And yes, even now, third party candidates matter.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been a bit swept up into the Obamania as of late. And you know what? Why the hell not? Conservatives like to mock and sneer at the enthusiasm that people have for Obama like a high school bully snickers and jeers at anything too earnest (and yet they cheerlead unabashedly for their #1 Crush, Sarah Palin). But liberals can fall into that cooler-than-thou bullshit, too: picture a self-conscious hipster who wrinkles their nose at gross displays of genuineness. I don’t claim to be immune; I’ve certainly been cynical and suspicious of the hype. But not right now. I think people in this country, especially people of color, really need this kind of hope, this kind of inspiration, this positive energy. I gotta say, it’s a great feeling to walk down the street in True Blue Brooklyn and look people in the eye and smile and feel that simple, basic sense of alliance with so many more people than usual, despite the differences, conflicts, and barriers that will still be there between us come November 5. Barack Obama may be solidly entrenched in the limited two-party system, but if he can do this for us, then hell, more power to him.

However: that doesn’t mean that now it’s all right to forget about third party candidates. Latoya Peterson gives us an excellent reminder of that over at Racialicious, asking “What’s the Deal with the Green Party?” and answering her own question with a thorough and much-needed look at the remarkable McKinney/Clemente ticket. Peterson ends with this message to voters and non-voters:

If you aren’t satisfied with your voting choices, then you need to advocate for more choices. You need to support candidates you believe in on a write in basis, or even consider running for political office yourself. But not voting should NEVER be an option. Even if you hate everyone on the board, you need to take yourself to the ballot box and vote. People died for your right to exercise this type of direct say in government. So have your say.

If you are voting for Obama, advocate your fucking hearts out today. I just told everyone on my Facebook page that if they didn’t vote, I was disowning them – and I mean that. I’m checking my friends for that “I Voted” sticker. It’s that serious to me.

If you’re voting for McCain, do your thing as well. Obviously, I don’t support your choice, but I respect that it’s your choice to make.

If you are voting for McKinney/Clemente, do not let anyone say that you are throwing your vote away. You are not. If Obama loses this election, it will not be because of who chose to vote for the Green Party – it will be because of those who voted for McCain – or worse, those who chose to stay home.

And if you are even considering staying home on election day, how about this – perform a random act of kindness and vote Green Party. Or Nader. Or other independents. If you hate the two-party system that much, help those who seek to dismantle it.

But apathy is not an option in this election.

On the one hand, I really appreciate what Peterson has to say here, especially about voting for McKinney and Clemente. Though I have chosen to vote for Obama despite living in an extremely safe space and will be proud to pull that lever, I can’t help from feeling a little pang of regret that I won’t be able to voice my support for McKinney, Clemente, and third-party candidates in general in the polling booth. (Oh, how I look forward to instant runoff voting!) I’ll be glad for everyone who will be casting their votes for the Green Party ticket and am really hoping that a decisive Obama victory will mean we won’t hear any of that “third parties = spoilers” bullshit this time around.

But Peterson’s assertion that “not voting should NEVER be an option” doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think that non-voting always equates with apathy. Apathy means not giving a damn, but for many people, not voting is an intentional, thoughtful, deliberate act on the part of people who think that it is more harmful to validate an intrinsically corrupt system by voting than to possibly make a win easier for the greater of two evils by not voting. To me, acknowledging the validity that not voting for a good reason is a necessary corollary to acknowledging the validity of choosing a third party candidate despite a real need to vote an abusive, oppressive regime out of office.

kati brings this up in the comments of the Racialicious post:

What if you’re anti-statist and anti-hierarchy and do not see electoral politics as an avenue for real change? Anarchists are cowards now?

As someone with both familiarity and kinship with the Anarchist People of Color movement, I know that the answer is that anarchists are neither cowardly nor apathetic by virtue of their political beliefs; rather, they are often brave and passionate enough to challenge a system that they view as flawed at the base in ways that make most of us a little nervous. You catch a lot of flack when you go up against a status quo that has truly come to be accepted as permanent, relatively unchangeable and certainly unable of being dismantled entirely. And though there are enough points on which I differ with the anarchist movements that I’ve encountered to cause me to not use the label for myself, I’m also wary of eliminating active disengagement from the system as a politically valid option. The American political system in all of its glaring imperfection can certainly not be seen as the only way or the most important way to affect social change and justice in our society, and I don’t think it needs to be seen as an indispensable tool, either. Yeah, sometimes it’s the best tool we’ve got, but if we can figure out ways to avoid using a broken tool that hurts us when we use it more often than not, I’m all for that, too.

Cross-posted at Feministe