Election Day is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 8, and there’s a lot on the line in this cycle. In addition to neck-and-neck gubernatorial races and contests that could determine control of the United States Senate, in some states, voters will decide on abortion, minimum wage, and whether candidates who denied the results of the 2020 presidential race can oversee future elections, among other critical issues.
We asked artists in some of this midterm’s most consequential states to share their thoughts, and they came back with the most urgent concerns driving them to the ballots — from reproductive freedom to climate change — as well as their proud “I voted” selfies, poignant artworks, personal reflections on the ways in which democracy is at risk, and optimistic takes on the many hopeful possibilities this Election Day holds.
“Issues as pressing as bodily autonomy and the fate of our planet are on the ballot,” said Samantha Mack, an artist based in Savannah. “It’s easy to become desensitized or discouraged, but voting is still a chance we have to turn the tide. A vote isn’t just about one voice — casting a ballot affects us all, especially with what’s at stake in this election.”
In Georgia, 14 US congressional seats and one of two Senate seats for the state are up for election. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock is facing off against challenger Herschel Walker, a Republican, in Georgia’s Senate race, and Republican Governor Brian Kemp is going against Democrat Stacey Abrams.
“It is great to see a record number of voters taking interest and having access to early voting,” said Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey. “With that being said, it in no way speaks to the recent election laws truly addressing issues of voter suppression and redistricting that have and continue to deny our state the ability to accurately represent constituents.”
“Reproductive rights, workers rights, environment, more funding for the arts — nothing can be done if Georgians continue to lose access to the ballot box,” painter Sharon Johnson agreed.
Mario Petrirena, a Cuban-American multimedia artist also based in Atlanta, echoed the sentiment that individual issues are threatened by larger forms of oppression. “Intolerance, education, healthcare, choice, inflation, finance reform, voting; these are all issues that concern me, but none as much as the attacks on our democracy, the lies, the lack of leadership. We take too much for granted in our country.”
Petrirena signed off with a single imperative: “Vote!”
Las Vegas-based artist Wendy Kveck says the race for Secretary of State (the chief elections official) in Nevada is particularly important to her. Republican nominee Jim Marchant, who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election, is running for the seat against Democrat Cisco Aguilar.
“Making sure that election deniers are not elected to office this Midterm election is crucial to the preservation of our democratic process and the peaceful transition of power in future elections,” Kveck said. The artist also drew attention to the Equal Rights Amendment on the state’s ballot, which guarantees equal rights regardless of “race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry, or national origin.”
In two close races, incumbent Democrat Steve Sisolak will face off against Republican Joe Lombardo for Nevada Governor, and incumbent Democratic US Senator Catherine Cortez Masto will go against Republican Adam Laxalt. Raising the minimum wage is also on the ballot.
“It’s such an important election on so many levels,” Kveck said. “In Nevada we have close gubernatorial, Senate and House races determining who will legislate and create budgets and make judicial appointments after we saw the overturning of Roe v. Wade this year.”
“The most critical issue, from my perspective, is the devolution of democracy,” said artist Beth Lipman, who lives in Sheboygan Falls. Wisconsin’s most crucial races are for the US Senate (Democrat Mandela Barnes is running against incumbent Republican Ron Johnson) and the governorship (incumbent Democrat Tony Evers is up against Republican Tim Michels).
“The second most critical issue from my perspective is women’s health care,” Lipman added. “Wisconsin is now operating under an 1849 law that criminalizes abortion. That being said, no issue will be addressed if democracy falls.”
Niki Johnson, an artist and activist based in Milwaukee, reiterated Lipman’s concerns over abortion access and gerrymandering in the state. “Wisconsin is one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the nation,” Johnson said. “Our conservative state legislature does not and has not reflected the will of the majority of voters in this state for years.” Johnson added the conservative legislature has made it impossible for incumbent Governor Tony Evers to accomplish his agenda, including providing abortion access.
“The only way to fix our legislature is to redraw fair maps, and the only way to do that is through Wisconsin courts. Right now there is a 4 to 3 conservative to liberal split in the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Johnson continued. “One of the conservative justices is stepping down, and the fate of our judicial system will be decided in February 2023.”
“My primary concern in this election is the loss of our rights in the United States, from our body autonomy as women to the increasing roadblocks to voting,” said Sama Alshaibi, a conceptual artist who lives in Tuscon. Alshaibi is voting for a straight Democratic ticket, meaning incumbent US Senator Mark Kelly will earn her vote over Republican Blake Masters and Democrat Katie Hobbs will gain a vote over Republican Kari Lake.
Alshaibi says she will also cast a ballot for Democrat Adrian Fontes for Secretary of State of Arizona. Fontes’s opponent is Republican Mark Finchem, another candidate who has denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.
“As an immigrant from a part of the world where women’s rights are in the hands of men and voting is rare and dangerous, I am alarmed at how the US is trending in that direction,” added Alshaibi, who was born in Iraq. “We are flirting with an autocratic system where women’s rights are violated, schools are plundered for political points, and our earth is on the brink of ecological catastrophe. What do the Republicans offer but fear-mongering and blaming the poor?”
Amber Doe, who also lives in Tuscon, listed reproductive rights, climate change, affordable housing, and a living wage as the most important issues to her this election: “As a single parent, I am incredibly concerned about the quality of life my daughter will be able to experience. Many of these issues are literally life and death.”
