16-year-old Kaon Suh is not currently eligible to vote. But if she were, she would not do so.
Suh, a junior at the Orange County School of Arts, believes the resources invested into voting diverts attention and resources from the communities that need it.
“That money could very well be given to communities that need it, or in helping keep organizers, and various people … in their communities,” Suh said. “But what voting tends to do is claim to offer a solution to a lot of problems that will just inevitably not be addressed.”
According to Suh, this feeling comes from the United States being a violent, settler-colonial like state founded upon racism. Suh said anything done by the established government ultimately, despite good intentions, supports this legacy.
“Our history is not something we can entirely divorce ourselves from, and within this government, radical change is not allowed to happen,” Suh said.
Suh noted that both the Democratic and Republican parties have a long history of being influenced by corporations and lobbyists, therefore not truly representing the people.
“I think the government exists in direct opposition to the wants and hopes and dreams of [marginalized] people,” Suh said, “Their liberation necessitates the end of the United States Empire.”
Democrats and Republicans, Suh explained, have been united in their aggression toward other countries, affecting people outside of the U.S.
Those people include Caleb Zaldaña, a sociology and psychology major at Long Beach City College. As the son of a Salvadoran refugee and a Black woman, Zaldaña is conscious of the impact his vote could have on people outside of the U.S.
Zaldaña thinks it is hypocritical when people imply that not voting is a privileged stance because while conditions in the U.S. may change, globally he would still be causing harm.
“I care about my community and my identities pushed me to care even more…simply having so many marginalized identities around me and related to me, I felt like I just had to fight.”
Zaldaña will be voting for local city council races, props, and measures, and encourages others to do so. But he will not vote for a presidential candidate.
He emphasized that voting in local elections is important as that is where he believes change can be achieved, but federal elections are disheartening.
“Voting for a president just feels morally wrong when this land isn’t ours to vote on. There are so many native groups that are fighting for sovereignty but they keep being pushed back,” Zaldaña said.
Zaldaña is also disappointed by seeing people who he knows are involved in mutual aid work and community work being shamed for choosing to not vote.
“I just feel like working people, helping other working people, holds no tie over people’s heads,” he said, pointing to mutual aid as a preferred alternative to charity.
Suh and Zaldaña said voting isn’t easy for all people, as marginalized communities continue to be the victims of voter suppression.
As an example, Suh said the debates were inaccessible to people with hearing disabilities as sign language interpretation was not offered.
The number of registered voters in California among the 17 to 25 years old age group has increased slightly since 2016, jumping from 2,206,729 registered voters in September 2016 to 2,735,042 in September 2020.
And even though overall voter turnout has also increased during this time, it also remains low. Reporting from the California Secretary of State shows that from 2016 to 2020, turnout in presidential primary elections jumped from 34.49% to 38.36%.
Zaldaña thinks it is important to interrogate why there is such a low voter turnout. He believes this is because people are starting to feel apathy towards a government that does not listen to them, something which he himself feels toward the nation.
“To put it bluntly… I want to see this country burn,” Zaldaña said.
Suh is not interested in voting because “it supports the legitimacy of this settler-colonial state.” Although she criticizes conservatives and liberals, as a former liberal herself, Suh understands where voting enthusiasts are coming from.
“I think that people who are pressuring other people to vote come from a general genuine fear of what will happen if we don’t go and vote,” Suh said. “I don’t know if I can blame anyone for the lack of understanding.”
She suggests people materially donate to organizations that help the most marginalized members of their community, or volunteer with them. Some public organizations offer resources to get educated on political ideas and enact change within the community.
“There is a lot that you can do outside of voting,” Suh said.