Why I will be voting (Or, lurching towards an equitable system: is it possible?)

In response to some of Jesse's points, and the various thoughtful comments, I thought I'd talk briefly about why I will be voting this year.

On a personal note, I'd like to make it clear that in the majority of races, I hate most of the candidates equally, regardless of party affiliation. Our choices this year are abominable. To me, the choice between Kirsten Gillibrand and John Sweeney is like asking whether or not you'd like a punch in the right eye or the left eye. Either way, you're going to get hurt, and probably lose your depth perception. This is the problem for at least one race in every voting cycle, and it's not a fun choice to make, and for the majority of voting Americans, it's one they choose not to.

Despite this, I'm a firm believer in voting anyway. Not participating in voting alone as a sign of protest doesn't say anything more to the powers that be than not voting because you are too busy/lazy that day. And that collective non-voice doesn't 'sap the legitimacy of the government' so much as it sends the message that people will just shrug their shoulders and continue with their lives, not caring enough about what the government is doing to pull a lever once a year.

Yes, of course, there is the slight possibility that a large enough faction of disgruntled citizens will overtake the current system (on a local, state, or federal level) and impose some sort of new order. But is it worth waiting until things get so bad that such a radical change is foreseeable? (Because as messed up as things are Upstate, I think we can all agree that it could get much, much worse.) To me, that's like gaining weight so you're fat enough to be eligible for gastric bypass surgery.

Also, the idea of cataclysmic overthrow is alienating to people who don't hold radical views one way or another, and quite honestly, I would hope we could do better than that. Smashing the current system and building anew is always an option, but is it possible that progress and reform could be more than just empty buzzwords? Can we possibly transcend the cycle of revolution, rise to power, decadence and decline, and just plain make things better?

Are people who don't vote still active and effective politically? You bet. But I think those who work for change and don't take advantage of the vote are shunning a legitimate avenue for the improvement of governance, or something that with work and participation, could become that legitimate .

Is once a year voting "disempowering?" As an act, no: I figure voting once is better than voting at all. As an act in our current system, I would again say no. You're just not as empowered as you could be. In a real democracy, we would all vote on all issues, great and small. But most people don't have the time, knowledge, or the wherewithal to do that. That's why elected representatives came to be. The more we make it clear that they're working for us, and the more accountable they are, the more equitable the system will become.

Some people may argue that a once a year vote is a token, a scrap thrown to the masses to make them feel relevant by 'the man.' But that's what we've let it become. To some degree, it will always feel that way in larger elections, when the individual act of voting is subsumed into the collective action of the many. But tokens can be important and useful for the masses as well, not just the powers that be that the vote allegedly placates. A collective yell of "hey, we're actually paying attention over here" is valuable in and of itself. Between that and other kinds of political action, we might just make the Upstate we love a little better. I think it's worth trying.

I'm sure Jesse (and others) would say I'm a middle-of-the-road pansy with far too much faith in the idea that people can make and understand both logical arguments and reasoned decisions. But, gosh dang it, I'm just an optimist that way. Now I'm going to go brace myself for a punch in the eye.

- Posted by Natalie

P.S. Coincidentally enough, the very first post on York Staters was about this topic.


John said...

I think the collective yell is a fine idea. I belong to a nonpartisan grassroots group whose mission is to help send a message reform to Albany. Our collective yell, which we hope will be statewide is a write-in vote for REFORM NOW.

Every two years, like clockwork, the Assembly and Senate extol the virtues of their pork, embrace the status quo and, sadly, are generally reelected by oh... a landslide because they bring home the bacon Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Bruno give them.

Our write-in campaign actually has a little support. See the following article:

Enjoy your weekend.


la anti-politic said...

I'm glad that Yorkstaters posted the last two entries about voting and the upcoming elections - I had almost forgotten that an election was coming up, which is in its own way kind of funny and depressing at the same time.

Some thoughts about voting and democracy...
The Mythic Appeal of Democracy
"A myth isn't a lie-it is merely a story told by people with a particular outlook to others with a similar outlook. It can contain truth and falsehood in varying mixtures and ratios, but the important thing is that it makes sense to its audience.

