Kartik Amarnath will not be voting for president this year. “I have difficulty choosing between a candidate with a record of corrupt business practices and violent rhetoric or a candidate with a record of corrupt political maneuvering and violent action.”
Amarnath is a 25-year old “Third Culture Kid” from Indianapolis currently living in New York. His father is a Sri Lankan Tamil and his mother is Indo-Malaysian. Though he was born in Indianapolis, he grew up in Seoul, The Hague and New Delhi. He also spent time living in his mother’s childhood neighborhood, Brickfields, the oldest in Kuala Lumpur, while researching the impacts of gentrification on the community.
Kartik’s story is part of a series of profiles of young immigrants from across the U.S discussing their perspectives on the 2016 election.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Why are you not voting this election?
We are in 2016, I am a Muslim-looking man from Indiana. I love a woman who is black from New York. We are both first-generation Americans. Here we are with two real choices. The first one runs on a platform advocating that the real problem in this country is we don’t hate people enough — specifically people who look like me and my partner. On the other side we have someone with a track record of bombing people who look like me and was an advocate for tough-on-crime policies that destroyed families and communities of people who look like my partner in order to placate a southern white voting base. In my opinion, if you vote for the former, you will have blood on your hands. If you vote for the latter, you already do.
And that is not to say I have any sense of equivalence between the two. Hillary is clearly the better stateswoman, far more qualified, actually sane, etc. But she is qualified for a job that is inherently violent. That isn’t encouraging. The violent rhetoric coming from the Right is being carried out by the Left. Obama has deported more people than any president before, including Bush. We have normalized a culture of violence to a serious breaking point.
Did you vote for Obama last election?
I didn’t vote for Obama. I wasn’t old enough in 2008 and in 2012 I chose not to.
As far as third party goes, I admire many of the things Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka advocate for. But the Green Party also has many internal problems, especially related to race and gender. And just because Baraka and Stein might have good ideas it doesn’t mean much as far as being effective. Real change in a democratic society happens through other pathways.
The architects of our public education system – given all of their serious flaws – articulated a philosophy of education that I appreciate. It is to foster holistic and civically-minded citizens so that democracy can be continually fought for outside of elections. But the education we get is not a political education.
We don’t learn about institutions, organizing, philosophy, the state, ethics, how to create change. If people had a proper political education then we would be aware of the fact that voting for politicians is one of the least meaningful political acts you can do. Our political culture is one that puts so much value on voting but doesn’t engage with politics beyond elections and representative government.
Democracy is also people taking empty lots and creating community farms. It is cooperative enterprises, participatory budgeting, immigrant lending circles, protesters in the streets shifting public dialogue. That is how new systems are created to empower us, people doing the work every day, not selecting another political figure every four years through an exclusionary voting process.
What’s your response to the argument that now is not the time for a protest vote? That Trump is too dangerous?
I’ll assume based by the wording of the question that I should be morally committed to stopping Trump, which we automatically associate with voting for Clinton. People always talk about how not voting for Clinton is taking a privileged position, and that Trump is too much of a threat. This election is unprecedented.
My decision not to vote isn’t to make a protest statement, I am not Bernie or Bust, I am not Never Trump. It is simply because as someone who has loved ones at the forefront of the brutality born from the American political machine, I possess a conscience that will not allow me to decipher who is the lesser of two evils.
I don’t know why elections here always amount to some utilitarian plus or minus chart where we’re supposed to choose our leaders based on who will bring ‘lesser harm’. The brutality we see can’t be quantified. In my opinion thinking in terms of “lesser evil” is a privileged position.
Would things be different if you were in a swing state?
Based on how things are going, Indiana could very well be a swing state, which is interesting in its own way. But again, for the most vulnerable in this country and the world, there is no positive outcome from this election. Positive outcomes will be achievable through organizing, solidarity, and social movements. That’s always how change happens, regardless of who our leaders are. Trump is scary, but the inability of Democratic leadership to provide a viable alternative political space for white disenchanted people is what has created Trump.
Voting is important, but we are taught that it is the most important way we exercise our political agency in a ‘democratic’ society. I’d rather commit to the work of democratizing our lives beyond elections and into the realm of daily life. Organizing, direct action, political education, and the daily work of solidarity are our weapons.
Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation an anonymous donor and readers like you.