[Another oldie-but-goody from 2003 that I like to re-read every American election year (or as Chaz Bufe called it, "hell").]
It should be a given that voting isn't the be-all and
end-all of democracy. If people think that walking into a
little booth once every year (or every four years) and
poking a few holes in some pieces of paper is the
pinnacle of modern democracy, they are selling
themselves-- and the idea of democracy-- short.
are many avenues for people to act politically, many of
which can be conducive to the practice of democracy.
People can join block clubs, PTAs (Parent-Teacher
Associations), social and economic justice organizations.
They can contribute financially to organizations that
encourage public participation-- League of Women Voters,
NAACP, American Friends Service Committee, United Way,
etc.-- or they can volunteer their time toward that end.
They can directly lobby politicians, protest against or
for policy, do petition campaigns, conduct public
referendums, organize town hall meetings, and so on.
But, for most, voting is enough. That's sad, too,
because it's just so EASY. Democracy, by it's very nature
is very un-easy. It's tough, difficult, grueling,
challenging, contentious, conflictory, and very engaging.
Anyone who shows you a simple solution to a complex
problem like democracy or public governance of a complex
society should immediately be distrusted. Whether a
society's decision making process is formed through
majority rule, proportional representation, utter
dictatorship, or consensus, democracy is always a messy
Voting often hinges upon the selection of the better
of two evils-- two mediocre (or bad) candidates who are
relatively indistinguishable, both rolling in tons of
money and dull rhetoric. Traditionally the “good
guys”, the Democrats have been aping the Republicans
(traditionally the “bad guys”), and have
succeeded in proving that they can be just as reactionary
and draconian and Right-wing-friendly as the Republicans.
They cozy upto corporate power, offer false promises to
unions and working people, approve of any “free
trade” deal that crosses their desks, fall
obediently into line and worship the flag whenever
“the President” of the time pushes the country
Helen Keller once mused, “We vote, what does that
mean?” In the end, probably not much. Especially on
the scale of national elections, there is very little
possibility of any person or even bloc influencing a
presidential candidate. And, of course, since Presidents
are kings that are voted for, it's probably not even
desirable to influence them.
On the other hand, though, voting at local elections
can really make a differences, especially with
citizen-run campaigns to reform corrupt city governments
or to throw reactionaries and fat-cats out of office.
Also, although I cringe to think of the ramifications:
voting is the easiest act of political activity and can
in a small way play a role. It also can be an in-road to
talking to others about more important matters.
For instance, talking about issues instead of
candidates is vital. We have a serious hero worship
fetish in this country, and seem to prop all our hopes
upon one individual or a small group of individuals. In
the process, we forget that we are empowered people! We
can make a difference beyond voting for candidates.
Speaking about issues is the best way to avoid
personality politics. Who gives a shit whose hair is
better (or more real) or who can give the best sound
bite-- where do they stand on the death penalty? Better
yet, where does America really stand on the death
penalty? What can citizens do to remove it from the face
Thus, although it's important not to fetishize voting,
registering to vote can be important: it places people in
jury pools. Presently, pools tend to be composed of
middle- and upper-class voters, who tend to be White.
Since the vast majority of people arrested for crimes in
this country are NOT, it is important that poorer people
and people of color are registered so they can truly be
“peers” and try those arrested. Otherwise,
we'll likely continue in a shameful (and classist and
racist) trajectory that will resemble slave lynchings
more than criminal trials.
Enfranchising non-Whites and the poor is important.
But, it's equally important to re-enfranchise ex-felons
who are trying to reintegrate themselves into society.
They need a voice, and-- as pitiful a voice as voting
offers-- it can be an affirmation for a sizable sector of
the country. Also, a large voting block of cons would
cause politicians to (hopefully) stop all their “law
and order” grandstanding crap.
I believe in a "diversity of tactics" to
challenge and change the current political system. That
means the whole spectrum of easy/less-meaningful (voting)
to the harder/more-meaningful (movement building) are
important and should be supported. I'm not goin g to
criticize anyone who does either of these things or
anything in the middle. It takes all kinds of resistance
to bring powerful institutions to their knees and we have
to appreciate this reality.
Even though I will continue to vote in elections, I
believe the whole thing to be a massive racket of
distraction. I see the energy being sapped by the
anti-war movement into the campaigns for Democratic
“hopefuls” Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinch. Do
these individuals really stand a chance of winning? Even
if they were to be nominated and win the presidency, they
would still face the overpowering institutions of the
Pentagon, Defense Department, Armed Forces, defense
contractors, and capitalism itself. They'd be lucky if
they weren't assassinated within their first month in
office. But, a strong anti-war movement could change the
tenor of the country, force the power-elite into
The rivers of money that flow, unseen through polling
places and the halls of Washington, D.C. lead me to one
sure-fire long-term goal. Direct action and non-electoral
organizing. I won't discard voting, but I won't trust it
as my savior-- because it isn't. Using the tactics of
subversion, civil disobedience, intervention, economic
action, and insurrection are more useful and fulfilling.
So many opportunities to make a difference and become
empowered depend on people believing that democracy is a
hard game to play... and no one should play it for you.
We need to divorce ourselves from the notion of easy,
quick-fix solutions and realize that change has to start