According to the believers in Democracy (rule of the people-however "the people" is defined and narrowed to exclude particular segments from participation in government), it is a system of decision-making that enables the rule of the wisest and most capable and skillful, regardless of hereditary class privilege; this is its republican (anti-monarchist) heritage. Democrats (especially those who identify with the tradition of Liberalism) believe that majority rule provides more voice in decision-making for more people. They believe that more representation means more fairness, that a more informed voting base increases the wisdom of representatives, which furthers the responsiveness and fairness of said representatives. For democrats, information is power. These are some of the myths of Democracy and they are tirelessly promoted by the State through public school indoctrination and fanciful media images.

The reality, though, is a bit different. Most democrats (who rule, rather than those who only aspire to rule) know that democracy is fragile and as easy to manipulate as any other style of government. They operate under the assumption that "the people" will always be unprepared to rule themselves, and therefore those who are the most wise and ethical have the paternalistic responsibility-nay, duty-to take upon themselves the heavy elitist burden to govern the rest of us. Duplicity is integral to democratic government (the less apologetically dictatorial forms we will leave out of the current discussion, but the parallels should be obvious); most people who live under democratic rulers don't like to be reminded that they are incompetent (and yet the unprepared and immature people are magically transformed into fully informed, rational agents when it comes time to choose their representatives)." Democracy and Conspiracy: Overlaps, Parallels, and Standard Operating Procedures
By Lawrence Jarach
"Democracy is a specialised form of political domination deployed as a universal objective value, it is set in place as a political end or ideal for society by an elite whose real power over society is not political at all but is grounded in an all–pervasive economic exploitation.

At the level of detail in direction, policy and law, the state’s democratic practice is presented as somehow objective and final because of the overly involved process that has led up to it, in reality however the grounding of such a process, from its original conception to its execution, is contained within the bounds set by economically imposed scarcity. And the constriction of distribution is set by the party of capital as it pursues its own interest." - Democracy by Monsieur Dupont
"Nowadays, "democracy" rules the world. Communism has fallen, elections are happening more and more in those poor underdeveloped third world nations you see on television, and world leaders are meeting to plan the "global community" that we hear so much about. So why isn't everybody happy, finally? For that matter—why do less than half of the eligible voters in the United States, the world's flagship democracy, even bother to vote at all?

Could it be that "democracy," long the catch-word of every revolution and resistance, is simply not democratic enough? What could be more democratic? " -(What could there possibly be) Beyond Democracy? by Rolf Nadir
"There are (we're told) over six billion humans alive on this planet, each of us with a different idea of how, why and whether to save it-of how, why and whether to save ourselves (individually and/or collectively) - six billion different notions of who we are, six billion modes of expressing it. That's scary! The space we're in now is crowded; the music is unfamiliar - a bit ominous, a little sleazy, at times manic but captivating, intense and ever-changing. And we still might (or might never, after all) learn whether we can all be partners.

But we're still dancing!…" - BEYOND EXCLUSION:
- By Mitchell Halberstadt
"The possibility of a non-repressive and sustainable social world is thus something which lies beyond the boundaries of democracy. It is something too radical for the numerical and symbolic reductions necessary to democratic practice, which recognises instead that the forces of life cannot be reduced to figures in an equation." - Democracy versus Desire - Beyond the Politics of Measure - By Andy Robinson

Just thought I'd share a little thoughts of my own and provide some stuff I've been researching lately for an project.... Salud!

Eric Sundwall said...

Write-in 'Eric Sundwall' as your protest in the 20th.

That was always the point.

Natalie said...

This post got some ink from Phil over at Still Racing in the Street

Jesse said...

I'd like to start off this comment by apologizing for a few things. Firstly, for anyone who has been having trouble making comments or accessing the site, it appears that Blogger has been making some sort of rehaul that is beyond our control. Second, and this is a bit more personal, I apologize for not responding in a more timely fashion to everyone who has commented here-I'm afraid it's midterms here in my world and I've been a bit busy. Finally, I would also like to put up a correction, in my post I said that this would be the first time that I had not voted--and it turns out I said the same thing last year, I guess sometimes our memories do fail us. It was not intentional.

Alright, to get to your comments. This comment is a continuation of discussion on this post and the previous.

I think it would be helpful if I divide up my statement into two critiques, the first being a critique of voting in this specific election in the specific place that I am in (Syracuse...specifically)and the second being of a wider scope, looking at voting in America in general.

