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Election Day is around the corner.  How do you feel about your choices? 

We can argue, debate and strategize what to do around elections, like the one this Tuesday (...and we do!).  Vote red, vote blue, hold your nose and vote damage control, vote green or abstain.  We act indignant and outraged as if this election is somehow unique in history for being subject to compromise.  

What might we do to feel, and be, more empowered in the electoral/governance process that drives our states and countries?

What other choices in your life do you, or have you, given up on or put in the hands of others? .

Describe a time you took your power of personal choice back. 

Read more and add to the conversation here ...

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"What might we do to feel, and be, more empowered in the electoral/governance process that drives our states and countries?"

I suppose those of us with the ability to do so, could move to other countries with better electoral/governance processes that allow people to feel and have more power than our own electoral/governance processes do.

For example, in some countries, unlike the USA, the popular vote actually has to be counted--it's in their Constitutions but not in ours. That might allow people to at least feel more empowered, whether they actually were or not. Knowing that your vote has to be counted would, I think, make people feel that they weren't just wasting their time by voting.

Another example is that many countries have proportional representation. If a party gets 5% of the vote, rather than just getting easier ballot access and a few million dollars, they actually get 5% of the seats in parliament. I think voters might feel that they had more power if their votes resulted in them getting more and better representation, whether it actually changed the nature of their state or government or not.

It is, of course, possible to feel more empowered without actually being more empowered. An example of this might be a worker who is promoted and given power over other workers. This can make them feel more empowered even if they have no more power over company policies than they did before. In a worker-owned cooperative or collective, the workers have the power to make policy. In a capitalist corporation, the owners are the only ones who can make policy and managers have no more real power than ordinary workers, except, of course, the power to ensure that the workers under their control adhere to company policies they had no say in, and with which neither the workers nor the managers necessarily agree.

The electoral/governance process established by the Constitution of the United States was designed to keep power in the hands of the rich and out of the hands of "the mob and rabble," which was how the Framers saw and referred to the people.

It is necessary to resort to psychological tricks like denial to feel empowered within a system where you don't really have any power. The best you can do is pretend that you have some power. Since real power means power over your own life, not power over others, I suspect that pretending that you have power when you really don't can lead to all sorts of psychological and physical complications. I can't see how it could be healthy, even if it makes you feel better temporarily the way that drugs or alcohol can. It is probably tolerable in moderation, but could be fatal if it is overused or becomes an addiction.

"What other choices in your life do you, or have you, given up on or put in the hands of others?"

I gave up on the choice to live about thirty years ago and left it up to the hands of others. I'd been fired from a civil service job because the government agency I worked for claimed that I was totally, permanently, and hopelessly emotionally disabled and unfit for any job in this society, as those were the only circumstances under which they could legally fire me. Simultaneously a different government agency had stopped my disability benefits because they claimed that I was capable of holding a job. I believed that I was capable of working, because during the year I'd had that civil service job, I'd never had an unsatisfactory evaluation in any area and they had admitted under oath that my work had been "flawless and excellent." But I wasn't able to get my job back or even find another job. Voc. Rehab. said I was no longer eligible for their services and was only claiming that I was capable of working because I wanted to embarrass the government for having fired me. I'd thought that the law was on my side, so I spent three stressful years in federal court trying to get my job back, but I think the federal courts also don't like to embarrass the federal government. There was also a class action suit before the Supreme Court to restore disability benefits to the people like me who had been presumed able to work without any evidence that they actually could. So I gave up and left it up to the two different government agencies to fight it out, as to whether I'd get my job back or my disability benefits back, and I sort of assumed that if neither happened, I'd just stop living, as I had no appetite, will, or interest in continuing to live.

"Describe a time you took your power of personal choice back."

I never have taken my power of personal choice back, as I don't think I ever had any such thing to begin with. I always had to do whatever I had to do in order to survive, and sometimes my choices were limited to options that I would not have chosen if I'd had any power over my life.

