On victim blaming and voting

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, because the UK media have been pretty quiet about it, but there’s an election next month. This week is the last week you can register to vote in it. In turn, this means we can expect left-liberals to begin trotting out a particularly insufferable and deeply unpleasant line in order to encourage voter registration.

It goes like this: women, young people, people of colour, disabled people, poor people–basically, any marginalised group you can name–are being fucked over by the government. It’s in their power to change this, if only they go out and vote!

On the face of it, it sounds like your classic harmless liberal drivel, with that fervent belief that the Vote Fairy will change everything if only the right guys get in next time. However, scratch a little deeper, and at its core is victim blaming: it’s your fault the government is doing its damndest to murder you, because you should have voted for the guys who will murder you a bit slower. You had a choice, the liberals say, and you failed to take it.

Rather charitably, I’m going to suggest this argument comes from a place of oblivious privilege rather than a malicious attempt to actually emotionally blackmail vulnerable people into feeling blamed for their fate. There are lots of reasons people don’t vote other than an understanding that absolutely none of the people vying for your vote actually have your interests at heart, or an ideological disdain for the entire sham of representative democracy.

The people who are supposedly to blame for their oppression if they don’t vote are exactly the people who face impediments to voting. Even at the point of registration, for example, trans people are experiencing disenfranchising problems. Registering to vote also requires a level of reading ability, internet access or a stamp, and the time to fill the fucking thing in.

Then there’s the hurdles at the polling station. They’re not necessarily accessible: even with legal protections, last election a lot of disabled voters were failed in very basic requirements, and this is for the bare minimal accessibility standards for people with common physical disabilities. If you have a job or childcare arrangements, it’s going to be a pain in the arse managing to get to the polling station–just because the polls are open from early until late doesn’t mean someone has a chance to go! (and don’t, at this juncture, suggest postal voting: that requires a degree of planning which simply doesn’t fit in with a lot of people’s lives)

The barriers to voting are very real, and for the people being blamed for their own oppression, if not physically insurmountable, certainly psychically so. On one side, there is the right, saying that marginalised people are to blame for their own problems because they’re not trying hard enough to lift themselves out of their oppression. On the other side, the liberal left are saying that these people are to blame for some of their problems because they’re not trying hard enough to vote themselves out of their oppression.

Disengagement is manifest in particular among the groups who have been historically shafted not just by governments, but by society. Disabled people, people of colour, women, young people, poor people, queer people have been scapegoated throughout history. They are being scapegoated once again by those with the power.

If it’s true that a government reflects the society that elected it (I’m not convinced) then this means that unpleasant attitudes towards marginalised people will be present in government for as long as they’re present in society. Of course, it isn’t true that government is like real people: government is overwhelmingly a bunch of white abled cishet men from rich backgrounds. The rest of us look at these people, a ballot card full of these freaks and see them as completely indistinguishable. Even the candidates who aren’t white abled cishet men from rich backgrounds are still toeing party lines–which are, of course, decided by people in parties who come from the same position of privilege as the government and so forth.

Inviting oppressed people to vote is all well and good, but all it achieves is an invitation to be nominally complicit in one’s own oppression. A lot of people are wise to this.

If people want to vote, of course there shouldn’t be barriers in the way, but this goes out to the people who do not and cannot: whatever happens in May is not your fault. The game is stacked, and there are people from all points on the political spectrum who are itching to blame you, because you’ve always been the scapegoat. It’s not your fault, and it never was. 

6 thoughts on “On victim blaming and voting”

  1. My own situation illustrates some of what you say. I’m staying with a friend, because I can’t afford a place of my own, and I don’t officially live there. I would like to vote, but I’m scared to register because I’m concerned I’ll end up getting a council tax bill I can’t afford, or get my friend in trouble for putting me up when he claims housing benefit. I voted as homeless in the last council elections but it was a huge undertaking for a person with severe depression and anxiety; staff at the polling station did not know how to proceed and sent me to another polling station, which sent me on again. I had to phone the council and luckily spoke to someone pleasant and competent, who sent me back to the original polling station with additional instructions; luckily, this sufficed, but the whole experience was an ordeal. I suspect most people who don’t have social/health issues don’t even think that voting might be problematic for some.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Samantha. I hadn’t given much thought to how precarity of housing affects voting, which was a huge oversight on my part, and thank you for contributing.

  2. Thank you for this great post, says a lot of things that I have felt, but had trouble articulating, especially re: people with the least power being blamed (as usual). I wrote a far less insightful post last week about how the current system makes it difficult for marginalised people to register and some things they can do about it: https://tinywhirlwind.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/encountering-trouble-registering-to-vote-uk-information-is-at-hand/
    Obviously there isn’t much time left now =/

  3. Thank you so much for this! Succinctly and beautifully sums up key problems with this whole shaming and blaming thing going on. For my part, I’ve come to realise that none of the major, and possibly none of the more minor parties, actually have the interests of disabled people in their sights, or even understand that we are supposed to have human, civil and social rights like everyone else. This represents a major regression on some of the tentative achievements in this area achieved in the 1970s/early 80s. The ‘Left’ in particular have really scared me on this. They are really wedded to ‘only disabled people who can work are worthy of our attention’ bullcrap. In recent weeks I’ve began to wonder if this was always the case, since Marx! There is evidence this is possible. They don’t even understand the issue of unpaid caring labour. In this respect the Left seem to have lost their understanding of gender issues too. There is not one single party that I feel able to vote for in their current states. I’m even being attacked for my intention to spoil/protest vote.

    1. Wow, attacking someone for spoiling their vote/casting a protest vote is harsh and illogical. If you do that, you’re definitely and deliberately taking part in the process! It’s particularly unfair when only a small minority of votes actually matter anyway – every election is decided by a handful of swing voters with ‘moderate views’ living in marginal constituencies. The rest of us can vote for whoever the hell we like, or not vote at all, for all the difference it makes.

      (And yes, even in the rare case where your vote ‘makes a difference’ and the party in government does change, you could be forgiven for not noticing the difference…)

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