OPINION: This Election, Beware of ‘Back to Normal’ Politics

by Sarah Stuteville

The first election I voted in was a contested election. It was November of 2000 and I was a new radical forged in the WTO protests of the previous fall. Seattle was still buzzing from riots against neoliberalism and global capitalism that (as has become our brand) turned a global eye on the unexpected vanguard that is this weird little city in the corner of the country. 

Two old white men, both members of political dynasties, were running for office. One was clearly worse than the other. And both sucked. At 19, I voted for Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke, members of the Green Party who promised an environmentalism-first platform (as well as a shot at the first woman of color Vice President). And to this day, I remember the haunted look on my 30-year-old queer friend’s face as she watched me fill out the “Nader/LaDuke” bubble alongside her “Gore/Lieberman” vote. “Sarah, you didn’t live through Reagan and AIDS,” she said. “Things can get so much worse than you think.”

A month later, a conservative Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Republican candidate and the Democrats conceded in the name of “unity.” Eight months after that concession speech I watched from the roof of my new home, an apartment in Brooklyn, as the World Trade Center collapsed. That Bush Administration manipulated that event into (at least) two wars, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the immigration detention system, and hyper-militarized police forces across the country. My friend was right. I’d had no idea how bad things could get. 

So, let me say this plainly and clearly: We all must vote. We all must vote for Biden and we all must do whatever it takes to get 45 as far away from the White House or any position of power as we can. People are dying every day — from the unchecked pandemic of COVID-19 and from the systematic killing of Black and Brown people by the police. We are hemorrhaging and we need a tourniquet. I’ll take whatever one is closest. Also, I don’t have any illusions that Biden’s election is a given. On Election Night 2016, I went to a party with a “First Woman President” cake that still lives, untouched, deep in my dreams. 

But for all the violent fears inspired by skyrocketing gun sales and law enforcement “prepping,” I have another, quieter fear. I fear that this will be a landslide for Biden and that on November 4, 2020 (or maybe a few weeks later) we will all share a collective sigh of relief and start busying ourselves with the seductive task of getting “back on track” or “returning to normal.” If I am right and Biden wins this without too much controversy, we must remember his first day in office is the first day of the fight, not the last. 

The last four years have been a nightmare in the making since before 45, before 9-11, before 2000, and long before that first time I ever rushed a police line in downtown Seattle. And I promise you, any moment of respite from this crisis we might enjoy with the election of Joe Biden will only be a pit stop on the way toward our next disaster — unless we make ourselves more of a threat to his administration than we ever were to Trump. 

And to my friend’s point twenty years ago, I have now lived long enough to know things can always get worse. But I also believe that cynicism is not a universal truth but more a reflection of a gaslighting, oppressive system that teaches us that we don’t deserve better than the lesser of two evils — or slightly better than awful. In reality, we deserve everything we can dream of together. We owe it to ourselves and each other to remember — especially on Election Night 2020 — that these political systems are only useful to us if we’re using them to gain better leverage for the dismantling.   

Sarah Stuteville is a writer, memoirist, educator, and non-profit media consultant currently pursuing a Masters in Mental Health Counseling at Seattle University. She taught journalism and media production at the University of Washington. Feminism, journalism, motherhood, relationships, and mental health are subjects of Sarah’s writings. Sarah has reported from over a dozen countries in the Middle East, East Africa, South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. She wrote a social justice issue column for the Seattle Times. Her memoir writing has been published in Mutha where her piece “No One Is Watching” was one of the most read on the site all year.  Her piece “Windstorm” won “Honorable Mention” in the Hunger Mountain Nonfiction Writing Contest; “A Girl’s History of Consent” was a finalist in the New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Awards. She also helped to co-found The Seattle Globalist, a non-profit journalism organization that trains diverse media makers.

Featured image by Sarah Stuteville.

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