These days I'm on old age Social Security, and I'm surviving nicely, almost effortlessly, as long as I'm careful not to live beyond my means. But I've chosen to use the power I have over my life now that I don't have to constantly struggle for food, clothing, and shelter, to try to  expose how our electoral/governance systems do not empower us with regard to having any real say in the policies that determine the limits to our personal power over our lives. Attempting to compel our elected representatives to represent our interests instead of the interests of their big donors, is ultimately futile, as the Constitution did not give us any power over them that we could use to compel them to represent us. We're just the "mob and rabble," and we can cast uncounted votes for which candidates we would prefer to have make our decisions for us, but we have no power to ensure that our votes are actually counted, or to compel those elected to truly represent us.

Mark's post has really got my mind activated.  I experience the "power" realms in much the same way as Mark describes in his post.  And I, too, am now living on the "old age" revenue stream and surviving nicely and almost effortlessly within my modest means.  This only became reality for me a couple of months ago and I am still in some kind of shock and awe around being unexpectedly blessed with this new kind of freedom.  I don't yet know who I am nor what I am going to do now, with this kind of freedom.  It's such a new experience.

As for the "mob and rabble": I would like to recommend the BBC documentary series "The Century of Self" to anyone interested in learning more about how government and "business" began the serious and intentional collusion to transform citizens into consumers after WWI as a means of controlling the "masses" in order to distract the public from "seeing" the intention to institutionalize the plutocracy emerging out of 19th century industrialization.   A key strategist with Calvin Coolidge in this endeavor was Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew.  This series tells the story of the application of Freudian psychology to politics and governance by the "military industrial complex"--the "corporatocracy"--for the purpose of controlling/oppressing the "mob and rabble".  The strategy was to use "the science of public relations" to transform citizens'  "wants" into "needs" that could be met by buying stuff, thus keeping the engines of industry turning and maintaining the aggregation of wealth by the "Industrialists" (nowadays known as the "Technocrats)" ...and now those with the most means are buying political power and selling us candidates as if we are easily manipulated consumers...not thinking and empowered citizens.  This appears to have been a successful strategy and a small group of people...and their families and friends...the 1%, so-to-speak...are comfortably in control and becoming more and more brazen about "it". 

Thank you, Mark, for your willingness to expend your precious life energy on trying to expose the "reality" that you see...and that I see, as well. 

I'm still contemplating my options....

Thank you for the reference to the BBC series, Heather.  I made it a link.  I'm looking forward to our call today.

Congratulations on your new "freedom," Heather. And on recognizing its limitations. After the Declaration of Independence and the revolution from England, there was a common saying among the mob and rabble in the fledgling United States that we were "As independent as a hog on ice."

I think you might like this moving and eloquent essay by peace activist S. Brian Willson, as it speaks to the reality of our situation and our limited options in a way that is more courageous than most of us would dare:

Re: 2012 so-called US Presidential Selection

What a distraction an election is from serious pursuit of our human responsibilities and sensitivities. We are increasingly aware that industrial civilization is on a collision course with life itself on the Planet, and the modern Eurocentric nation state’s political economies such as in the USA are coordinating the plunder toward our extinction as the plutocrats and oligarchs live in the illusion of opulence. Perhaps they feel invincible like cocaine addicts.

This awareness is made much more distressing, at least to me, because our modern individual and collective consumption patterns form the political energy that both drives the plunder from our dependence upon its continuation, while we fork over our money to the plutocracies and oligarchies that gleam huge profits from our addictions and dependencies.

I say that our dignity as human beings trumps concern for longevity. I find no dignity at all in thinking and living according to the assumptions and values of our political economy – a total imperial economy that dehumanizes everyone while it destroys everything.

Albert Camus, writing in 1946 reflecting on WWII, described the absurdity and dangerousness of the state, the illusions of the efficacy of violence, and the decline in political persuasion to achieve justice. The state, like the old church, has subjugated humans to its tyrannical authority. He offered the prescription that it is now a moral imperative for humans to choose to be “neither victims nor executioners.” Camus: “In the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being.”

My reflections have included reading more of Ivan Illich and Michael Foucalt and I am struck and impressed by their suggestion that we are in the midst or on the eve of an epistemic break – “a sudden image shift in consciousness in which the unthinkable becomes thinkable”, and “a rupture in consciousness” the equivalent to a “catastrophic break with industrial man’s image of himself.” Perhaps this is what evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould described as what happens once in awhile in all of evolutionary history – “punctured equilibrium.”

