I love voting. Every time I go to my polling place, I hold my ballot like a newborn. The only mark or creases I want to make are the dark black circles I fill in next to my candidate’s names; any other blemish on the page feels like sacrilege.
I don’t like the long lines that spill out of my voting place, because I think it’s a sign that our system is broken and designed to keep out people who don’t have the means to wait around for hours. But even my wokeish cynicism cannot quell the earnest camaraderie I feel standing alongside my neighbors, our phones fully charged for this moment, scrolling through memes or sending work emails until we’re allowed that moment inside the ballot box.
When we step inside those thin, fraying curtains, we’re reminded why we took the trouble after all.
That lump in my throat, feeling the presence of my immigrant ancestors—it is not the kind of emotion you can distill down to a T-shirt slogan. And yet, as with most elections, this will not stop brands from selling those four letters: “VOTE.”
There are Stuart Weitzman’s $700 “5050 Vote Boots,” which got a boost when Dr. Jill Biden wore her pair to cast an early vote in Delaware this week. Michelle Obama fans besieged jewelry designer Chari Cuthbert with orders for the gold charm VOTE necklace the former first lady had on during her DNC speech. In an Instagram post, Oprah promoted—you guessed it—voting in a Tory Burch T-shirt.
Anthropologie sells VOTE dish towels, traveler mugs, pencils, and puzzles. If you have $85 and think that “Voting is très chic,” then I have great news for you: Cinq à Sept put that on a top.
Christian Siriano wants you to VOTE so much that he made the word into a pattern and used it as a motif on gowns and boater hats for his spring 2021 collection.
This week I ran out of avocados, so I went to the grocery store. I came back with two tote bags full of food—but forgot to buy avocados. If only I had seen a woman in Stuart Weitzman boots that said “AVOCADOS!” It would have been a nice reminder.
Voting in 2020 does not work like that. Casting my ballot during the most important election of my life is not going to just slip my mind. I do not need the sight of anyone in overpriced merch to jog my memory.
I remember to VOTE every time I put on a face mask to go outside, something I still need to do six months into a crisis that didn’t have to get this bad. I remember to VOTE when I see a member of the NYPD smugly refusing to wear his.
I remember to VOTE when I think about the people in Oregon who had houses just a few weeks ago but will return to piles of wreckage after fleeing from wildfires. I remember to VOTE every single time I look at my phone and wonder what searing pile of shit an Apple news notification is about to dump on my life.
The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week amplified this urgency. Less than an hour after I heard the news, my group chat of college girlfriends blew up with texts asking, “Should we all get IUDs now, just in case?”
With each new message, I felt my chest tighten. That acute, tingling fear spurred more motivation in me to get to the polls than a whole landfill of disgarded VOTE T-shirts—where those tops probably end after Nov. 3—ever will.
Who is VOTE merchandise for? What does it accomplish, other than make the person who buys it feel like an activist? Perhaps the point is to brand our civic duty as something fashionable, an attempt to reel in those who have grown skeptical about our deeply flawed electoral process.
But if someone is so disenfranchised to consider sitting out this election, I doubt they are that jazzed about capitalism to be swayed by a cashmere sweater, even if it is quite cute. Sorry, Michael Kors.
And who is going to tell Team VOTE it’s not that easy to grab your beaded logo bag and cast your ballot? Anyone who rushes to become a walking advertisement for our democracy ignores the fact that a heck of a lot of Americans are excluded from this treasured constitutional right.
This year, like all years, registration restrictions, ID laws, voter roll purges, and attacks on the Postal Service will disempower many citizens. Certain states ban former felons from voting for the rest of their lives. But hey, at least they can buy these $24 striped Voter socks.
Reducing 2020 to four capitalized letters disregards all that’s at stake. But there is one good piece of VOTE swag: the sticker you get after doing the deed. Wear it with pride.