THE BLOG

Gays, Politics and the 2014 Midterms

07/28/2014 11:36 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • J Nelson Aviance Opera singer, author and PhD student in musicology/cultural studies

We all have friends who are politically apathetic. They post snarky memes and complain about how bad our political system is. They write status updates about how we no longer live in a democracy and how pointless it is to pretend your vote counts. These friends or acquaintances or frenemies use every opportunity to remind us how disempowered they are and point to our sometimes shitty politics in order to garner sympathy or feed narcissistic self-pity. They adopt the tactics of far-right fringe groups by attacking their own community and leaders with ignorant rants that do nothing but show how twisted and nasty they are. They lash out so they can make enemies, then go on long rants about how they are misunderstood rather than take constructive steps to build bridges, or to see a therapist.

It is pretty obvious our political process has been hijacked by big money. I wouldn't refute that. Some of that money, in fact, is LGBT money funneled through large groups like the HRC. For however many problems you may have with the HRC, they are one of the few LGBT organizations who regularly meet with the president and other power players in Washington. It is important that we have these groups, even if they do not represent all of us either in their policies or the makeup of their staff. It is also important for us to push them towards greater inclusion.

But the old adage "money talks" obscures another political reality: campaigns are won or lost by the ground game. This is where each one of us is important. In the infamous 2010 mid-terms, Senator Harry Reid faced the infamous nut job Sharron Angle. It was widely speculated as to whether the majority leader could survive, especially after the stimulus and Obamacare. Turns out, the powerful service industry workers unions out in Nevada provided a huge boost to the senator's campaign. Although he likely had a healthy war chest going into the campaign, Harry Reid had an uphill battle. The union didn't flood his campaign with cash. Instead they operated phone banks, knocked on doors and held small gatherings all around the state in an effort to get him reelected. The lack of a ground game sank the campaign of Eric Cantor, who became the first House Majority Leader to lose in a primary challenge in 115 years. His campaign projected a 30+ point lead over his challenger up until the night of the election. Then his team failed to get out the vote. He lost by an eleven point spread.

The example of Cantor brings me to another issue. Midterm elections are notorious for low voter turnout. A non-presidential election just isn't as sexy. Low voter turnout means every person's vote becomes important. Money can rarely buy elections. Although shenanigans happen here and there where someone turns in a couple hundred ballets someone let in the trunk of a car, no one can truly bribe someone and walk into elected office. The most dramatic effect money has on elections are - especially post-Citizens United - the ads we see on TV, in print and on the radio. These can be effective because they have an enormous reach. But they are only effective if they truly influence the outcomes. I knew those "...And I'm a Mormon" ads on TV that started two years before the 2012 presidential elections had everything to do with Mitt Romney. His campaign had to somehow convince Evangelicals who believed Mormonism was akin to Scientology that Mitt Romney was one of them. Ultimately, he lost. A campaign's ground game can counteract the ads. Face-to-face contact has a more powerful impact on people's opinions.

Low voter turnout in the midterms is about more than just November, too. Although it is too late to get involved in primaries for the 2014 election, remember this for the future. Caucuses and primary elections can be won by single votes. In non-presidential years, there may only be tens of people attending primary elections for local and state office. Those are the candidates who have the most direct effect on your life. They are also the people who will eventually work their way into higher office. Getting involved with caucusing and primary elections means you are far more likely to find a candidate that you agree with and believe in. In non-presidential years, this means you can have a enormous direct impact on making sure your voice and your issues are heard.

The more marginalized you are from axes of power the more divorced you feel from the political process. However, I would posit this: people bled and died for your right to have your vote count. What's more, most countries in the world do not have a government that has been forced to be so transparent as ours. For however much spying goes on, however violent our police forces have become, we still have the write to speak out, to write letters, to call our representatives and to peacefully protest. With the internet we have an unprecedented ability to make our voices heard. Some use it to publish incoherent rants in comment sections on YouTube, somehow thinking that they and their opinions matter. Others use it to grow a following and build communities.

No matter how much attention you get by ranting at your friends, by posting abrasive and vitriolic blogs that do nothing but burn bridges and show what a nasty person you are and how worthless you are to the political process, or how much you think people agree with you, unless you are getting directly involved in your community your impact is as nonexistent as any teenager vlogging from their bedroom. Hit and view counts don't predict an impact at the sales register or the voting booth. Quit your adolescent ranting and ignorant misuse of concepts you clearly don't understand. Using internet searches to sound smart doesn't make your arguments any less circular and doesn't erase the cognitive dissonance. The adults in the room aren't paying attention to you. The people with money and power aren't paying attention to you. Unless you are organizing your minions to help with lit drops and door knocking and making phone calls for campaigns, your voice just goes into the echo chamber and gets lost by more important people and issues with much larger audiences.

If you want your voice to matter and your vote to count, get off your couch, leave your parents basement and find the office of your local political party. Get involved with volunteer groups and advocacy organizations. Learn who the candidates are who support your issues. This is a midterm year and it sounds as if the Senate will go Republican. The ENDA was already a nonstarter with a slight Democratic majority. What do you think will happen if the conservatives take the chamber? What do you think will happen if they win the White House in 2016?

All politics are local. Your vote matters. People running for school board and city council today may end up running for statewide office or even go national in a decade. Michelle Bachmann didn't start out as a US Congresswoman. The impact of someone like that on our political discourse can be enormous. You can help give us better options. In a midterm or local election, your vote could mean the difference. Vote!