Last Thursday, Women’s March organized a mass protest at the Hart Senate Office Building against the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. Hundreds of women screamed “Abolish ICE!” and “Where are the kids?” on the floor of the cavernous building. Although Senators such as Tammy Duckworth and Kirsten Gillibrand talked with the protestors and expressed their support, 575 of them were arrested by Capitol Police and charged a $50.00 fine for unlawful demonstration. However, chances are you have only heard about one of the arrestees: actress and sometime-but-not-really liberal Susan Sarandon.
Yes, Susan Sarandon, who said Donald Trump would “bring the revolution,” who yelled at United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta for not supporting Bernie Sanders, who refused to vote for the first female nominee of either major party because she doesn’t “vote with her vagina,” and who doesn’t consider herself a feminist, now wants a voice in the ongoing, female-led protests against Donald Trump. Amidst the ongoing debate about “civility,” some have argued that we have to stop attacking her for this behavior. We shouldn’t.
I’m going to start blocking people who are still dragging Susan Sarandon. What she stood for during the campaign is literally what every one of my leftie friends in Europe stands for. It’s only absurd to be against ALL corruption and pro human dignity for ALL people in the US
— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) July 1, 2018
Attacking Susan Sarandon isn’t about attacking one specific person in general – and to be fair, there are many who acted the way she did in 2016 but receive far less criticism for it (Viggo Mortensen being one of the more notable celebrities to vote for Stein.) It’s about a broader idea that I call electoral privilege – the idea that because something doesn’t matter to you, or doesn’t live up to your ideals 100%, you can abnegate your civic duties as a voter. The self-justification for this theory goes something like this: “If I am X and I live in Y, then it doesn’t matter who I vote for so you can’t criticize me for it.” It’s a self-defeating prophecy that helps no one and nothing, and it’s something we must call out when we see it.
For the record, I am not attacking Sarandon because she supported Bernie Sanders. You can support whomever you want in a primary – that’s the point of primaries. The vast majority of Sanders supporters I know are not living examples of horseshoe theory: they’re good people who just happen to lean more left than I do. Despite the “Dems in Disarray” narrative that the mainstream media loves, Democrats have done a fine job these past two years nominating and running candidates who represent a broad range of ideas, including blue dogs and moderates like Doug Jones and Ralph Northam, liberals like Ben Jealous, and socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Our party has room for all, and despite our infighting, both sides want to bring this disastrous era of in our country’s history to a close. However, there’s still a very small but vocal group of ostensible Sanders supporters who live to sow discord on the left whenever they get the chance, and many of them, Sarandon included, engaged in electoral privilege in 2016 and may do so again in elections to come.
Republicans engage in electoral privilege too, although their version of it is a little different than left-wing, third-party voters. Like Sarandon, they have wealth and privilege in mind when they go into the voting booth, but they are too steeped in far-right propaganda and/or 1% financial brackets to see outside of their bubble. Republicans are whiter than Democrats, live in more homogeneous communities, and don’t have the same exposure to diversity in terms of demographics and ideas that liberal city-dwellers have (most of us at least.) They don’t know better: third-party voters should know better.
Susan Sarandon resides in New York City, the largest city in the United States, and one where half the population identifies as POC. She also works in the entertainment industry, which, despite still having a ways to go in terms of diversity and equal representation, is at least taking long-needed steps towards fixing the problem. Both of these things should have exposed her to people and views unlike her own, but it does not seem to have worked, as she valued her own beliefs instead of others’ when it counted most.
Given that she lives in New York, her supporters use the all-too-familiar dodge of “her Jill Stein vote didn’t matter here because it’s a blue state!,” something third-party voters say in their own defense as well. But by turning the argument towards the electoral college – a system which only exists due to the oppression of people of color – they’re ignoring the electoral privilege that voters like Sarandon, who cast her ballot in New York, possess. Most Americans do not have the luxury of voting in places where their third-party votes won’t matter towards the overall total, and in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, third party voters did a great deal of damage by tilting the election to Trump.
Electoral privilege also runs counter to what any fair-minded white, wealthy person should ask themselves when they cast a ballot. Not only is the Democratic Party one of only two parties in this country that can win and govern effectively, they are also the only major party that protects the rights of women, POC, and LGBTQIAs. As someone whose race, gender, and sexual orientation protects them from the worst Republican policies, I vote for Democrats because I want people unlike myself to have federal and state protections that allow them to prosper and thrive. Exercising electoral privilege is a way of stating that you don’t care about the outcome because it won’t change your day-to-day life. You may believe in everything that Democrats want, and you may identify as someone other than a straight white man, but when you cast your vote for anyone other than the Democratic Party you undermine your beliefs by selling everybody short.
Sarandon does not understand how her actions in 2016 told people throughout the United States that she did not hold their best interests at heart. All she would have to do to win over skeptics like myself is apologize and all would be forgiven. I welcome the voices of those who have done wrong and want to reform, and I know Stein voters who have done just that. That does not insulate them from criticism, but it does show self-knowledge and the desire to do better. Sarandon, who will probably never apologize, comes across as someone more obsessed with her self-created image as a left-winger than a sincere advocate for the cause. And while her electoral privilege may protect her from the Trump Administration’s policies, it shouldn’t protect her from her critics.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.