Michael Moore states the case, bluntly and eloquently why although Obama may have disappointed most of us on the left, the fatalism of sitting out the vote this time makes no sense. Moore’s point underscores the fact that we need to use every tool in the box this time, which reminds me of a post I recently saw on Facebook showing someone burning a voter registration card. Like a 1920’s Dadaist’s wet dream; the Protest of Nothing.
In the 60’s, young men burned their draft cards. Draft cards mandated by law that men had to go to war to suffer unimaginable horrors or death, wherein refusal warranted direct jail time. Burning draft cards represented an exercise of the belief that no state supersedes the laws of humanity and that justice is suborned when citizens refuse to stand up. Refusal to participate in the draft constituted an act of civil disobedience that represented not simply an individual “choice” but a popular mandate that society take a deeper look at the machinery of capitalist oppression.
On the other hand, what act of oppression does burning a voter card represent again? Let’s break this down to the simplest terms possible. Democracy demands participation. Like an engine; the machine parts cannot move without the force of energy pushing against them. Thus, democracy will not activate without the forces of the citizens pushing against one idea or another; creating the tension that spurns beneficial social structure. So basically if one group wants effective change with the existing system, engaging with that system is mandatory.
Our culture is replete with demands to doubt the “system”, to feel disengaged and uncounted. Mass media inundates people with the message that consumption equals democratic participation and that celebration of nationalistic barbarism equals patriotic service. We as a culture are told repeatedly that watching a news program, engaging in conversations on the internet, all equal democratic participation. The drive to consume is also pushed as a patriotic duty (remember Bush the Younger extolling people to get happy and go shopping when gas prices rose?) and the result of longer times engaged in making money to survive and pro-war hyper nationalism do not serve the interests of democracy.
They do though serve the interests of the owners of production, of the marketers and sellers of the machinery of war and endless meaningless junk that serves to distract the electorate. If one feels satisfied talking on Facebook or watching the latest reports on CNN, then what else is there to do? Who’s got the time anyway?
While protests and other acts of defiance against unjust laws or systems have their place, we cannot discount the easiest process available in this country; the voting booth. The anti-Obama forces proved this in 2010 when across the country people came out to elect far-right state legislatures as an act of protest against the election of a black president. Even with a large number of people standing down in 2008, Obama’s message, that the right loves to sneer at, the message of “Hope and Change” caused a momentous move in this country. —- people stood up and said they wanted change and expressed it through the voting booth. Now, whether Obama stood acted on those promises certainly is another issue and one that requires voter awareness and engagement for critical action.
Many alternative candidates and parties exist within our democracy, many theories, not all of them coming from the pro-plutocracy right wing. But knowing about alternative parties and candidates requires engagement within the process. It requires the effort to research the issues, talk to people about the issues, take the time to attend meetings and most of all, support those issues and candidates at the voting booth.
What is the plan with those who refuse to engage? Do they have a larger message or have they completely capitulated all their decision making capacity to those who will get up and engage with the process on all fronts? Most importantly, do those who step in the vacuum have our best interests at heart? Would it have been smarter to keep moving forward, no matter how slow, instead of allowing us to slip back ten steps? While there exists an argument for deconstruction, within a social system where the free press, the voting booth and free speech remain, there exists the possibility for transformation through reformation.
What’s really astounding with those who refuse to vote as some form of protest is the apparent failure to understand that one can in fact participate in democracy, rebel against the present system, protest, engage and go and vote for the best candidate offered all at the same time! It appears as though the right has this concept down pretty well; theocrats, outright fascists and plutocrats who express nothing but contempt for the democratic process know full well that participation within is their best hope of shaping this country into their dream state. So far, they’ve been going at a pretty good clip forward thanks to low voter participation rates.
Democracy demands engagement for success. Opting out is not an option; you’ve got skin in the game whether you like it or not. Might as well go pull that lever. If you want to change or overthrow it, better to study it and to whatever extent possible, move within it and outside it. Only then can one begin to have some understanding of the system in order to fashion a better one.
Also, as Michael Moore points out, there’s no lack of justifiable anger to meet out to both political parties, but there is no reason to let the truck slide off the cliff and disintegrate into a burned heap. What have you to work with then? Nihilism was never considered a way to get anywhere but to nothing. If nothing came out of doing nothing this election or any election cycle, then we’d have nothing to worry about. Obama has been no prize for those seeking justice; Gitmo, drone attacks, his appeal of the court’s over-ruling the NDAA indefinite detentions. His shameless refusal to use the bully pulpit and the Democrat’s own contradictory hold on power that often undermines the very values they claim to support; none of that should go unnoticed.
But to sit out and hand the reins over the the mad kings of the GOP just makes no sense. The platform offered by the Republican party threatens to put working people into a tailspin faster than anything since the days before the New Deal or possibly even the days before the Civil War. They threaten with their deep cuts in basic social programs, which are social welfare programs — not entitlements, because they are based on the idea that the social welfare is everyone’s welfare. In a just society there is no parsing of social well being and health, there is no judgment of who is entitled to not starve, who is entitled to not die a long, slow death by preventable disease. While most of America goes on with their lives, content to watch the political process as if they were viewers of some show they have no real connection to. The GOP and often the Democrats as well, serve the interests of global capital and imperial power while using their corporate owned media to deceive and disarm the public and keep them away from the voting booth in every way possible.
So is burning a voter registration card an act of defiance against this oppressive corporate state? No. By committing an act that breaks no laws and requires no great courage to perform, sends no message to the public except that some people have no problem dropping out and leaving the hard work to others and leaves open a giant hole that others who have the money and will make the time, will eagerly fill.