are just as, if not more, important.
Some of the takes that helped us wrestle:
- From Janaya Khan, @janayathefuture
- From adrienne maree brown
- From Amanda Faye Jimenez, @failureprincess
- From Melissa Harris-Perry
- From Angela Davis
- From Representative Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez
- From Ava DuVernay
- From Roxane Gay in conversation with Tressie McMillan Cottom
- From This Them article