Former Vice President Joe Biden is not my hero. Following the 10th Democratic primary debate, I publicly shared that I would support any of the other Democratic candidates on stage (barring Bloomberg) over him. I spent Super Tuesday holding signs for Bernie, which included getting spit on and yelled slurs by Biden supporters heading home from Boston's Financial Center. When Biden became the presumptive nominee, my first reaction was that if this were any other country, the Democratic Party — whose candidate did not represent my ideals — would not be my party. But this morning, I still voted for Biden.
Voting for Biden will not fix our political system. But elections are never the end goal and instead just one way to advance policies and agendas.
It's a simple calculation. As voters we're constantly tasked to weigh which candidate will lead to the better possible future. As the only two realistically viable options for presidency are Biden or U.S. President Donald Trump, in my view, Biden would lead to a better future.
This calculation stems from the socialist tradition of utilitarianism. It focuses solely on the likely consequences of each candidate winning and has little to do with who you like. Most people didn’t support Biden because they actually liked him. But voting for someone doesn't reflect where your morals lie; it's simply saying which candidate you believe would lead to the best possible world.
And despite the valid critiques that both parties are deeply flawed (that they're, for example, funded by the same big-money donors or that centrist Democrats share virtually the same positions as Republicans), there are still clear policy differences between the two. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, disbanding the National Security Council’s pandemic preparation unit, refusal to disavow white supremacy — these are things that Trump did that Biden would never do.
At the very least, Biden is willing to listen. The recommendations given by the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force shifted Biden's plans to the left, including an accelerated timeline to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a postal banking system to expand access for low-income families and ending private prisons. In light of recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, the 2020 Democratic Party Platform calls for the demilitarization of the police, an end to the death penalty and establishing national standards for the police use of force.
As BLM Co-founder Patrisse Cullors noted, "I do think that where the platform is now compared to where it was months ago shows that Joe Biden and many of his advisers are listening to what folks on the ground in communities across the country are actually saying about how they feel about our justice system, how broken it is."
To be clear, these reforms are not enough. Medicare for All and the Green New Deal were noticeably absent from Biden's plans, and the party failed to include the BREATHE Act in its platform. Biden will certainly not provide the systems-level "revolution" many have called for.
And strikingly, people are tired of being vote-shamed into participating in a system they see as stacked against them. Some say that if enough leftists abstain, the Democratic Party will be forced to "win" their votes by shifting in their direction, or that Biden’s electoral victory would lead to a more centrist Democratic Party.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide who you want to vote for. It's up to you to decide what you're fighting for and the best method to accomplish your goals.
But leftists boycotting the election isn't an effective form of protest. It signals to the Democratic Party that leftists aren't a necessary constituency, and that measures to appease the progressive wing — even if marginal — weren't effective enough for an electoral victory. It's a sign that leftists aren't needed and don't deserve a seat at the table.
In the 1930s, the Democratic Party adopted key portions of the Socialist and Populist Party platforms because those groups had organized a constituency large and powerful enough to force them to react – not because they ran third-party candidates. Third parties are destined to fail, and holding votes “hostage” will not bring the progressive shift folks are looking for.
Instead, progressives need to continue to organize and undermine the power of the establishment. We might not win the presidency, but we can normalize ideas millions were previously unexposed to and move the platform to the left. And voters have met the message. In local elections across the country, Democratic voters have moved leftward.
And if we want a systems-level, global revolt against capitalism, at some point we do need to engage with folks who disagree. We need to get the uninformed on board and persuade the people in power who can actually affect change. Biden's platform isn't enough, but at least he's capable of listening to protest — and you can be sure as hell I'll be out there every day to protest his policy shortcomings.
Finally, leftists often accuse centrists of virtue signaling. But by complaining about the system yet being unwilling to contribute to changing it, we’re contributing to virtue-signal gatekeeping. It’s an attempt to signal that you’re morally superior by being unwilling to vote for someone that doesn’t completely reflect your values. And that contributes nothing to changing the real lives that working people and people of color are struggling with.
Progressives need to take pragmatic efforts. To be a leftist in America means to always reside slightly outside of the electoral window, but luckily, voting is only a small piece in our larger toolbox. So, strike, unionize and do mutual aid. The focus of our efforts should still be on grassroots organizing, which brings more immediate and tangible change. But national action – such as who sits on the Supreme Court and the responsiveness of presidents to protest – still matters and can greatly aid the efficacy and speed of our progress.
Voting might not sound as sexy as “revolution” or “calling out both sides.” But to not do anything would be the same as the centrists who maintain the status quo. Voting for the lesser evil might not be an effective long-term strategy. But in the immediate present, it might be the only thing we’re ever capable of directly doing.
Biden is not my hero, and our problems won’t magically vanish once he’s in office. We still need to push him on the key issues, and he’s far from reflecting my values. But if there’s a chance to create a future that’s marginally better than our current one, or a way to advance our cause by electing someone who’d at least be willing to listen, I’ll take it.
Bonnie Jin is a senior from Boston, Mass. studying International Studies. She was a social media manager for Millennials for Bernie Sanders in 2015-2016 and an organizer for Students for Bernie in 2019-2020, canvassing in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maryland.