The Ripple Effect: Vote to keep protesting, keep protesting to vote

By Aishwarya Jayadeep

A presidential candidate accumulates enough loathing that he gets stabbed during a campaign rally. A presidential candidate racks up enough popularity that he leaves the opposition trailing behind him by 15 percent in the first round of voting.

The two candidates are the same man.

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician campaigning for president in Brazil, has managed to divide the country like a knife through butter. In spite of his wildly sexist, racist and homophobic rhetoric and status as a relative outsider to politics, he’s advanced to a runoff against leftist candidate Fernando Haddad. Once prosecuted for hate speech (the charges were later dropped), Bolsonaro embraces a stricter government in the name of security, and has repeatedly praised the military dictatorship the country was once overshadowed by.

In fact, in a statement, Bolsonaro has all but called for the overthrow of a democratic system, saying, “You won’t change anything in this country through voting – nothing, absolutely nothing.”

There is a roundabout danger in sight when a person running for elected office tells the nation that voting is useless. Bolsonaro’s treading a path direct to dictatorship, all but telling the people to vote for him and him alone, and then never vote again.

That being said, Bolsonaro’s pronouncement is also borne of a fear of the opposition and the desire to quash it. Indeed, after the outcry that arose when he succeeded in round one of the election, he backtracked in an attempt to cast doubt on his detractors. Rather than being a dictator, he’s promised, with all the conviction of a pinky-swear, that he will simply be tougher on crime so “Brazilian women feel protected.” From discouraging voting to muffling his opposition, Bolsonaro’s taken a page from a classic handbook.

But many of Brazil’s women knew better than to take such an announcement at face value, considering it came from a man who once declared a woman “too ugly to rape” and wants to repeal extended jail time for femicide. As a result, they’ve taken power into their own hands in the form of the largely woman-led #EleNão and #EleNunca (“#NotHim” and “#NeverHim”) movements.

However, in the face of Bolsonaro’s likely victory, will protests be enough, or does it all come down to the vote? The same question is being asked in the United States, as political outcry simmers its way into a full boil People are weighing the value of kicking up a good fuss against the value of the vote.

There’s a notion that those who attend protests and demonstrations are doing so for show, not actually voting. Or vice-versa — that those who vote do so to look righteous on paper, but don’t take the greater actions needed for change. Both are misconceptions.

According to a Washington Post analysis of several election studies, those who protest are more likely to vote. From voters in the U.K to voters in Chile, those who actively involve themselves in protests — especially young people — have higher rates of turning up at the polls.

On one level, it makes sense. If you spend the time and money to attend protests, possibly risking your own safety in the process, you’re probably invested in the situation at hand. But there is also another layer: the peer pressure of social responsibility. People can run around, telling others to vote with all the urgency of a soothsayer foretelling the explosion of Pompeii, but we’re less inclined to listen if we don’t know them.

It comes down to this: both voting and protesting drag each other, kicking and screaming, to the finish line. The anger and passion of supporting a cause you care about drives you both ways. And both must coexist.

You can watch your friends head to demonstrations and with signs in hand and determination on their faces and wonder what facet of the picture you’re missing, questioning why you aren’t as invested as they are, until you eventually do become invested. And the chain reaction will continue on.

So, yes, vote. But make some noise while you’re at it.