Saturday, September 13, 2008

 

To Vote or Not to Vote

I can't decide whether to stay away from the polls altogether this year or to go and deliberately spoil my ballot.

Politicians see voting as a means of granting legitimacy to the government, which is one good reason to stay away completely although the facts undermining government's legitimacy are conveniently brushed aside. In the 2004 presidential election more eligible voters (39.1%) stayed away from the polls than voted for either Kerry (29.4%) or Bush (30.9%). In 2006, more eligible voters (58.7%) stayed away from the polls than voted. As a political scientist, I know that while pundits often like to spin low voter turnout as a sign of contentment or apathy there is good evidence to suggest low US voter turnout is a sign that people realize the system is corrupt and they don't have a meaningful choice.

Below are two critical essays from the 2004 election and some links on voting. The massrefusal and dontjustvote links with the two essays are both dead and so I have linked to the archived versions of those sites.
Announcing: A New Call For Mass Refusal
Take The Pledge--Don't Vote For President!
http://massrefusal.org/
July 30, 2004

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS 2004
A CALL FOR MASS REFUSAL
December 23, 2003

from New Democracy http://www.newdemocracyworld.org/index.htm

Our government sent 160,000 troops to invade and occupy Iraq in a war based on lies. The Democratic Party and the media have been fully complicit in this criminal aggression. Meanwhile the government makes war on working-class Americans. It gives tax cuts to the wealthy, attacks pensions and health care, and ships jobs overseas.

This war exposes the huge chasm between our system and real democracy. In a real democracy, people would be truthfully informed, not systematically lied to, by their government. We would be encouraged to debate peace and war fully. Our young people would not be sent to murder other innocent people in the name of "liberating" them.

We live in a fake democracy, a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

Now the rulers are using the 2004 presidential campaign to keep us from seriously questioning the system from which have sprung this and countless other wars and social wrongs, pretending that electing Dean or Kerry or Kucinich will change society. The elections are designed to create an illusion of democracy to prevent real democracy from emerging.

Politicians are front-men for the system. To challenge the system we need to take away the system's lifeblood: the illusion of democracy. We need to refute the lie that our government represents us. Therefore we call for Mass Refusal to Vote in the 2004 presidential elections.

LOOK TO THE PEOPLE

We the people are constantly told to look to politicians and officials as the force for change. We are encouraged to be passive consumers, not informed actors shaping society. But to make real change, we must look to ourselves and each other as the source of political power.

In a movement for Mass Refusal to Vote and real democracy, we can find in ourselves and friends and communities the power to move mountains and the vision for a better world.

TAKE THE PLEDGE
  • Because we live in a fake democracy run by war criminals and servants of giant corporations;
  • Because our government attacks the values and livelihood of ordinary people;
  • Because the Republicans and Democrats collaborated to bring about a war of aggression;
  • Because the elections provide only the illusion of democracy;
  • Because democratic change will only come about through a mobilized people;
I agree not to vote in the 2004 presidential election and work instead for real democracy.

dontjustvote.com
Voting vs. Direct Action

Date: Mar 05, 2004 - 12:26 PM

People in the United States are preoccupied with voting to an unhealthy degree. This is not to say that everyone votes, or regards voting as effective or worthwhile; on the contrary, a smaller and smaller proportion of the eligible population votes every election year, and that's not just because more and more people are in prison. But when you broach the question of politics, of having a say in the way things are, voting is just about the only strategy anyone can think of-voting, and campaigning for others' votes.

Could it be this is why so many people feel so disempowered? Is anonymously checking a box once a year, or every four years, enough to feel included in the political process, let alone play a role in it? But what is there besides voting?

In fact, voting for people to represent your interests is the least efficient and effective means of applying political power. The alternative, broadly speaking, is acting directly to represent your interests yourself.

This is known in some circles as "direct action." Direct action is occasionally misunderstood to mean another kind of campaigning, lobbying for influence on elected officials by means of political activist tactics; but it properly refers to any action or strategy that cuts out the middle man and solves problems directly, without appealing to elected representatives, corporate interests, or other powers.