"Will be Voting" pretty much accuses me of supporting a one-party neo-conservative state by not voting for the Democrats. What WbV perhaps doesn't understand is that I agree that there is a difference between the Dems and the GOP. The problem is, that the areas of similarity between the parties are those areas that are most important to me. Corporate power, neo-liberal foreign and domestic policy (it was, after all, Clinton that approved NAFTA), centralization of power in Washington and other issues stand higher upon my list of priorities than the platforms of either two parties. While I do not agree with the politics of Mike who is running for congress, that doesn't mean that I don't profoundly respect the fact that he is bringing forth another voice, his own, to the debate.

I agree with Natalie that not voting alone is not a sign of protest, but is translated as acquiesence. I am not just not voting, but not voting and making a public statement why. Right here. Right now. Close to a hundred people a day read this website, sure it's not Yahoo, but I think that these interactions and discussions have more power than throwing my vote behind a party that I don't believe in.

Joe says that not voting never removes the legitimacy of the government and I say that it's more complex than that. Case in point- the members of the National Confederation of Workers (CNT), a powerful (millions of members) anarchist trade union in Spain before 1936 refused to vote in national elections. By doing so and openly stating why, they sapped the strength of so-called 'worker's parties' to claim to speak for them and they also maintained their legitimacy and their power outside the government. When, in 1936, they finally did vote as a bloc, they completely altered the course of politics of the day. Simply not voting does not remove legitimacy, but not voting and making a statement about it does. That's what I'm doing.

You see, the empowerment that I'm calling for is for every person to realize that they're all politicians. We all shape the world around us and if politics is the act of directing social change, than we are all politicians. By not voting, I am in fact that throwing away my voice, but in fact gaining it. I do not lose my power to critique the state WbV, I heighten my strength by not bending my principles. Politics is here on the Net, it is on the street, it is around the dinner table, it is in the bedroom and it is in Washington or Albany. Is it also in the ballot? Of course, and I'm proud of the votes that I've put down (especially my votes for Nader), but I never vote simply because that's what you're supposed to do. You see, to do that is to simply throw your vote away.

Will be voting in Hudson said...

Jesse, can't you critique AND vote? It's not an either/or. Use ALL the tools available to you!

Yes, there are vast areas of similarity between the two parties - namely, that corporate interests dominate both, and who can help that I ask you (rhetorical!). Still and all, though, they differ on a variety of issues and it's worthwhile to parse the differences. As flawed as our system is, isn't genuine bipartisanship preferable to what in the last several years has amounted to one-party rule, in which Republicans (from the president on down to the teeniest town races) demonize Democrats and any other nonRepublicans as unAmerican.

Set aside third parties for the moment. Realistically, ours is a two-party system. Period.

At the end of the day - in the voting booth - with whatever issues you care about the most (that are on the current political agenda), either one party or the other is going to be a bit more congenial to you. Take the issue of global warming, just as an example. Which party do you suppose is more likely to endeavor to address it?

Also, as dominant as corporate interests are in both parties - even if only at the margins, which party is more likely to endeavor to protect the middle class, and not just continue to line the pockets of the wealthiest 1 percent?

Jesse, I take it you're a youthful student (good luck on your midterms) and bless you, don't lose your idealism and energy and fight and drive and voice. But at the same time, keep an eye on the "realpolitik," as sickening as it can be. Use your voice - AND your vote!

Jesse said...

WbV, to begin with, I may not be as youthful and naive as you may think-I'm a phd graduate fellow at SU in anthropology.

Do I throw away the tool of voting? Of course not. I have voted in the past and will probably vote again in the future. The key point is that I choose when I vote and I only vote when I believe that 1) there is an acceptable choice and 2) that my vote makes a statement. Right now, I am rather disgusted with both major parties and I believe that the strongest statement I can make is informed, public non-voting. What I'm doing here today. I'm not calling for people to simply not vote, but to not vote and then make their disgust heard publically. I look forward to a day when a powerful non-voting movement voices that anger, that disillusionment in the streets, on the net and in our daily conversation. This blog conversation is a move towards that direction.

