Why I’m Casting a Protest Vote This Election

It’s election season, the most ripe time for honest discussion around our country’s most pressing social, political, and economic issues. The democratic function of voting encourages citizens to choose their own local, state, and national representatives, and the presidential election is arguably the most symbolic — it’s the collective selection of the leader that will represent the United States at a global scale. They are chosen to speak, negotiate, and make decisions on behalf of the interests of the American people, and promote and exemplify our values in their administration’s interaction with the world.

The bipartisan system in the United States makes it difficult for people to select leaders based on diverse and varied sets of principle, rather citizens are drawn to vote for the party that more closely aligns with what they believe are the better policy positions on issues from healthcare to climate change, and criminal justice reform to immigration.

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A person’s vote is a deeply personal decision that, in a bipartisan system, reflects which representative sits closer to their political ideals.

This year, I am casting a protest ballot to express dissatisfaction with both of the two presidential candidates. I am expressing dissent against the archaic bipartisan political system that coerces voters to opt for the “lesser evil.”

I will not be voting for Donald Trump because of his racist domestic and foreign policy history and platform.

I will not be voting for Joe Biden because of his racist domestic and foreign policy history and platform.

While they both present and perform differently throughout their campaigns, their histories and track records speak for the policy stances they have taken and established, and which interests they will represent when in office.

With respect to Trump and Biden’s racist immigration policy, one of the first decisions Donald Trump took was signing the Executive Order that widely became known as the Muslim Ban. Its third version is still in place, with a strict ban on citizens from mostly Muslim majority countries. This ban was widely recognized as racist, and coincided with Trump’s call on the campaign trail for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” (in reference to terrorism). The Trump administration has also been enforcing inhumane border security policies, which include family separation and putting “kids in cages.” More recently, there have been horrific reports of forced hysterectomies identified by a whistleblower, a nurse at the ICE facilities.

Joe Biden served as the Vice President to Obama from 2009 to 2017, and under the Obama Administration, more people were deported than any other presidency in U.S. history — dubbing him the “Deporter-in-Chief.” It was actually the Obama Administration that built border detention facilities, the caged units that were used then and are used now in holding migrants at the border. The ACLU has received more than 30,000 pages of internal government documents that detail sexual and other abuse between 2009 and 2014 throughout the southern border regions.

Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s drafted and supported racist criminal justice policies that perpetuated the violence, surveillance, and mass incarceration of brown and (especially) Black communities. Joe Biden not only voted in support of the Crime Bill of 1994, but drafted it himself. This bill set stricter penalties for drug related charges, and incentivized states with 10 billion dollars to build prisons that increase prison sentences for inmates — serving at least 85% of their prison sentences without an early release, despite good behavior or other mechanisms that typically would allow for an earlier release. During his 2008 campaign, Biden referred to the Crime Bill of 1994 as the “Biden Crime Law” on his website.

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Joe Biden Crime Bill Speech in Senate (1993)

Biden has also repeatedly taken credit for creating the foundation of the Patriot Act, an act that greatly expanded the surveillance capabilities of U.S. law enforcement agencies in the pursuit of identifying threats to national security. The Patriot Act granted law enforcement agencies the opportunity for “sneak and peek” warrants, where the government can enter residencies or offices with a search warrant when the owner was not present, and investigate, photograph, and even seize property and electronic communications without informing them of the search until later. Biden also served the Obama Administration as the President passed the National Defense Authorization Act, greatly expanding the powers and scope of the government against the war on terror, eliminating habeas corpus and codifying into law the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without trial.

Donald Trump and his administration has been able to utilize the government successes in relation to expanding federal powers and increasing harsh sentencing laws in encouraging federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest sentences. Former U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions issued a memo in 2017 that encouraged federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest possible sentences, including invoking the death penalty for drug crimes and harsher punishments for lower-level offenses. Jeff Sessions was able to do this as a result of the precedent set by the Crime Bill of 1994 and other complimentary acts supported by Biden.