Concrete examples of direct action are everywhere. When people start their own organization to share food with hungry folks, instead of just voting for a candidate who promises to solve "the homeless problem" with tax dollars and bureaucracy, that's direct action. When a man makes and gives out fliers addressing an issue that concerns him, rather than counting on the newspapers to cover it or print his letters to the editor, that's direct action. When a woman forms a book club with her friends instead of paying to take classes at a school, or does what it takes to shut down an unwanted corporate superstore in her neighborhood herself rather than deferring to the authority of city planners, that's direct action, too. Direct action is the foundation of the old-fashioned can-do American ethic, hands-on and no-nonsense. Without it, hardly anything would get done.

In a lot of ways, direct action is a more effective means for people to have a say in society than voting is. For one thing, voting is a lottery-if a candidate doesn't get elected, then all the energy his constituency put into supporting him is wasted, as the power they were hoping he would exercise for them goes to someone else. With direct action, you can be sure that your work will offer some kind of results; and the resources you develop in the process, whether those be experience, contacts and recognition in your community, or organizational infrastructure, cannot be taken away from you.

Voting consolidates the power of a whole society in the hands of a few individuals; through force of sheer habit, not to speak of other methods of enforcement, everyone else is kept in a position of dependence. Through direct action, you become familiar with your own resources and capabilities and initiative, discovering what these are and how much you can accomplish.

Voting forces everyone in a movement to try to agree on one platform; coalitions fight over what compromises to make, each faction insists that they know the best way and the others are messing everything up by not going along with their program. A lot of energy gets wasted in these disputes and recriminations. In direct action, on the other hand, no vast consensus is necessary: different groups can apply different approaches according to what they believe in and feel comfortable doing, which can still interact to form a mutually beneficial whole. People involved in different direct actions have no need to squabble, unless they really are seeking conflicting goals (or years of voting have taught them to fight with anyone who doesn't think exactly as they do). Conflicts over voting often distract from the real issues at hand, as people get caught up in the drama of one party against another, one candidate against another, one agenda against another. With direct action, on the other hand, the issues themselves are raised, addressed specifically, and often resolved.

Voting is only possible when election time comes around. Direct action can be applied whenever one sees fit. Voting is only useful for addressing whatever topics are current in the political agendas of candidates, while direct action can be applied in every aspect of your life, in every part of the world you live in.

Voting is glorified as "freedom" in action. It's not freedom-freedom is getting to decide what the choices are in the first place, not picking between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Direct action is the real thing. You make the plan, you create the options, the sky's the limit.

Ultimately, there's no reason the strategies of voting and direct action can't both be applied together. One does not cancel the other out. The problem is that so many people think of voting as their primary way of exerting political and social power that a disproportionate amount of everyone's time and energy is spent deliberating and debating how they should vote while other opportunities to make change go to waste. For months and months preceding every election, everyone argues about the voting issue, what candidates to vote for or whether to vote at all, when voting itself takes less than an hour. Vote or don't, but get on with it! Remember how many other ways you can make your voice heard.

This being an election year, we hear constantly about the options available to us as voters, and almost nothing about our other opportunities to play a decisive role in our society. What we need is a campaign to emphasize the possibilities more direct means of action and community involvement have to offer. These need not be seen as in contradiction with voting. We can spend an hour voting once a year, and the other three hundred sixty four days and twenty three hours acting directly!

Those who are totally disenchanted with representative democracy, who dream of a world without presidents and politicians, can rest assured that if we all learn how to apply deliberately the power that each of us has, the question of which politician is elected to office will become a moot point. They only have that power because we delegate it to them! A campaign for direct action puts power back where it belongs, in the hands of the people from whom it originates.
See also:

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Comments:
Deception and Delusion: Dummies for Democracy

Joel S. Hirschhorn

I confess. I believe there is a ruling class that sustains the two-party plutocracy running the nation for the benefit of the rich and corporate class. Their broad strategy is deception and delusion. Tactically, they use government, the mainstream media, the financial services sector, funding of politicians and the two major parties, and many other parts of the culture and economy to maintain their power and control.

Elections do not threaten elites. To the contrary, political debate and elections are important to maintain the illusion and delusion of a real democracy. They are key to prevent outright revolution, marginalize dissidents and political reform efforts, and suppress third parties. Would power plutocrats allow election of a president that threatened their control? Of course not. And no Democratic or Republican presidential candidate ever poses a real threat despite cloaking themselves with labels like maverick, reformer or change agent.