Somehow I think we are at this “epistemic” moment in the long unfolding journey of human evolution, with the last 6,000 years or so of what some describe as “civilization” being extremely regressive/repressive (patriarchal vertical power, slave labor, violence, military enforcement of obedience to the hierarchy, expansion of territory, etc.). I think we, at least some of us, know this, and are stumbling (at least in my case) as to how to redefine our relationships with one another and power, as we recover our humanity from the conditioning that so many of us were successfully dehumanized in.

I am so estranged at this point that I refuse to fly in airplanes, refuse to ride most of the time in fossil fuel cars, refuse a handheld electronic device, etc., such that I am somewhat isolated by my own choices. Meanwhile I am also seriously compromised: my partner Becky has just flown to Viet Nam for the 5th time as she works on the Viet Nam Friendship Village in Hanoi dealing with the Agent Orange victims caused by the USA many wars ago, and we are communicating by electrons via email. Go figure.

So, I am revisiting the whole way humans (including myself, of course) relate, or not, to power. I just read one account of the collapse of the Mayan civilization circa 900 AD in which it appears that the vast majority of workers who were struggling to keep the kings and their palaces well fed with food, clothes, and trinkets, as they themselves were receiving fewer calories, simply walked away and refused any further cooperation/complicity. Some died, as others went to the mountains to subsist. But the kings starved. And in my several trips to visit with the Mayan Zapatistas over the past 17 years, I am relating to the offspring of those Mayans who refused cooperation 1200 years ago, and continue to do so today since their 1994 revolution coinciding with  NAFTA coming into effect. So withdraw of support for and complicity with the state is a model of empowerment. The Zapatistas live very simply as they refuse any payments for utilities or taxes to the state, yet they celebrate everyday their liberation to dignity from their previous cooperation with their own slavery. As they say, “our dignity is everything, longevity without it is horrible, unthinkable now.”

And then I am reminded again of Gandhi’s 2-prong approach for liberation from living under empire: strategic moments of visible risk taking acts of noncooperation while, more importantly, building the local food and simple tool sufficient communities from below, i.e, relocalization, extricating one’s dependency upon the imperial overlords.

All this to say I cannot take any US elections seriously, certainly not at the national level, while striving to regroup here in Portland, Oregon, piecing together components of more regional sufficiency and simpler living, perhaps part of the epistemic break. I am rooting for collapse as a necessary element of survival, even as I likely go down with it. I now think of myself as an apocaloptimist, and a neolithic conservative, even considering paleolithic features. But, I am clear, dignity trumps longevity.

That was posted on Brian's blog on October 23, 2012.

The foundation of what Brain begin's with is a ringingly accurate assessment of the state of affairs we have evolved into, including being on the cusp of an event of "punctuated (I believe he meant to say) equilibrium".  

His tactics are not quite ones I would assume going forward, though I've embraced them in the past, that is, refusal to engage.  

I can't say I know which, if any, individual tactics ultimately make a difference.  I repeatedly return to the sense that it is in fact the cumulative chaos of all tactics in their overtly apparent disunity that collectively synergize to create just the right harmonic of perturbation needed to sufficiently loosen the bonds of an outmoded and dysfunctional system that is time-dated for replacement, though the time and date seem to be elusive to knowing.

As I've said previously, we each need to do what our individual brilliance calls us to do.  Many of these actions and tactics will appear diametrically opposed on the surface, yet over time, will make greater sense as to how each was an integral part of a much more complex whole.  Nature doesn't always rain, or sun or blow or dry.  It changes. blends and alternates it's tactics and strategies—at least on the surface.  At the largest scales of organismic perspective, the diversity is awe inspiring in its co-arising intelligence.  So are we.  It just pisses us off and frustrates us when our access to the larger picture is closed and we see distinctions and differences as lethal—especially when some of those differences ARE actually lethal.  

SOme are passive, some are active.  Some actively passive, some passively active.  Etc., etc... see I Ching...

