Last week, The Nib ran a comic entitled Vote or Else!, which is the work of Filipino-American cartoonist and illustrator, Niccolo Pizarro. The comic, presented initially without context, paints voter registration efforts and their proponents as insensitive to the plights of marginalized peoples and ultimately as centrists who value civility over disruption. While it’s likely that there’s some overlap between people who want more voters registered and people who want all their political engagement to be civil, it’s dangerous to conflate the two wholly.
Some of our WWAC contributors had opinions about the strip:
When you read this strip, what’s the message you get out of it? Is it what you expected it to be based simply on the title and logline?
Laura Stump: When I read the title, I expected the comic to drive home the fact that voting in this election is the last opportunity most folks will have to make an impact on national policymakers for two years. Instead, I got more of a “The problem is the establishment, but also, all these reasons are just kind of excuses” vibe.
Brenda Noiseux: I hopefully thought it would be a motivational comic about the perils of not voting. Sadly, it read more like a continuation of voter disenchantment narrative.
Kate Kosturski: Like Laura and Brenda, the strip’s tone focused more on problems and complaints rather than solutions. Depending on state laws, each one of these excuses not to vote has a solution at hand. For example, the person worried about taking time off to work to vote should check to see if their state laws require employers to give employees time off to vote (New York, California, Minnesota are some).
Who do you think is the target of the joke, on first read? How did you feel when you read the comic? When you saw the headline, the logline, and then read through the comic itself?
Laura: I think the target is meant to be older, more establishment Democrats, but it honestly feels like it’s taking potshots at left-leaning folks across the board. Something about the way it’s drawn and lettered made me feel like everyone was being made fun of, not just the “Classic Democrat.” As though Pizarro didn’t quite take seriously the reasons given for having difficulty voting. By the end, I felt as though the message could as easily be “Why bother voting?” Which is interesting to me, because this election seems to have increased numbers of non-establishment candidates on both sides of the aisle.
Brenda: It’s murky. It feels like it’s taking a stab at the Democratic establishment and the older, white, wealthy members in its ranks. As an independent voter, I fully agree the party establishment has issues they are not fully realizing and resolving, but it felt like the comic was also actively blaming the party for all the reasons why people don’t go to the polls. Which is unfair. The kind of laws highlighted take all-hands on deck and years of effort to change. It’s not just on politicians to figure it out; it’s voters and people getting actively engaged in the legislative process.
Sure, the laws suck, but the only way to change it is for voters and officials — together — to participate in lawmaking and legislation.
Kate: It’s definitely putting the target on the Democratic establishment as the reason people don’t go to the polls, which as Brenda said isn’t totally far. Sure, the laws suck, but the only way to change it is for voters and officials — together — to participate in lawmaking and legislation.
Do you think this comic was an effective way to convey the message you read in it?
Laura: I don’t feel it was at all. Although if Pizarro’s actual goal was to give folks reasons not to vote, it feels fairly convincing on that front.
Brenda: Unfortunately, I don’t think it was. I think it’s a valid perspective to explore, but I’m not sure it was the best way to bring allies to the table to discuss.
Kate: Definitely not. It focused more on blame than effectively encouraging people to vote or showing consequences of not voting.
Do you feel that this comic helps or harms voter registration attempts?
Laura: I don’t see this helping voter registration efforts. Just reading it makes me feel like trying to vote is hopeless, and I don’t face any of the structural impediments of the comic’s characters. Yet this election represents the opportunity to make a difference at every level of government and has seen a large outpouring of grassroots and non-establishment efforts to make changes. There’s no better time than November 6th to have your voice heard.
Brenda: I see this as harmful. Everyday we’re combatting messages of how bad the world is right now. It’s exhausting. Similar to Laura, this comic made me feel like even voting is hopeless. But I know it’s not. If you don’t think established party candidates are working for you, vote them out! Vote for down ballot candidates too, so the pipeline of candidates can stay fresh. Volunteer for candidates and legislation you do believe in. The answer isn’t to disengage, it’s to get involved!
Kate: Quite harmful. If I was on the fence about voter registration or voting, this would make me feel like whatever I would do would just end up being hopeless in the end, so why even bother? Sure, everything is a dumpster fire lately, and it’s exhausting. But if you give up hope, our enemies win.
The Nib’s official twitter account later tweeted Pizarro’s comic with the message, “Voting is important. But so is protesting.” That sentiment is certainly true, but it’s difficult to see how it relates to the comic itself; if the message is that the comic is a protest, then are we, the readers, meant to understand that the author is protesting the act of voting? The comic’s second panel presents the “Classic Democrat” (later revealed to be a buffoon) as someone who is working to promote registration and fight cynicism at the polls.
The thing is, those are both worthy causes. To conflate Classic Democrat’s position as a centrist with registration efforts is to conflate the entire political struggle with hopelessness. The fact remains that those of us in the United States are in a dangerous climate, politically. We’re not out here saying that the system is perfect and good, and we’re not out here saying that you shouldn’t disrupt a corrupt official’s mealtime to make your voice heard. We’re not saying that the barriers to marginalized people voting don’t exist. But not supporting registration efforts as they are isn’t going to help those people.
So, if you can vote, do it. For yourself, and for everyone who can’t.