“Among many others, one important issue for me is abortion,” said Nayda Collazo-Llorens of Kalamazoo. In Michigan, abortion is quite literally on the ballot this year: The state’s Proposal 3 would grant all Michigan citizens the right to reproductive freedom despite the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this year.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is running against Trump-endorsed Tudor Dixon, who has taken a firmly anti-abortion stance.
“If Proposal 3 doesn’t pass, the state could revert to the 1931 anti-abortion law that bans abortions in almost every case,” Collazo-Llorens added.
“I have witnessed Ohio transform from political bellwether to a solidly red state,” said April Sunami, an artist from Columbus. “Of course that is thanks to sketchy gerrymandering and also the fact is Ohio’s exurb and rural areas are populous and right-leaning.”
In Ohio, voters will elect a new senator and three seats for the State Supreme Court, among others. The race to replace retiring GOP Senator Rob Portman, between Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance, could help determine party control of the Senate.
“As a progressive voter living in an urban center, I care about telling the truth, Black liberation, access to safe abortions, LGBTQIA rights, access to jobs, healthcare and opportunities for low-income communities, and serious progress on tackling the climate crisis,” Sunami said.
“I’m nervous about how this midterm election threatens advancement on these issues,” she added. “On the other hand I’m always optimistic that artists are always going to be on the front lines fighting against injustice.”
“Everything is on the ballot this year in Texas: women’s health and reproductive rights, gun control and our children’s safety in school, the curriculum in our public schools, LGBTQ+ rights,” said Jenelle Esparza, an interdisciplinary artist who was born in the coastal city of Corpus Christi and now lives in San Antonio. “These aren’t just issues on a ballot, they’re issues that affect our lives. For decades Texans have suffered the consequences of having Republicans rule the state and we are sick of it. This election feels pivotal because there is a real challenge to that oppressive Republican rule.”
At the top of the ticket, the defining contest in Texas is the gubernatorial race between Democrat Beto O’Rourke and Republican incumbent Greg Abbott. O’Rourke has garnered significant support from the cultural community, which has organized rallies, benefit auctions, and fundraisers for the candidate.
“As a mother of school-aged children and resident of a city responsible for and horribly affected by climate change, the future looms large,” said Julia Barbosa Landois, a performance and installation artist based in Houston, citing school funding and safety, healthcare, gun violence prevention, and environmental justice.
Statewide seats for lieutenant governor and attorney general are also up for election, as are congressional districts and legislative offices.
“Texas is in desperate need of a seachange — the hypocrisy is just maddening,” echoed Ariane Roesch, an artist in Houston. “I’m not sure what is ‘pro-life’ about allowing ordinary citizens to arm themselves without needing a license/permit and be able to carry a weapon just about anywhere. The extreme abortion laws that recently went into effect don’t really read pro-life either because without adequate support what kind of life can these children really look forward to, not to mention the mothers.”
Along with Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona, the state of Pennsylvania is critical to the fight for the Senate. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a Democrat, is facing off against Republican Mehmet Oz — yes, that’s Dr. Oz, the celebrity TV doctor, who has downplayed the climate emergency and denied the Armenian Genocide, among other disagreeable stances.
For landscape painter Saskia Fleishman, based in Philadelphia, the issue of climate change is a personal one. “My grandfather was a wetland scientist who rebuilt many wetlands on the Chesapeake Bay that had been devastated by pollution and rising water levels,” Fleishman said. “There are many ways to combat climate change with clean energy in Pennsylvania while creating more jobs and I hope our government can support this.”
Artist Jamie Earnest, who was raised in Alabama and now lives in Pittsburgh, is especially concerned about what he calls “the spectacle of celebrity candidates.”
“Pushing an ‘us vs. them’ strategy is dangerous, especially when voters choose to stay silent amidst division to ‘keep the peace’ within their social circles,” Earnest said. “Now is the time to speak up for those whose rights are at stake this election cycle — women and healthcare, the LGBTQ+ community, and those who have been ‘otherized’ socially and economically — everyone has someone they love in these communities, please do not stay silent.”
New York is typically considered a stronghold for the Democratic party — but that could change if Republican Lee Zeldin beats Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, who is seeking her first full term in office after Andrew Cuomo stepped down 14 months ago. And according to polls, the race appears closer and closer.
Artist Gaby Collins-Fernández says Zeldin taking office would represent “a disaster for reproductive rights, action on climate change, trying to maintain a democracy, and trying to treat people with dignity and equal rights.”
“On top of all of this, Lee Zeldin is running on a platform which is also homophobic and would overturn criminal justice reform efforts made since the 2020 uprisings,” Collins-Fernández continued. “Kathy Hochul isn’t an inspirational political figure to me, but I hate the cult of personality around politicians anyway — voting is a civic duty, not a tool for personal emotional validation.” She adds that local races in New York City are also worth turning out for, as well as four ballot proposals focused on environmental and racial justice.
And if all that doesn’t convince you to head to the ballots tomorrow, maybe these words from Brooklyn-based artist Angela Dufresne will: “If you don’t vote in this election and every election as long as this ‘democracy’ still exists you relinquish your right to ever complain about anything ever again, meaning you’re a fucking idiot. Meaning the hard work of every feminist and civil rights activist ever was for naught — you are willfully throwing your agency in the garbage.”
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