Brian is very much engaged, Jitendra. He is part of a large anti-war activist group, Veterans for Peace, he grows his own organic vegetables, and he is part of the Occupation in Washington, D.C., but he only engages with people and in activities that have the possibility of changing the system, not those that serve to perpetuate the status quo.

The United States government is not nature or a part of nature, it is a capitalist imperialist system that has done and is doing all it can to destroy nature, and has succeeded to the extent of polluting most of the world's air, water, and land, and bringing about extreme weather patterns.

Brian lost both his legs trying to block a weapons train at Concord Naval Weapons Station many years ago, and he fully understands that our government does not respond to protest by listening, or by negotiating, no less giving in to pressure, but with the utmost violence it can bring to bear. The train that ran him over had lookouts that saw him, and was required to be going no more than 5 mph and stop if there were protesters on the tracks. But the government had branded him and other war protesters as terrorists, so even though it was still illegal for our government to assassinate US citizens without due process at that time, and he did receive a monetary settlement years later, the train had orders not to stop. Nowadays it is legal for the government to assassinate US citizens without due process. That's the great progress that liberals, progressives, and activists have brought about through voting, petitioning, and civil disobedience: a return to the Dark Ages of the 12th Century before the Magna Carta, when there was no such thing as due process.

Because many tactics are ineffective AND lethal, although sometimes lethal for others rather than for us, I think that it is not sufficient to be engaged, but one should engage in things that have the possibility of being effective, and withdraw from things like voting that can only affirm, strengthen, legitimize, and perpetuate a system of 12th Century tyranny.

If you are boycotting GMO foods, and simultaneously voting in elections that leave the ultimate decisions with regard to GMO foods up to a government where Monsanto has undue influence, you are engaged in defeating your own efforts. Those voting for Prop. 37 in California, for example, should not be too surprised if it should pass, only to have Monsanto appeal to the Supreme Court that it violates the corporation's Constitutional rights, and the Supreme Court strike it down.

Doing your civic duty to the government by voting doesn't just have an illusory appearance of supporting the system, it actually does support the system and cannot be synergized into a cumulation of tactics to change the system. I know there are many who believe that life and this planet are just illusions and that we need to transcend those illusions, but I don't know a one of them who believes that we can do so by engaging in the most mindless, thoughtless, harmful, and violent activities we can think of. Yet there certainly are some who do believe exactly that--they feel that no matter who they kill or are complicit in killing, it matters not because it is all just illusion.

Because I value life and human feelings, I disagree. I think that even if it is illusion, I should refrain from killing anyone or becoming complicit in causing death or suffering to anyone, to the extent that I possibly can. In some cases I might have no choice, as in the case of a prisoner who is shackled, bound, and drugged, and whose torturers then kill people by putting the prisoner's finger on the trigger of a gun and physically forcing it to pull the trigger, but where I do have a choice, that's the choice I'll make.

Wow.  Thank you for this post, Mark.  Brian speaks for me here.  I have been "seeing" the world in this way since the 1970s when I was a Headstart (early childhood) teacher in rural America, part of which was trying to help families in poverty use their food stamp allocation to buy "whole" foods rather than potato chips and coke, which did in fact alleviate the sensation of hunger if not the reality of "it".  As a young "white" woman of middle-class privilege and European ancestry, I got some quick and embarrassing lessons from the "people of color", of African/slave ancestry, about how it really is to be poor and oppressed in America.  Once I really "got it" around food injustice...and the environmental plunder of the global industrial food/agriculture system that made highly refined, high fat, low nutrition, high carbon footprint, toxic "food" more "affordable" than locally grown, poison-free nourishing food...well thus was my initiation into the way things really are. 

I've become a more serious student of history the last couple of years and am now seeing more clearly how nothing has changed in the the imperial states...for 1000s of years.  The technology and costumes are different but the power plays, and the use of violence as a strategy to aggregate and maintain power, remain unchanged as far as I can tell.  I do object and I try to withdraw my consent as best I am able on a daily basis with my purchasing and lifestyle choices.  It ain't easy...and I am fully complicit with "the corporate state" and a hypocrite of the highest order.  And so it is.  AND, my dignity and integrity matter to me.  I sit with all of this every day and ponder "Who am I?" and "Now what?"  For now, I am talking to my three grown children about these issues...trying to help them wake up and stay awake and to see clearly "who" they are as humans, who they are as young men, and "where" they are in the cosmic scheme, if there is one.

