Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 27, 2020
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SARAH MIRK / CC BY SA-4.0

With kids still in cages at the border, Yesenia Odalyss argues that voting for Biden is choosing the lesser of two evils. 

If you’re a U.S. citizen reading this article and plan to vote in this election, vote for former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris. If you’re reading this article and plan not to vote, let’s talk.

There’s a valid dialogue going on about politics. Why should we vote if it’s clear that our white supremacist, heteropatriarchal-capitalist system doesn’t truly listen to the people? Why are there only two serious options, forcing us to vote for whichever candidate will screw us less than the other? 

While this rhetoric can motivate young people to be more active in politics — historically, we vote at half of the rate of older Americans — it’s incredibly dangerous in an election this crucial. I don’t like Biden as a person, but he is the lesser of two evils (and I do mean evil). I’m voting for him with a cynical hope that he’ll rein in the xenophobic dystopia of the current administration. In our dichotomous political system, progressives and conservatives alike have rallied behind a moderate candidate who isn’t actually their first choice. #RepublicansForBiden anybody?

Some primary criticisms of the Biden/Harris ticket are that the Obama administration deported more people than Donald Trump’s, which is true. However, the current president leaves behind a legacy of countless human rights abuses by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but Biden recently said that deporting immigrants with no criminal records was a “big mistake;” we can reasonably predict that Biden would be more open to ICE reform. 

Progressives have also lamented that Harris’ past as a prosecutor makes her the antithesis of police reform (false) and that the Democratic party takes the support of Black voters as a given, despite ignoring their concerns and further incarcerating Black communities (true).

Amid the current fight for meaningful police reform and potential abolition, progressives take issue with the “tough on crime” approach Harris embraced as a former prosecutor and Attorney General of California. Yet, in the context of the American prison industrial complex and school-to-prison pipeline (see Betsy DeVos ending 60+ Obama-era civil rights investigations in schools with no reforms) do we really want to invalidate the entire perspective of a Black lawyer? 

Historically, Black and brown people have been denied the right to a jury of their peers through the selection of all white, all male juries. Today, Black police officers, prosecutors and conservatives are called “sellouts” and “Uncle Toms,” but this additional scrutiny is something that non-Black candidates aren’t subjected to. As an abolitionist, I don’t believe in the policing and judicial systems as they exist. However, while these systems are in place there is a need for representatives who are from the historically marginalized groups. While her track record is poor, we need Harris’ perspective and experience to reasonably make actionable reforms during a Biden administration. 

Now, though it often feels like lip service, Biden has publicly proclaimed his support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. In a stark departure from Trump’s rhetoric, Harris recently said, “I actually believe that ‘Black Lives Matter’ has been the most significant agent for change within the criminal justice system.” Trump has made his feelings about the BLM movement clear, saying, “This is not the agenda of the Black community. This is the agenda of an extreme socialist or worse, you know what the other word is — Marxist, communist — this is the extreme socialist left.” 

Of course, he fails to understand the purpose of this year’s protests and provide any evidence of BLM officially embracing Marxism. Trump is an actor — a political puppet — and during “guest appearances” in the political sphere he has consistently made incendiary and often untrue statements about BLM, even referring to leftist protesters as terrorists. There is a clear lesser of two evils situation going on.

The most productive discussion I’ve seen in critiquing Biden is that the Democratic party has historically treated the Black vote as a monolith — a given no matter the candidate or policies (see Biden’s “you ain’t Black” comment). Democrats have long claimed to represent the interests of Black Americans while voting for racist legislation that contributed to mass incarceration and, in Biden’s case, against federally mandated bussing for integration of public schools. This is undeniably true, but I’m left exasperated with those who refuse to vote and those who refuse to vote for a major party candidate.

During a friendly discussion about the election, one of my friends — a young Black liberal — said he was planning to vote either third party or not at all. 

Though historically “splitting the vote” has led to the other party winning, this is a conversation that is long overdue. We came to the agreement that though taking this stand will result in Trump “winning,” different groups have different stakes in this election. As a Black man, he doesn't feel right voting for Biden, a politician who has historically acted against his best interest. 

But Trump’s record with Black communities, in the U.S. and abroad, is embarrassing. Recall his comments on “shithole countries,” statement that everyone from Haiti “had AIDS” and refusal to condemn white supremacy on national television less than a month ago, instead telling white supremacist groups to “stand back and stand by.” Is he really the better option this election?

As the daughter of formerly undocumented immigrants, it would feel wrong not to vote for Biden; my biggest concern is the children and adults in cages at the border. When it comes to immigration, I can’t deny that I am personally invested. My parents and siblings were all undocumented, though I was born in Texas (yes, that’s where I’m “really from”). Growing up, nobody seemed to care about my family’s legal status. However, at the end of high school, there was a dramatic rise in xenophobia and racism against Mexicans. As I went away to college in 2017, I found myself terrified after learning more and more about the dangers of being undocumented in Texas under Trump. 

We cannot afford to be complacent about what is happening. I’ve personally had a sibling deported and almost had my mother deported, an extremely traumatic experience that if anyone else had felt, they could never support the human rights violations Trump has worked to enact in ICE. 

Yes, the Obama administration deported people, but they didn’t lose track of children by the thousands, have dozens of “detainee” deaths or force innocent women into having hysterectomies without their knowledge or consent. This current administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” is both objectively inhumane and a total failure as a deterrent to immigration. 

If you don’t like immigrants who don’t “come the right way,” let’s talk. I’m a student at Hopkins just like you are, I work at IBM, my mom speaks English and has paid taxes for over a decade. She was an “illegal alien” and I’m an “anchor baby” and we’re contributing members of society who pay our taxes. However, people who can’t say the same want us out of this country. Republican, Democrat or apolitical, voting for Biden is a matter of life or death, unless we’ve forgotten about the alarming rise in ICE detainee deaths, including children, during this administration. 

Though I’m not happy about making concessions, this election is monumental, and we need someone in the White House who hasn’t been co-defendants with Jeffrey Epstein in lawsuits concerning raping an underage girl.

I’m voting for Biden because, though it may be meme-worthy, the U.S. has become a fascist pit and that is costing the lives of people ranging from low-income communities, BIPOC citizens and detained immigrants. Can you think of any other president who has shown such little respect for the office they hold? From his mockery of a disabled journalist to a litany of sexual assault allegations spanning decades, Trump is a dishonorable man. 

Yesenia Odalyss S. is a (rising) senior from Bryan, Texas studying computer engineering and robotics. She’s currently on a gap year at IBM as a hardware developer.

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