In the months leading up to Election Day in the US, November 3, artists, curators, and more have used their creativity to encourage voters to get to the polls and raise awareness about voter suppression. Amid a global pandemic that has led to profound losses and a growing movement against systemic racism, the stakes are high for the cultural sector in the 2020 election.
Now that the day has finally come, Hyperallergic asked art workers and artists to share their reflections on the voting process and on the months leading up to today’s critical ballot. We requested that respondents send in approximately one paragraph detailing their experiences exercising their civic duty — whether they voted early, by mail, or in-person today — and the catalysts that led them to their decision. Ranging from anxious to hopeful, observations from these creatives can help us paint a picture of today’s climate, and what they hope to see in the country’s future.
I’m registered to vote in NYC. I voted early in person on Monday, October 26; it took just 10 minutes. I have voted in every presidential election since moving to the US in 2000. I am a dual citizen, Lebanese and American. My other home country, Lebanon, is ruled by a bunch of corrupt warlords. I vote because I know what it’s like not to have a say in one’s leadership. This year, more than ever, there was no choice to sit back or stay home. I voted for Biden/Harris for many reasons, but to put it simply, Trump and his administration embody so many of the characteristics of the corrupt regimes I am familiar with. This was an inspiring election, and I learned a lot through getting involved with organizations like A.D.V.I.C.E (Artists and Designers VOTE to Inspire Civic Engagement), Artists4Democracy, and Walk the Walk 2020. Check out these groups and keep learning. The work does not end after a general election; it’s necessary to get informed and vote in every election.
La Tanya S. Autry
While I had planned to vote via absentee ballot, news stories about backlogs at the post office prompted me to discard that idea. I didn’t even trust placing my completed ballot in the drop-off box because of reports about those being vandalized. Feeling stressed about the possibility of increased racial violence because of the election, I opted to vote early in person. This past Sunday, I waited outside in high winds, rain, and hail for one and a half hours to submit my ballot at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Too many of my ancestors were denied this right. I want my vote to count. I want a world where we have better possibilities for dismantling racial terrorism.
Prologue: Phillis Wheatley, while enslaved, became the first published African American poet. In 1775 she sent a poem titled appropriately “To His Excellency, George Washington” to the Commander of our Continental Army. In the midst of the Revolutionary War, which he was not winning, Washington responded and invited her to visit. Washington, the slave-owning Founding Father, and Wheatley, the enslaved, 20-year-old Founding Mother, miraculously broke bread together in 1776. Imagine that transformative conversation.
Present: Brooklyn Museum shadows, long, east to west, testing all three layers, mask and hoodie. One week before Election Day, I reflected upon the 20,000 enslaved Africans in New York in 1776 when Washington retreated; the 20% of the colonial and post-colonial population that was enslaved; and the 20% of Washington’s army that was African in 1781, when the war was won. Our flawed first president peacefully transferred power. This free African waited three hours leaning on Wheatley’s shoulders to ensure one more.
The line for early voting snaked around several blocks in my downtown NYC neighborhood. All those nice Democrats were six feet away from each other, and no one was talking. After a few hours, the line approached a black wrought iron fence, which I grabbed and leaned against. Suddenly a young woman wearing a “Volunteer” sticker tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could escort me to the Senior line. “Is that legal?” I asked through my mask, and she replied, “It’s not lethal at all.” She then led me to a door where one old man and his nurse were standing. We were ushered past the waiting line into the voting place, and from that moment on, someone was at my side explaining what to do.
It has only been since 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, that all American Indians and Alaska Natives had their voting rights guaranteed in all US states. Currently, in 2020, many American Indian people are still encountering voting barriers. The prevention of IDs issued by tribal authorities and the barring of PO box use instead of physical addresses are becoming pretexts for continued suppression. Six out of 10 Native voters support the Biden ticket in expectation of these and other issues being positively addressed in Indian country. Many Republican and Independent Native voters have also supported Biden. As a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, I voted for Harris and Biden by mail from St. Paul, Minnesota. For the last six months, I have worked on a series of political artworks about facets of our crisis, most recently in collaboration with Highpoint Printmaking Center in Minneapolis, with a series of lithographs.
I am registered to vote in California, the last place I lived before moving to Germany. I voted by mail and was helped out by the org called Dems Abroad. Even though I live in Berlin, I haven’t been sleeping for the last weeks and my stomach is in knots. The city is filled with reminders of the horrors of fascism, all I can think about is how close America is to this very possibility. The Nazis seized power quickly and decisively because good people didn’t think it would happen. And now American is on the verge. If you haven’t voted yet, get to the polls! If you have voted, help others to get to the polls. It is an emergency. But voting is only the first step, and merely saying no to Trumpism is not enough. Let’s keep building the momentum of the Green New Deal and Black Lives Matter into an international movement for all people. My dear homo sapiens, cyborgs, hybrids, and extraterrestrials, we are all in this together.