If you accept my worldview, then you know that the ruling class would prefer John McCain over Barack Obama, though they can live with Obama, which is why many, many wealthy people and corporations have poured money into the Obama’s campaign and the recent Democratic convention. The chief disadvantage of Obama and Sarah Palin, from the rulers’ perspective, is their relative brief stints as politicians. It takes time to corrupt politicians and cement their dependency on and membership in the ruling class. In contrast, McCain and Joe Biden clearly have shown themselves reliable in protecting the status quo two-party plutocracy.

The best way to view most current events is through the prism of the ruling class. Take lower gas prices and the federal takeover of the two mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Both occurred relatively soon before the general election, as has far better information about the Iraq war. Manipulation and engineering of national and even world events are designed to serve the interests of the ruling class.

Why does deception and delusion work so effectively? When it comes to politics, current events and history, the vast majority of citizens are uninformed, stupid and dumb, regardless of their educational level. As distracted and compulsive consumers, they fall head over hills for political lies and slick campaign rhetoric.

First, consider younger voters. So much talk is about the increased interest in this presidential campaign by younger people, especially evident in the Ron Paul and Obama campaigns. But consider these facts: For those age 18 to 29 just 20 percent read newspapers and just 11 percent regularly surf the Internet for news. Most of what people know about candidates’ positions on the issues comes from what they learn from unreliable and all too often misleading 30-second commercials. Despite far more widespread and extensive schooling, people today possess no more political knowledge than their parents and grandparents. And don’t think that those addicted to The Daily Show and its irreverent view of politics are a lot smarter than those favoring The conservative O’Reilly Factor show. In both groups, only about 54 percent of the shows’ politicized viewers scored in the high knowledge category.

Propaganda and misinformation really work. Just prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq some 60 percent of Americans believed that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attack. But here is the kicker: A year later there was a wealth of information, including the 9/11 Commission report, saying that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. Yet an amazing 50 percent of Americans still believed that Iraq was to blame, and may still think so. As Rick Shenkman, author of Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter, concluded: “By every measure social scientists have devised, voters are spectacularly uninformed.” Guess who takes advantage of the stupidity of voters, especially younger ones.

If people can believe Obama when he says that the election is not about him but about them, then they also can believe McCain when he says he is a proven change agent and reformer.

The only real difference between Obama and McCain is exactly how they will screw the public and benefit the rich and powerful if elected, not whether they will. If the electorate was really intelligent, they would understand and focus on the similarity between the two, rather than their professed differences. It is what they share – obedience and loyalty to the two-party plutocracy – that matters the most. As long as voters do not understand this, the oppression and destruction of the middle class will continue, despite people thinking they are free and live in a democracy.

Mostly, Americans are free to remain vulnerable to deception and delusion.

Democracy for dummies is what we have and what the majority deserve. For the rest of us the difficult challenge is to find ways to fight the political system that are not marginalized and only satisfy our egos. As long as you are an enthusiastic supporter of any Democrat or Republican you are a willing participant in our fake democracy. Most voters persist in believing in the myth that some Democrat or Republican can and will reform the political system, fix the economy, and restore American democracy. They refuse to face the painful truth that this is simply not true. They rather keep embracing the delusional myth.

Consider these wise words of John F. Kennedy: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest, but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

And so millions of Americans suffering from habitual stupidity will cast their votes confident that they have discovered the truth. Like the march of the penguins diving into icy water without thinking they have any other choice, they succumb to the big myth that this year cost about $1 billion to keep alive. These voters are dummies for democracy. The rest of us will vote for Ralph Nader or some other third party candidate, or refuse to vote at all, and seek ways to ignite the Second American Revolution.

Politicians and media people often praise the smart public and smart voters as if they inevitably make the best, most intelligent and informed electoral decisions. This is sheer hype designed to maintain the political status quo. There is only one smart fact: Every single Democrat and Republican candidate lies. Why do they keep lying? It works.

[Contact Joel S. Hirschhorn through www.delusionaldemocracy.com; he is a co-founder of Friends of the Article V Convention at www.foavc.org.]
 
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