NOTE: This discussion was originally classified as "hosted" but has now been moved to the "member initiated" category.  In the view of the OC Stewards, what is taking place here is a debate rather than dialogue.  In a "hosted" discussion here at, we request that balanced participation be encouraged and that regular summaries occur recognizing all the views being presented.  

While we have no objections to people using the OC forum to engage in debates, as long as they don't cross the line into personal attacks, such discussion is not what we are seeking in the "hosted" category.  

Ben Roberts

We are delighted to have Occupy Cafe member Mark E. Smith offer this hosted discussion on the provocative idea of an "election boycott."  

As "host," Mark will strive to keep the conversation orderly, offer regular summaries of the perspectives being presented and encourage balanced participation among all those who are engaged.  Here's Mark's initial summary:

An election boycott is the only known way to nonviolently delegitimize a government. It doesn't overthrow the government, it simply denies it the consent of the governed so that the government can no longer claim to have the people's consent. Among the many forms of noncompliance, such as removing money from big banks, boycotting corporate brands, withdrawing from the system and creating alternative systems, learning to live on less so as not to have to pay taxes, etc., refusing to vote can be one of the most crucial and effective tactics.

Thank you, Mark, for volunteering your services as "host!"

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Here's something to get the discussion started (reposted from the humor topic, with a small update included here):

Consensual Political Intercourse
by Mark E. Smith
"...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." --Declaration of Independence
Ever get the feeling that your government is screwing you? Legally, of course, that's something that it is not allowed to do unless you give your consent. Without your consent it isn't a consensual relationship and becomes rape. So my question is, did you give your consent or not?
"Of course not," my friends tell me indignantly. "Why would we consent to having our own jobs outsourced,  our homes fraudulently foreclosed, our children's futures mortgaged to pay for wars based on lies, big  corporations poisoning our food and water, and law enforcement pepper-spraying, beating, and arresting us for peaceful protests?"
"I don't know why you'd consent to things like that," I tell them, "but I'm not so much concerned about your reasoning--I just want to know if you did or did not give your consent."
"No!" they answer angrily. "We did not consent!"
And I hear their echoes everywhere I go.
"We did not consent!" shout the activists and protesters.
"We did not consent!" scream the progressives and regressives.
"We did not consent!" holler the downsized, outsourced, and foreclosed, young and old.
I hear them, but I'm not sure I'm buying it. If they didn't consent, how could things like this have happened? What if they actually had consented but are now ashamed of it and are trying to frame a perfectly innocent government for rape?
Now I'm not talking about implied consent, I'm talking about affirmative consent. Not just the failure to resist or to say no, but the act of saying, "Yes! I want it! Screw me! Take me for everything I've got! I'm yours!"
You see, our government may be aggressive abroad, but here at home it is not a rapist. It always asks you clearly and politely if you want to be screwed. And the process in which it asks is called the electoral system. Every four years our government asks us if we want to be screwed, and every four years we say yes. It even holds off-year elections every two years, and in most places citizens are asked to give their consent, at least to being screwed by state and local government, every year or several times a year.
"But we didn't say yes," people tell me. "We voted no!"
Ah, but we have secret vote counting in this country, so how can you prove that you said no? When votes are counted in secret it is the same as when intercourse takes place behind closed doors. It's your word against theirs and they say that you said yes.
"No," they tell me, "it so happens that the whole thing was caught on videotape and we can prove that we said no." And sure enough, there are CD ROMS with the poll tapes, the register books, and the actual ballots, proving that the citizens did not consent. But alas, the statute of limitations* has run out and it is much too late to file charges now. "Why didn't you bring this evidence forward at the time?" I ask.
"Because it was withheld from us," they whine. "The government wouldn't let us have the proof until we'd spent years in court forcing them to release the records."
"You're telling me," I say, "that you had a few drinks with them, went up to their room, they asked you politely if you wanted to get screwed, and you said no, clearly and distinctly, but that they raped you anyway, and that when you tried to get the tapes to prove it, they wouldn't give them to you until it was too late for you to file charges?"
"Uh," they respond, "we thought that as long as there was a verifiable record of what happened, it would be perfectly safe."
If I hadn't seen the evidence with my own eyes, I don't think I'd believe that there had been any rape. People that dumb are so easily seduced that it isn't usually necessary to rape them. But I have seen the evidence and they were indeed raped.**
In 2000 the people clearly said no, but the Supreme Court didn't consider the evidence (the vote count, the illegal voter purges, the voter suppression, and the rigged ballots and voting machines) to be admissible, so an unelected President was installed against the express will of the people. That's rape. But by the time the government released the evidence, it was too late to do anything about it.
In 2004 the people again clearly said no, and this time one of the candidates had promised that he would ensure that they would be given an accurate record of the evidence, but at the last minute, he changed his mind. Once again the evidence was withheld and the unelected President was installed for a second term. And once again by the time the people were able to prove they'd been raped, it was too late to do anything about it and the damage could not be repaired.
In the 2008 election there was no need to meddle with the election. Since the only two candidates with any chance  of winning had virtually identical voting records, agendas, and big donors, people could vote however they wanted and the result would be the same. So once again the government asked you politely if you wanted to get screwed, and once again you shmoozed with them, had a few drinks together, and then went into their voting booth and said  no. And once again you're claiming that you were raped and that you didn't realize it until it was much too late to do anything about it.
And yet people still berate me when I suggest that they not go to the polls next time.
"If we don't vote, we can't complain," they say.
What good does complaining do?
"If we don't vote, the bad guys will win," they tell me.
Do the good guys win when they do vote?
"It's our civic duty and responsibility to vote," they claim.
In rigged elections with secret vote counts for candidates who can't be held accountable? Give me a break!
"This time it might be different," they say.
Really? Did we get a new Constitution that guaranteed us the right to have our votes counted and counted accurately? Did we abolish the Electoral College? Did we outlaw the optical scanners, electronic voting machines, and central tabulators the way that Germany's Supreme Court did because they conceal electoral processes from the public and are therefore incompatible with democracy? Did we establish publicly funded elections, equal ballot access,  and restore the Fairness Doctrine to get corporate money out of politics so that third party candidates have a level playing field? Did we eliminate gerrymandered districts? Did we gain proportional representation? What's different this time?
"People who don't vote are apathetic," they say.
Who's more apathetic, people who don't care who governs them or how they're governed, or people who refuse to delegate their power to officials they can't hold accountable?
Well, the first time somebody tells me that they've been raped, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I will ask how it happened and if it seems to me that they were engaging in risky behavior, I'll suggest that they be more careful in the future.
The second time that somebody tells me they've been raped, and they explain that it happened in the exact same way because they ignored my advice, I begin to feel that they are at least partially to blame themselves.
But when it happens a third time and a fourth time, I have no more sympathy. Unless you enjoyed it the first few times, you wouldn't consent to allow it to happen again and again. So if you are one of the 99% who have been getting screwed, and particularly if you are one of the many who don't like what our government has been doing to us, but you  are going to cast a ballot in 2012  granting your personal consent of the governed for them to keep screwing  you, please try to understand that when you grant your consent, they have your explicit permission to screw you, so don't complain afterwards that you've been raped, because that's not rape, that's consensual political intercourse, so don't come crying to me!

