Non-participation atrophy

Politics is overrun with corporate influence, corruption and pettiness—and California is no different

Detria Thompson is a Sacramento-based freelance writer.

I have mixed feelings about voting.

On the one hand, I’ve voted pretty consistently for the past 25-plus years. Even if I don’t actively follow the politicians and issues on my ballot, I bone up on what I need to know before heading to the polls. I’m old school, so I like to vote in person—cheat sheet in hand.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, young people, people of color, renters, immigrants, the less educated, and the working class are the least likely voters. I know there’s overlap with some of these category boxes. These demo groups also skew independent and democratic. When I read these stats, the deepest part of my voting DNA screamed a little bit. We gotta get out and vote. For the kids and our future!

Just a couple of weeks ago, I gave an impassioned speech about the importance of voting to a couple of people I know who aren’t registered and have never voted. They weren’t convinced.

“All politics is local.” My interpretation of this saying is less cynical than what its source author may have intended. To me it means we, the people, should be engaged and pay close attention to social and political issues that directly impact our neighborhoods, our city and our state. We should know what our council members, mayor, county and state officials are up to because their priorities, and what they deprioritize, greatly affects our day-to-day quality of life.

On the other hand, 48 percent of Americans don’t vote because they don’t trust politicians or the system their representatives operate in. Only 37 percent of registered California voters participated in the June primaries. I get it.

Politics is overrun with corporate influence, corruption and pettiness. California politics is a microcosm of a disreputable system. A few good people work inside, but overall the major parties are anachronistic and tone deaf.

My team—the Dems, in full identity crisis mode—have stubbornly trotted out 71-year-old Hillary Clinton and 75-year-old Joe Biden to “energize” us. Dianne Feinstein, at 85 and 26 years in, thinks her best political years are ahead. Incumbent doesn’t simply mean you have an edge on your challengers. It means you have the job for life.

My party is less concerned with holding base constituents and attracting unlikely voters than figuring out how to bring the moderate-conservative Midwestern farmer demographic into the fold.

The progressive wing of the party supports things like a livable wage, Medicare for all, college subsidies, rectifying the country’s unchecked wealth disparities. The party leadership thinks they’re dewy-eyed crazies.

An informed voter can’t even rely on the issue summaries included in their sample ballots. You think you voted to save the California coastline from oil drilling and toxic waste pollution, but you actually cast a vote to waive coastline environmental protections—in perpetuity.

The Los Angeles Times reported an estimated 40 percent of Californians who supported Proposition 66 in 2016, an initiative that passed and expedites executions, thought they voted to abolish the death penalty.

Widespread and brazen voter suppression efforts that disproportionately disenfranchise African-American and Latinx citizens. In 2018?

I get it.

My cognitive dissonance has me politically pessimistic but cautiously hopeful. Hopeful because some grassroots progressives have crashed the Democratic Party—successfully.

I understand the why, but the optimist in me still hopes the large untapped population of politically disengaged Californians will become likely voters.