Edouard Duval Carrié
I am registered to vote in Miami and I chose to mail in my ballot, which was done two weeks ago now. I have checked to see if my ballot has counted, and it fortunately has. To tell you frankly, I am over the circus created by our current administration and I cannot wait to see them go. Their treatment of the pandemic crisis has been more than ludicrous for being the first world nation that we are. We, as artists, are rather vulnerable to such upheaval in society. Many agencies and organizations have gone in overdrive to help the situation, but with so much contradiction in how to deal with it, things are still postponed indefinitely. I hope that with a hopefully new administration, directives will be construed in a much more humane fashion.
W. J. T. Mitchell
The Calm at the Eye of the Hurricane: I feel strangely calm today. We are at a decisive convergence of four viral “-demics” that hang in the balance: 1) the COVID-19 pandemic, the greatest global plague in a century; 2) the endemic condition of racism and white supremacy that has plagued this country (and the world) for many centuries; 3) an infodemic of disinformation, paranoid rumor, and lies accelerated by social media; and 4) an ecodemic of climate change accelerated by predatory disaster capitalism. At stake in this election is the future of the Demos, of democracy itself, and in the longer run, the future of the human species and many others (300 per day now becoming extinct). I remain calm, however, because life on earth will continue; viruses will do just fine.
Since the minute Trump was installed on November 9, 2016, I have been chomping at the bit to vote his predatory, misogynist, racist, treasonous ass out of the office Putin stole for him. Our plan was to vote early in person at Barclays in Brooklyn, but it was scuttled by a surprise appendectomy a couple of weeks before the election. I was so upset not to vote in person, but mailed in my backup plan absentee ballot the first day I could, and the last day I heard it was safe to send in: October 22, right after surgery and a little spaced out from Percocet. I tracked it, and it was labeled “valid” on October 29. PHEW! In 2016 I was 1000% certain of Hillary’s victory (she won) and have spent the last four years watching this illegitimate, cruel, sadistic, corrupt, feral, mobbed-up, murderous, ignorant, low IQ traitor, his GOP enablers, and his crime family in horror and fear as they rape, pillage, destroy the rule of law and our mental health, commit crimes against humanity in our name, and literally kill hundreds of thousands of American citizens with impunity. I will never, ever be certain of an outcome again. If Trump wins, I am leaving. A transnational mafia kleptocracy ruled by a fascist right-wing minority relying on death and repression to keep the rest of us in our place, that is intent on stealing every cent they can while they are at it, will be even more deadly for the vast majority of Americans than it has become in the last three years: women, seniors, LGBTQ, POC, Indigenous people, Democrats, progressives, Jews, Muslims, literally just about all of us. In fact, given global warming, it won’t even be safe for the “straight” white men who spend all their waking hours figuring out how to continue to rule and rob us to maintain power at any cost. It certainly will not be a democracy. Color me terrified.
Christine Sun Kim
I currently live in Berlin, but I am still registered to vote in New York. As soon as I got the absentee ballot via email, I instantly printed, signed, stamped, and dropped it in the mail. I felt a great deal of urgency and anxiety during each step. After I had mailed it, I decided to participate in For Freedoms’ “The Wide Awakes” project by rounding up a few Deaf American friends in Europe and India to meet on Zoom. It was exactly what we all needed! We plan to meet again on Election Day to offer each other support and also to panic together. (Just in case!) Voting used to be such an individualistic experience for me, but now I want people to reconsider what civic responsibility really means, on both local and national levels, and to vote together.
Perhaps unlike the majority of folx in this year’s election, I used the exact same method to vote that I have used for the past decade. I filled out an absentee ballot, dropped it off in person at SF City Hall, and used ballotrax to confirm that my ballot was received within 24 hours. The only exception to this year was the ability to hand it in so far in advance.
As a white cis woman in California, I don’t take for granted how easy it was and has always been for me to vote when so many face such extreme and egregious voter suppression. I have never missed an election since I turned 18, and this one feels quite clearly like the most important election of my lifetime. At all times, I think I am fluctuating percentages of terrified, motivated, anxious, cynical, angry, inspired, exhausted, and hopeful. I try to keep the balance tipped towards motivated and hopeful as much as possible, to focus on what I can do and learn, and to keep trying to be a better, wiser, and bolder advocate.
