The following is a response to Joe Ramsey’s interview with Mark E. Smith and Terri Lee of the Boycott Election 2012 campaign, which will also appear in the November print edition of the Boston Occupier.
To imagine that all Americans will enmass sit out the national elections is akin to imagining that if one squints hard enough while saying magic words, a pink pony will appear at one’s door. There exist enough numbers of people in this country who, at least by belief, benefit in some way by the current system. They will participate in the electoral process and validate it for themselves. Currently also enough people will vote in this coming election because they believe they have no other option.
Acting as an entitled member of a democracy constitutes the first step to awareness that everyone is damn well entitled to have a functioning one.
We’ve never seen full voter turn-out, or full participation, because at some time in our history this country has had one group or another systematically removed from the voting process. Now, more of those roadblocks have been pushed aside. Yet people still will not participate; not because of some high-minded idea of a group election boycott, but because they have felt for years, possibly their whole lives, that their vote does not count.
Since the 80’s, when a xenophobic, racist, shamelessly pro-plutocrat led the country, the nation has moved away from a generation of reformism and toward an elitist capitalist trajectory. The war on drugs has created an increased number of disenfranchised American citizens. Additionally, the increased oppression of non-citizen labor represents an intention to create a worker class that has no voice.
These people didn’t sit with Occupy in large numbers, many have good reason to not feel solidarity with a largely middle class, white dominant group. Also, even most of the lower or middle class worker in this country had little understanding of Occupy and its deeper context; they only heard the distilled sound bite reductions and elitist utterances of pundits. As a result the message ground to a whisper and the plutocracy churns on unabated. People resign to their roles, take anti-depressants, blame themselves and continue on their struggle to exist.
A functional democracy requires that everyone have skin in the game or believe their participation will render them what they expect. Possibly that is the problem; we are getting what we expect. Too many in this country have already resigned in frustration; they feel, often rightly, uncounted and unheard. Our corporatocracy offers distraction, instant gratification and easy solutions promised in sound bites by hollow puppets of the plutocracy. People know this, but as long as the wheel grinds forward they go on.
Possibly the boycott represents an effort to answer to this voter malaise by offering a new rallying point. By choosing to speak out about not participating, it is assumed, the elites will take notice. But if history is any guide, the elites will not take notice. They will invent rationalizations to the majority population for the low voter turn-out and the people will return home, again more hopeless and in despair than before with no alternative to capture and ignite their interest in self governance. The ruling elite, further empowered will claim they have a “mandate from the people” to continue turning the screws toward fascism, with the least powerful the first to feel its effects. Those on the left who didn’t vote can feel smug and blame voters, while those suffering the direct results of racist, sexist and classist policies feel further abandoned by all.
The left has no unified front of resistance to the impending fascist tyranny staring at us menacingly through the cracks in our system. All too often, they find comfort with the assumption that their awareness simply confirms their superiority and therefore why bother further? While Occupy did in fact ignite a new firestorm of activism, it was by action, not inaction, that this occurred. Unfortunately, it failed to break through traditional social barriers in organizing. Those willing to challenge the status quo and speak what many have felt for centuries but did not have the social license to be heard must be applauded. But activists must accept that Occupy came from the entitled class. Beyond Occupy a movement among the left must build and it must find a way to incorporate all people, even those they consider less enlightened than themselves.
The boycott movement must capture the imaginations and desires of the many. A stew of nihilism, intellectual superiority and defeatism will move no one. Most working people want systemic change in this country; most want the plutocracy overthrown and removed from power.
Many have felt the yoke of social oppression bearing on their necks for generations. Many have risen up to demand justice, but then are put back down while the lulled majority sleeps. Change requires listening and engaging everyone. It requires that the thirst for real self governance be validated, then the quench of a solution must follow. It will require that all act out the practice of democracy, on even the most humble level of casting the vote. To participate in this small act not as a means in and of itself but as a representation of the democratic duty that will always be the crux of the ideal democratic society.
The beauty of electoral participation is not that voting itself brings pink ponies to all those who put an ex on the spot, but that when people get to the point where voting is a habit. When voting becomes so commonplace that the electorate begins to take ownership for that vote, then we will have the beginnings of the unified front for revolution. It is far easier to take something from someone when they’re already convinced it has no value. It is far easier to organize on that which people value.
Revolution is not a binary process enclosed within a polling booth. Winning or losing this election does not constitute the end game. Acting as an entitled member of a democracy constitutes the first step to awareness that everyone is damn well entitled to have a functioning one. As an organizer; someone who talks to people, learns from them and attempts to get them to take action toward their future, I hope that there will come a day when I won’t have to convince people to participate; that they will be ready, they will be aware and they will know what it is they want and will work toward it, in whatever way they jointly and yes – vote amongst themselves –to do.