To say that ours is a two party system "period" is true in one sense. However, I also believe it reflects a shallow understanding of politics. Politics is the act of directing social change, and like I've said before, politics is in all of us all of the time. We all guide social change and I would argue that if we are disgusted with politicians, ignore their calls for your support and focus your attention upon your personal political power: your economic and social strengths. Throughout the history of this blog, I have attempted time and time again to show examples of people throughout Upstate, and beyond, coming together to build new opportunities and institutions within their community. These communitarian operations have true economic, social and, above all political power. They seek to reshape our communities.

The best thing I see for us, as ethical members of communities, to do is to focus our attentions on these projects. To help the co-op, the local business, the collaborative project--as these will help our communities directly and immediately. As for the politicians, sure you can vote for them...if one of them catches your fancy. But in becoming a "Democrat" or a "Republican," eventually you find yourself defending corruption and supporting the very forces that are tearing apart our communities.

the disenfranchised said...

This has been a great discussion - I especially like your comments Jesse.

This past summer, I took a small summer class at one of the supposedly best SUNY schools. It was not a class about voting, but somehow we managed to get into an hour discussion about how I choose not to vote and why... It was a small class, but I felt verbally attacked by the teacher and fellow peers who couldn't see why I choose not to vote. After that discussion, I actually felt stronger about my choice not to vote, in part due to their unconvincing arguments. I was a bit shocked to see a long time professor, who seemed to know what was going on be so abrasive towards someone else's ideas... but perhaps folks can be blinded by ideals.

I try not to have any ideals, but rather just ideas.

Ideals are to rigid for me, ideas can change...

For the record, we were discussing the US presidential elections.

FRQSTR=19295597|19295597|19295597|19295597|19295597 said...

Miscellaneous thoughts here (no time for polished essay this morning):

This "powerful non-voting movement" that rises up and upends the system by not voting - that's not so much anarchist, but nihilist. Do these nonvoters stand for anything, except that they don't like the status quo? How do you get the nonvoters to agree on a positive agenda, "where to go from here," what the change(s) should be? How are conflicts resolved - I take it, not by voting. And all these nonvoting anarchist-nihilists - a lot of very uncompromising individuals. So I can't imagine how you get them all on the same page. I know! They need a dictator, who will take no guff.

Even if 99% of the potential electorate stayed home, it would be irrelevant. Elections would be decided by the 1% who voted. It's the way the system is set up. Unless someone is planning on rewriting the constitution.

I'm all for grassroots efforts to effect local change, no disagreement there. History has seen the rise of all sorts of movements for social and economic change, such as the civil rights movement here. No argument there.

The Republican and Democratic parties evolve as times change, issues emerge, grassroots movements rise to demand change. They are not static parties. You don't want to vote? Then you play no part in shaping the platform of either party.

You don't want to vote? Got just the place for you. Workers paradise. Sun. Surf. No vote. Cuba!

Will be voting in Hudson said...

Oops, I forgot to put my nametag ("Will be voting in Hudson") on my "miscellaneous thoughts" that I tried to post a few minutes ago. Hope the post didn't get lost in the ether.

Jesse said...

Come now WbV, the Cuba thing was a bit much. Your distorting the debate by ignoring the fact that while I'm not voting (this time), I plan on fully participating. You're continuing with the fallacy that only through voting can we participate. But Cuba? Such posturing doesn't help our debate.

There is a problem with oppositional politics in that it's always easier to find people who are opposed to something than people who are agreed to the productive change that needs to occur. The example of the Eastern European states post-1989 is an excellent one and I hope that the world can learn something from the suffering that those people have endured in the years since due to this lack of national direction and plan (which is not to say that I support what came before or think that they shouldn't have overthrown the 'Communists'--one does not need to be a Stalinist to recognize that the Pole and Slovaks, etc have suffered since 1989).

I am an Anarchist, this is something that I have admitted publically long ago and I believe that my readers have accepted (probably not agreed with) because I try to debate civilly and in good faith. However, as an Anarchist, I can tell you that programmatic non-voting is not a necessarily Anarchist event. It is a necessarily non-governmental event, but factions within states throughout the world hold back their votes to undermine a government without necessarily being opposed to the existence of a government...just the way it's currently organized. Perhaps the example that Americans will remember best are the Iraqi Sunnis boycotting the first election...sure they didn't control the government (but they knew that would be the case either way), but by boycotting the election, it deeply undermined a government that they were ethically opposed to and gave them strong ground to negotiate. Please don't equate my analysis of the effectiveness of tactics here with a agreement with their political standings--far to the contrary.