 I am grateful for what you share here.  In some small way I am feeling less alone in my despair and grief.

Thank you, Heather. I think that's the highest compliment a post could get. Brian is incredibly inspirational. Your story is inspirational also. Our perspective really does determine what we see. We're very unlikely to under- stand things by standing over them. ;)

Thank you, Mark, for such a clear response.  Reading your story, it is much clearer to me why you so passionately express the views that you do.  I can only begin to imagine the impact of the bind that these two heads of one body caused you.  The frustration and rage must have felt overwhelming at times.

On one hand, there are the inner channels of empowerment and choice, where a person could literally sit in prison and experience "freedom" from within.  There is power in that.  

However, my agenda for posing this inquiry has much more to do with conducting our inner empowerment to our lives and structures in the world.  There is no pat or clever response for this inquiry based on some spiritual precept.  The Dalai Lama is an extraordinary man of inner and outer accomplishment, yet freedom for Tibetans, or for himself within Tibet, is beyond his capacity to effect.  Though I imagine he will live the remainder of his life advocating for peace toward freedom.

I want to express my deep appreciation for your contribution here, Mark. Each one of us has some story of contraint and restriction—even abuse—by a more dominant force or power.  In fact, it has been endemic on our planet for much of recorded history.  

Could this time in history be different?  Is there a resource, collectively among and within us, to turn the tide of "power ove"r to "power with"?  The rising impetus seems to say, "Yes!"  

This grand experiment in peace, freedom and justice would be great to have your voice on a call one day, Mark.

Thank you, Jitendra.

"...there are the inner channels of empowerment and choice, where a person could literally sit in prison and experience "freedom" from within.  There is power in that."

Yes, Jitendra, there is power in that. Some prisoners, like Nelson Mandela, had so much inner power that it caused their guards to treat them with a certain amount of respect. But governments today are aware of that, and also aware that psychological pain can be more debilitating than physical pain, so when they get a person who cannot be broken with physical torture, they'll often bring that person's loved ones or children in and torture those they care about most right in front of them. In any event, the torture usually continues until the person either breaks or dies. Dr. Martin Seligman, who, working with dogs, first developed torture techniques that caused people's spirits to break, techniques that have since been used on humans in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and many US secret prisons, was also the father of "Positive Psychology," blaming the attitude of victims for their torture.

"Is there a resource, collectively among and within us, to turn the tide of 'power over' to 'power with'?"

I believe there is. I think that the reason governments have power over us is because we are trained from birth, when we are most helpless and dependent upon others, to respect those upon whom we are dependent. Respect for authority causes us to leave our power in the hands of the authorities even when it is no longer necessary for us to do so, and to obey even the most senseless orders given by authorities even when we know that what we are doing is hurting ourselves and others.

"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” --Howard Zinn

I have avoided the phone conversations because I am very focused on Election Boycotts as a means of nonviolently taking our power back from governments and I don't want to spend much time on other topics or to monopolize conversations where people might prefer to discuss other topics. With forums like this, people have the option of reading or not reading the written words, but in phone discussions you either listen or you leave.

Yes, we are conditioned at birth. Though the source of the conditioning at birth is much older than this current system, though not older than the oldest.  We are dragging our generational conditioning forward until we turn into it and choose to interact with it differently.  I've spent the majority of 40 years unraveling and untangling exactly what it is we need to and can do about that conditioning.  If it were as simple as some ridiculous commercials for NLP claim (not a knock on NLP, just New Age snake oil salespeople that grossly exaggerate), we'f have solved our social ills centuries ago.

I would qualify civil disobedience by adding it needs to be intelligent, circumspect and highly strategic in concert with profound inner knowing of what it is we're engaging.  Particularly, understanding to what degree the dynamic I'm protesting lies outside of me and to what degree it lies within me.

