I'll get straight to the point: I've seen several examples here lately of people explicitly advocating that we not vote in contested elections unless there is a progressive champion such as Elizabeth Warren on the ticket. I find this self-defeating and infuriating.
The Senate election in Minnesota in 2008 was decided by 300 votes. The Senate election in Virginia in 2006 was decided by less than 10,000. And yeah, Jim Webb was a bit of a blue dog. But if either of those elections had gone the other way, there would be no Affordable Care Act. That's the truth. It passed with EXACTLY as many votes as it needed in the Senate. So for the 10+ million people who now have health insurance, and for those others who now have better health insurance... voting matters.
In 2006, the House and Senate, controlled by Democrats, increased the minimum wage. And in 2014, Democrats across the country, even the blue dog types, are running on a larger increase. So for those minimum wage workers out there... voting matters.
The Bush tax cuts, in 2003, tore a gigantic hole in the budget and accelerated the trend towards increasing economic inequality. They passed the Senate because Dick Cheney broke the tie. If we'd won just one more race - say the Coleman/Mondale one in Minnesota - they wouldn't have passed. So if you're concerned about income inequality.... voting matters.
Citizens United was decided 5 to 4, the wrong way. That's one vote on the Supreme Court. And if we'd managed to elect John Kerry in 2004, the outcome would have been different. So: if you're concerned about campaign finance reform... voting matters.
The affirmative action cases are 5 to 4 on the Supreme Court, the wrong way (today's was a slightly different matter). So if you're concerned about equal opportunity... voting matters.
Roe v. Wade, right now, is 5 to 4 on the Supreme Court. So if you're a woman who needs an abortion, especially one who lives in a red state - or if you are someone who believes that women should have that choice - voting matters.
The DOMA cases were 5 to 4 on the Supreme Court. So if you're concerned about LGBTQ rights... voting matters.
Throughout the country, Republicans are trying to make sure people can't vote. Democrats, by and large, are fighting back. So if you want to make sure that people can vote in the future.... voting matters.
Look, I get the cynicism. I really do. We've got to fix the out-of-control growth in income inequality. And I understand and sympathize with those who are looking for alternative ways to create change through activism; as long as those methods are nonviolent, I wish them luck. It's completely fair to say that we can't create all the change we want by thinking only about electoral politics, and that one should think about volunteering or activism in addition to voting.
But discouraging people from voting is actively counterproductive.