Foreign policy is a critical component of each party’s platform, and given the United States’ assertive role in politics, governance, conflict, and diplomacy worldwide, it is arguably one of the top priorities in deciding which candidate will provide the most overall benefit or overall harm. The United States has a massive defense budget, spending more on defense than the next ten countries combined. Trump’s proposed defense budget for the year 2021 alone is $740.5 billion.

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U.S. Defense Spending Compared to Other Countries (2020)

Trump’s foreign policy endeavors over the past four years have followed in the U.S. presidential tradition of establishing ironclad and unconditional support for the state of Israel — and Trump has gone so far as to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem to establish the colonial claim that Jerusalem is the “rightful capital of Israel.” This is in reckless disregard of international law and historic treaty agreements. Trump has expedited and exposed the economic and political relations between Gulf countries like Bahrain and the UAE with Israel in the Abraham Accords. Joe Biden has said that he would not reverse the movement of the embassy to Tel Aviv. During his time as vice president, he fought to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge and the Iron Dome. He has repeatedly condemned BDS, and publicly disavowed one of the most if not the most prominent Muslim Democrats, Linda Sarsour, this year saying she has no role in his campaign due to her personal support of the BDS movement. He and Trump both refuse to consider conditioning aid to Israel, despite the growing movement within the Democratic party in support of Palestinian rights.

In 2017, Trump made history by dropping the “Mother of All Bombs”, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped in battle, in Afghanistan. The U.S. also dropped a record number of bombs in 2019, at a staggering total of 7,423 bombs on Afghanistan, as requirements to proximate targeting to prevent civilian casualties were removed during Trump’s presidency.

Joe Biden has been in office for nearly fifty years. His stances on foreign policy have been deeply recorded, indicating his support for illegal wars like the invasion of Iraq and the war against Afghanistan. During his time and under his supervision as Vice President, the Obama administration killed an estimated 4,000 people with drones alone. A total estimated 26,000 bombs were dropped in 2016 alone, on countries including Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Pakistan.

Biden didn’t just vote in support of the war in Iraq. He served as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and as part of his role granted Bush the authority to invade Iraq in 2002. The 2003 Iraq invasion resulted in the killing of more than 1 million Iraqis. The use of radioactive weaponry like depleted uranium in routine attacks against civilian populations has also resulted in an “extraordinary situation of congenital birth defects in both nature and quantity”; with sharp increases in birth defects including babies born “grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs” to the extent that women in Fallujah, Iraq, were terrified to have children.

The “lesser evil” argument is a moving goalpost. It is an argument used for almost every presidential election — even with the war crimes Obama and Bush committed, they were and now are considered the lesser evil. If we take a step back, though, it is evident that both parties have engaged in creating and passing racist domestic and foreign policies that have exacerbated the racial injustice perpetuated by the the U.S. government.

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are figureheads of the same system. They represent corporate and imperial, racist interests in America.

This year set the record for the most expensive election ever, amassing a total of $10.8 billion dollars spent. Joe Biden collected a record $383 million in September alone. In his ads, he said the average donation was only $44, and it was millions of individual donors that made this possible.

It is clear people crave change. We absolutely need it. In 2020, the movement for Black lives has set history for the biggest social movement in American history, and people are becoming increasingly aware and engaged in the political process, arguably, as a result of Trump’s inflammatory speech and behavior.

But the systemic shift towards prioritizing racial justice in domestic and foreign policy is truly a result of the decades of grassroots movements that organizers and public servants have built from the ground up. We need to invest in these movements to ensure that immigration reform, criminal justice reform, and a major shift in foreign policy is priority in establishing racial justice in America. This is where the investment of millions of dollars from millions of people needs to go.

This year, I’m casting a protest ballot because I refuse to forget my brothers and sisters languishing in prison as a result of Biden’s laws. I refuse to neglect my baby sisters caged at the border by Trump’s security agencies. Our families from Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Yemen killed by U.S. attacks authorized by Trump or Biden did not die in vain. I refuse to attach my name and my work in support of any individual who has personally established such injustice at a national and global scale to pursue a legacy of racism and imperialism. This election, I am casting my vote on behalf of the victims of evil; not its propagators.

Malak Shalabi is a law student at the University of Washington with a strong background in research, nonprofit, and grassroots advocacy work.

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