Civil disobedience more often than not is akin to hacking off Medusa's head.  There's temporary relief until the head regenerates with a twin.  For example the day the Oakland port was shut down.  Not that it shouldn't have been shut down because it hoisted a banner for all to see that people care and are willing to take a stand.  But gloating and disillusioning oneself into thinking that made more of a difference than a collective shout of disapproval is dangerously naive.  It didn't make Goldman Sachs blink, it strengthened their resolve to make sure the #Occupy movement would not have much more air to breathe.  Whereas there was little resistance to the demonstration on the day,  the force of repression in the wake of that day escalated to nationwide—and worldwide—brutal repression of demonstrations that followed.  It worked to a degree that few are willing to acknowledge.  Mass dissent is less visible and vocal than a year or 9 months ago.

Civil disobedience needs to take on the intelligence of high level chess with long range strategies and understanding of time-released effects.  I think then we'll have the experience of covering more ground more effectively.  In the mean time, do what we're called to do.  Don't stop doing something.  (not referring to you Mark-just a general statement)

I would, in general, and also with specific regard to voting, respectfully disagree, Jitendra.

If we want to accomplish things effectively, I think we have to stop doing things that are ineffective or that make things worse.

The single most common objection to boycotting elections that I hear from voters, is that not voting is "doing nothing."

My response, from the library talk I gave last week is this:

I think that if you're doing something wrong, or something that is self-destructive or hurting others, stopping might be a good idea, even if you have no alternative course of action and it means doing nothing.

If delegating your power to people you can't hold accountable has resulted in the devastation of your economy, do you really want to keep doing it?

If granting your authority to people you can't hold accountable has resulted in wars based on lies that have killed over a million innocent people, do you really want to keep doing it?

If granting your consent of the governed to people you can't hold accountable has resulted in government operating on behalf of big corporations and the wealthy instead of on behalf of the people, do you really want to keep doing it?

Wouldn't you be better off not doing anything at all?

Election boycotts have been successful in delegitimizing governments in other countries, so there's no reason it couldn't work here too. An election boycott cannot oust a government, but it can show that it no longer has the consent of the governed and no longer represents the will of the people it claims to represent.

That can weaken and sap the strength of a Hydra, so that it cannot grow new snakes as quickly. When you're fighting real monsters, you don't want to feed them, you want to starve them.

Sunday's successful election boycott in Italy illustrates this well. I think I've mentioned it on Occupy Cafe, but I can't find it right now, so here's the version that got me banned from Daily Kos and is posted on my own website:

Successful Election Boycott in Italy

Sunday's successful election boycott in Italy proves that not voting can be a more effective option than voting.

The global mainstream media noted that voter turnout sharply decreased from 67% in the previous election to only 47% on Sunday, demonstrating increasing anger with politicians and government policies.

Low Voter Turnout in Sicily Suggests Anger at Politicians

Those who have argued that even if only a few people vote, a boycott will fail, need to rethink their position in light of Italy's successful boycott where there was only a 20% decrease in turnout.

Those who believe that a boycott can be written off as voter apathy should note how crucial voter turnout is in allowing a government to claim to have been democratically elected and to have the consent of the people.

Those who think that a boycott would inevitably result in a right-wing victory should note that Italy has more fascist (ultra right-wing) voters than the US, yet it was the protest candidates who gained support on Sunday.

Most crucially, a successful election boycott can cause a country's international credit rating to be revised, and the ability to borrow money can influence a nation's military policies.

Protest party does well in Sicily election; turnout down sharply

Although there certainly are differences between what the two candidates representing Goldman Sachs and the military-industrial complex in next week's US election might do, neither one would change the military expansionist policies that have led to the fall of most other empires in history, or shut down the aging, unsafe nuclear power plants that pose a greater threat to the survival of the planet as extreme weather patterns increase.

Women's rights, GMO labeling, marijuana legalization, marriage equality, and other possible gains for progressives would be of little use if our economy collapses and our empire falls due to a recklessly overextended military, or if nuclear catastrophes like Chernobyl and Fukushima start to proliferate all over the country.

Important decisions need to be in the hands of the people, not in the hands of the government. As long as we keep delegating our power to government, we are shirking our responsibilities to ourselves.


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