Nov 7, 2006

Thoughts on the vote and why some do or don't do it

Alright, every politico has heard the line, "If voting changed anything it would be illegal". I won’t bore with more stale rhetoric trying to justify the quote. Instead I’ll put this forward: there are a lot of people who DO vote because they want change. They get involved in campaigns or they get in conversations at work or in the union or in their schools or at home, they want to be involved so they vote. They might flier or they put up signs in their yards or they might even have an informational event at their homes.

People, on varying levels, are concerned about the future of themselves, their families and the life of their communities. They want to see things done about: schools that are overcrowded and under-funded; what they will do in the future because their major town employer is closing up shop and moving overseas to take advantage of the heavier exploited labor pool; how their going to keep well when their healthcare coverage is inadequate or simply non-existent; trying to hold back the continued downward slide of the disparities between people don’t have much and people who have more than enough; not wanting to see increased border militarization; an end to the war and occupation of Iraq… You get the picture. These are real issues weighing heavily on peoples minds. And many people still think “democracy”, and making moves on what they most are concerned with, comes through casting their vote. I think this is understandable.

I say understandable because there are few examples of contemporary U.S. non-electoral organizing movements that can demonstrate the ability to force a win in their demands (large and small) on an independent political basis (or, even if they don’t win, people continue to see the potentials in their own activity). Even when there are organizing drives that are based within the grassroots, to often they are not participatory and allowing for maximum input and formulation of direction from the base – unions are notorious for this line of action where goals and strategy are set by the leadership and the base is asked to ratify without having full discussion and debate of the issues at hand. So, all of us being accustomed to this top-down format often see the ballot as a way to have a say - small, but a say nonetheless.

Many anarchists point towards low voter turnouts as an indicator of people’s anger or alienation from the “system”. While many don’t vote, more often it has less to do with a conscious rejection of the system as it has to do with apathy. Yes, I know that there is a slice of the populace who are active/action oriented in various ways and abstain from voting (I’m one of them), but for a good many who don’t vote, unfortunately, they are not likely to be found working within collective projects: sorry, but apathy is not a coherent expression of anti-system politics - it is more cynicism and despair often coupled with the notions of, “I have to concern myself with my own happiness and getting what I need – so FTW and all those schemes of trying to right the wrongs, because nothing is going to change.”, or something to this effect.

But the apathetic are understandable, too. They see anti-system politics, challenging the authority, and ideas of fundamental rearrangement of society as pie in the sky utopianism. Those who do know history see movements having come and gone and people having their lives lost or wasted for ideas. They say the dreamers, organizers and rebels fought the good fight, but where did it get them other than in trouble or dead. And in the end things still look bad if not worse. So why waste precious moments trying to change things that arent ever going to change? The politics of dog-eat-dog individualism overrides the politics collectivism. But once again, this is all understandable although unfortunate.

Until, movements arise that demonstrate the need and ability to move beyond the ballot, breaking with the system and it’s values, then many will continue to participate in the voting process.

Until, situations unfold creating space in which individuals re-evaluate their relationship with society and through a personal evaluation come to participate in projects with a vision for collective action, then political apathy and the capitalist mentality of competition and pursued personal satisfaction will remain.

So in the mean time, what? Aiding in the erosion of public trust in governemt and beauracrats while simultaneously working to build autonomus networks in neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. We need to be building cultural institutions that promote working class pride while antagonistic to authority and their representatives. We need to popularize emerging struggles and connect them with struggles in other regions and locales if and when possible. We must continuously push for the greatest reforms by forcing concessions from the State, while never relying on reforms as an end. Never allowing the rules of the system to define our objectives or strategy… and, while not berating those who do vote, always expressing why the vote will never get us in a position of having a real say and control over our lives.

And with that said, a few closing words from the band Chumbawamba's album, Never Mind The Ballots:

Here's To The Rest Of Your Life
Why settle for what we're shown, When there is so much more
Sometimes the book of law is only half the story
The choice seems obvious, There is no choice
Only the option of looking outside
This narrow definition of what you see is all there will ever be
There comes a time--that time is now when every second, every day when every action, every thought will tell the world how you cast your vote

They break our legs, And we say thank you when they offer us crutches
They break our legs, And we say thank you when they offer us crutches

Tired of mild reform, Sick of hand-me-downs
We topple all the theories to the ground
All real change must come from below
Our bosses must live in fear of the factory floor

And when they smile and they ask for my support
I'll give them these words and a bloody nose
You don't help your enemy when you're at war!

There are moments in all of our lives:
Tiny sparks still deep inside
When a new-born baby cries
When you're watching clouds in a summer sky
The first time you walked out on strike
Love and sex and holding tight
Things that can't be bought by promises and votes

I hate the straight-jacket schools I grew up in
I hate MPs, judges, and magistrates
I hate being taught to base my life on TV stars
I hate being kept waiting by bureaucrats
I hate wars, and all the people who love them
I hate the idea of living on other people's backs
I hate being filed and registered and classified
I hate being watched and monitored
I hate police
I hate the way you talk down at me
I hate being told what to do
I hate you when you don't listen
I hate the way you distort my sexuality with pornography
I hate the pain we inflict on each other, on animals, and on the earth
And I hate how love songs have become cliches Through endless, shallow repetition

Each angry word, Every cynical put-down, Every song is carefully born from a hope of something better to come
Dreams make the plans to change this world not just some future heaven
But today and every day
In our place of work, In the queue for the metro bus
Organize!Here's the rest of our lives!