Furthermore, as a side note, I understand that Anarchism has been derided as nihilistic in America. This comes through serious disinformation, ignorance (how many philosophical Anarchists have you met?) and the problem that 15 year old boys often use the name as an excuse to break things. However, if you have a minute or two, WbV (or whomever), in my other blog "An Upstate Anarchist" I wrote an essay a while back about the meaning and ethics of Anarchism that you may find enlightening, interesting or humerously naive. Any way you cut it, you might have fun. You can find it here.

the dispossed said...

Will Be Voting in Hudson wrote:

"You don't want to vote? Got just the place for you. Workers paradise. Sun. Surf. No vote. Cuba!"

I think you're being sarcastic, right?

I've lived in Upstate, NY almost my entire life and exactly one year ago I spent half a year living in Habana, Cuba (with permission for the US gov't, in case you're wondering).

It is not workers paradise, but neither is Upstate, NY. Also, not a lot of people have surf boards there - so surfing is a bit of a challenge, especially if you consider the everyday grind phrase of "la lucha" (the struggle) in reference to life.

How about voting for someone who will end the Cuban embargo? If the embargo was dropped a lot more Upstate, NY businesses would be able to trade with Cuba, thus helping out the economy. How about this for a voting platform? Will a Democrat or Republican ever decide to end the embargo against Cuba? Why or Why not?

Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle wrote:

"30 The alienation of the spectator, which reinforces the contemplated objects that result from his own unconscious activity, works like this: The more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more he identifies with the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own life and his own desires. The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator does not feel at home anywhere, because the spectacle is everywhere."

Will be voting in Hudson said...

Jesse, my reference to Cuba was facetious. I should have punctuated it with one of these ;) to make it clearer.

I read your essay on anarchy, and agree with most if not all of it (I draw the line at hairy bellies, though, except for my cat's! ;) I try as best I can to live my life in accordance to the spirit of those principles, though I wouldn't label myself an Anarchist. I resist getting sucked into the soulless, consumerist, debt-driven treadmill, and strive to be self-sufficient,(in)voluntarily simple, and kind to creatures great and small.

A lot of people (perhaps a new generation especially) can come together and become a powerful force for change. The green movement, for example, seems to be growing in mainstream acceptance. Or, there's a growing movement to reject industrially (that is, cruelly) processed meat, and industry (e.g., Whole Foods) is starting to pay attention and turning to more "humane" methods. I try to join in with these movements, mostly in decisions I make in my daily life.

I don't believe I'm being inconsistent or hypocritical in my core beliefs when I cast a vote in a general election. I firmly believe that our nation would be in a very different place - a better place - if Gore had won the 2000 election, and not Bush. That belief keeps me voting.

Jesse, you're saying that you've voted in other elections but you're sitting out this one. As you make this decision I hope that you are aware that there is an awful lot at stake this particular election day, November 8, 2006. The outcomes - for Anarchists and nonAnarchists alike - will impact all our lives.

(I'm personally done with this discussion. It was fun. It made me think. Thank you.)

Joe said...

yo peep don't know what nihilism means either.

We don't live in a two-party system, if you catch my drift; we vote for individuals with loose affiliations to whatever the DNC or RNC is(DNC, RNC are actually just a bunch of statisticians and lawyers.) This garbage we're in has nothing to do with the Democratic Party, Republican Party, and if you think that all we need is some new wonderful party to save it, you live in outerspace candyland...

Party-systems occur in most democracies, ala England, Israel, and Turkey--you know the civilized nations who have an idea what representative government means.(including the palestinian and kurdish stuff, they're still doing alot better for democracy than new york and the united states.)

Natalie said...

Tonight I was talking with my friend Will about the impending elections. I asked him if he was registered to vote here or in his native California. He said he wasn't registered anywhere.

Will was a political studies major, and loves American History, particularly presidential politics, and I couldn't believe he wasn't planning on voting.

"So you, poli sci major Will, aren't registered to vote?"

"It's amazing, the first thing they teach you is that your vote doesn't count."


Jesse said...

Well, tomorrow is the day. I'd like to thank everyone who participated in this discussion here, I think we tossed around some important questions. I also wish everyone who is undecided the best of luck on tomorrow's big decisions.