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Power in democratic engagement

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NOVEMBER 02, 2022

“I don’t vote.”

I want it on record that I didn’t know she was going to get up there and say that before I handed her the megaphone. 

It’s fine, my co-organizer said to me, because she helped with the publicity.

I couldn’t really argue. He had more experience with this than I did, and in our small city, we had people make two-hour drives to reach our pro-choice rally. We reached them using a website run by a pro-choice group to help them find us whenever somebody inputted their zipcode. And turns out, someone from the actual group showed up too. 

Repping the dark green, she spoke to my classmates, community members and my mom, who I had somehow roped into coming. For an excruciating 10 minutes, she said that forced motherhood was female enslavement. Then, she gave us a list of action items, which at first seemed pretty legit, until someone yelled out and told us to vote, to which she replied haughtily, “I don’t vote.”

Cries of dissent popped out from the crowd. She struggled to regain their attention, and didn’t speak for much longer. Part of me was still on her equivocating the reversal of Roe v. Wade to slavery, and part of me was just glad she was done speaking. She handed the megaphone over to our next speaker. But her organization’s presence was undeniable — the crowd was peppered (jalapeñoed?) with green stickers, green bandanas, green posters and suddenly our homegrown rally was marked as being a part of something bigger than ourselves, and that fact was not reassuring.

During summer 2022, I co-organized a pro-choice rally, meant to show my town’s solidarity with nearly half of those of reproductive age losing their rights across the United States. And until she said “I don’t vote,” I didn’t fully realize that two people could care deeply about a single issue, and agree on nothing outside of it.

So when I was invited to speak at one of her organization’s rallies, I did myself the favor of searching them up, and found that it was run by literal communists. I didn’t believe in overthrowing the government, but their group gave the impression of being at the forefront of the pro-choice movement, with their green bandanas recognizable on front-page photos. 

This was valuable to me. So I weighed using their platform to speak, or staying away from a group whose leadership and origins I disagreed with altogether. 

Was the message I was trying to send going to outweigh the platform I was standing on to do it?

Yes, I thought. NO, I pivoted, when I realized upon arrival that the platform was covered in green dust, women with no clothes on, the overwhelming smell of weed (to be fair, this was Venice Beach) and Revolutionary Communists.

It all felt like one big joke that left me reeking of marijuana. They argued that only protests worked, voting didn’t. I didn’t want to speak with a group I disagreed so vehemently with, but what other platform did I have? She used mine — I may as well use her’s in return. 

This group and I, we’re on a sphere — all on the same side, yet still polar opposites. 

My biggest worry was undermining the movement. I didn’t want to alienate people who continued to associate with the group, but in good conscience I didn’t agree with a single thing they said. 

So, after I jumped ship, I did the first thing that instinctually popped into my head. 

I drove home to my mom.

My mom, who would never have attended a rally like this of her own free will. But when I sat down and explained what I was doing, and why she should care too, she went from deflecting the question, “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” to holding up a sign I had made, chanting in the street, and letting me know that she would beat up any counterprotester who got too close to her daughter.

I spent so much time agonizing over whether I should use this organization’s platform, that I forgot that I’d helped create a local platform of my own, and that other groups existed that I could be a part of to fuel a collective effort. 

Part of this collective effort is the people you talk to, and the votes you cast. For me, interactions within my community and my own household translate to these votes. Even though the people with all these green bandanas feel big and powerful, I found that I had the power to avoid getting behind a group I didn’t believe in, even when we were fighting for the same thing. For me, power comes from engaging in democracy — not refusing it.

Sometimes, it says more not to speak when somebody hands you the megaphone.

Contact Chrissa Olson at 

LAST UPDATED

NOVEMBER 02, 2022