I voted for Warren in the primaries and was disappointed, but not surprised, that Joe Biden ended up being the Democratic nominee. Still, there wasn’t a single moment’s hesitation about whether to vote for him. I’m a mother to an 18-month old and could never have imagined my child’s first birthday taking place during this time of many pandemics: witnessing murders and attacks on BIPOC and demonstrators at the hands of cops; children separated from their parents and imprisoned; entirely preventable deaths due to COVID; the nation shut down and so many lose jobs; raging wildfires and not leaving my apartment for a week with towels stuffed under doors and windows taped up — and that’s just to name a few — with this shameful, incompetent, aspiring dictator at the helm of the nation.
But I can say I have never felt more alive than I do this year, with all the intensity and complexity that comes with that. I am more aware of what my individual existence has meant and can mean. I feel I am being held more responsible and more accountable as a parent, a partner, a family member, a peer, a colleague, a citizen, a neighbor, and I feel there’s some hope in that. I’m encouraged by the levels of access to and sharing of resources we’ve seen this past year. It’s been energizing to see platforms that were originally designed to exploit our data and commodify us in the guise of connectivity being so shrewdly utilized by activists, advocates, educators, and communities. We will absolutely STILL need to mobilize, organize and fight if Biden and Harris win. So here’s cautiously hoping that is the fight that’s next and not the alternative.
Wendy Red Star
As a registered voter in Oregon, I voted by mail for Biden and Harris. Inspired by the activism in the city of Portland, where I live, I want to do my part to fight for our civil and human rights. I believe that the Biden/Harris platform best upholds and supports justice, equality, and democracy, and that by casting my vote, I can turn around the divisive political climate of the past four years. I hope to show my daughter that voting is a form of political engagement and activism. It can make a difference and is a proactive way to stand up for our civil and human rights. Perhaps instilling this hope in her, the next generation, is one of the most important motivators for voting in this election.
I am registered to vote in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My wife and I requested absentee ballots due to concerns around the pandemic. We filled out our ballots and returned them to the board of elections drop site in mid-October. Due to all of the concerns around the election, we wanted to be certain our votes were in early.
As for the election itself, I have never felt this stressed, anxious, and uncertain in my life. This is a very important election, but it’s also amplified by the pandemic and all of the layered issues we are dealing with as a country and in the museum field (race, labor, economic, health care). I have not slept well in months and have recurring dreams about enforcing COVID protocols at the museum. There is a daily underlying anxiety about taking care of my staff, our guests, my family, and trying to use this moment to change the museum field. I am also navigating all of this in deep-red Oklahoma. I am exhausted; everyone is exhausted. I am also concerned that too many people are viewing the election as a magical solution rather than one of many steps needed to heal our communities.
At Philbrook, we have made Election Day a paid holiday, encouraged staff to volunteer time, and have pushed get out to vote efforts on our social platforms for months. We have also canceled most meetings for the week to give everyone a mental health break to deal with whatever may happen.
I voted for Biden. Is he the perfect candidate or representative of all of my positions? No, but a far better alternative than the current administration. We need a national reset. I believe Biden is someone that will listen to experts, surround himself with smart, competent, and diverse voices, and listen. A leader should be someone that inspires the best in people, empathy, kindness, generosity, and sacrifice. I believe Biden and those around him can move us in this direction. And I just want to wake up in the morning and not have to check what the President said or did.
In the end, I am hopeful. The changes that have happened around the museum, on the board, with donors, and the community is dramatic. We are openly addressing issues that I don’t believe we could have in 2019. That gives me purpose, regardless of the election outcome. No matter what, we will have a lot of work to do in 2021 and beyond and need to stay focused.
I am registered to vote in Oregon, where we have used mail-in voting for decades. It means I don’t have to deal with lines in past elections and can avoid waiting in lines and COVID exposure this year. Official boxes are available, as always, across each county — and casting a vote is as simple as driving up to the post office to drop off a letter in the outside box. This year it not only means better access to voting — it minimizes voter risk of interference from people employing any number of intimidation and misdirection tactics with you as you vote. Our state government acts as the Federal Government should — Oregon executes a process aimed at counting individual votes as easily as possible. In terms of the election, I am focused on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; January; and the next decade. I am not interested in hope. I am interested in action. There is no excuse or space to ignore or overlook systemic racism in our country — it’s laid bare, particularly in the past five years. On Election Day, I will be watching, listening, and planning ways to continue to nourish resilience with communities — especially with Black, Indigenous, people of color, and allies who understand that change makes this country better for everyone and for future generations. This work never ends.
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