*The "Statute of limitations" referred to above is the moment that a federal elected official is sworn into office. If it is possible to prove before then that an election was stolen, it is sometimes possible to get a recount or even a new election. Once they are sworn into office, merely proving that the election had been stolen is not sufficient to remove them from office. And since we don't have access to the audit logs of the central tabulators until an election has been certified, while federal officials can be, and have been, sworn into office before their elections are certified, it is impossible to analyze the logs to prove that an election was stolen in time to prevent an official from being sworn in.
Constitutionally, once an elected federal official has been sworn in, the only way to remove them from office is by getting Congress to impeach them. Since the Democratic majority Congress at the time took impeachment of Bush and Cheney for Constitutional violations and crimes against humanity off the table and refused to even discuss it, the chances of Congress impeaching anyone is negligible. A Republican majority Congress might impeach a Democrat for politically partisan reasons, but a Democratic majority Congress is unlikely to impeach a Republican for any reason whatsoever.
**The Evidence:
Witness to a Crime: A Citizens' Audit of an American Election by Richard Hayes Phillips (Hardcover with CD ROM, Canterbury Press, March 2008)
How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008 by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (Paperback - Sep 21, 2005)
What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election by Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld, and Harvey Wasserman
Did George W. Bush Steal America's 2004 Election? by Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld, and Harvey Wasserman (Paperback - May 30, 2005)
Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?: Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count by Steve Freeman and Joel Bleifuss (Paperback - Jun 19, 2006)
HACKED! High Tech Election Theft in America - 11 Experts Expose the Truth by Abbe Waldman Delozier and Vickie Karp (Paperback - Sep 5, 2006)
Irreparable Harm: The U.S. Supreme Court and The Decision That Made George W. Bush President by Renata Adler (Paperback - Jul 2004)
Fooled Again: The Real Case for Electoral Reform by Mark Crispin Miller (Paperback - Jun 2007)
Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 by Mark Crispin Miller (Paperback - April 1, 2008)
Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast (Paperback - Apr, 2007)


I got this email from a Democrat 2 days ago:

Voting won't solve this, but not voting won't solve it either. The trouble is that if you can solve it through other channels, you don't want to sacrifice voting as a matter of protest. We need people to vote.  You think that because voting will not solve it, then we should not vote. That's like saying that since a refrigerator won't heat up water, we should get rid of it. no, we should use the stove to heat water but we still need the frig for cooling. 

The fact that you argue this point is idiotic. I don't think that makes you an idiot, but almost, unless you can get it and move on.

My response:

I'm not saying that if a refrigerator won't heat water, we should get rid of it. 

I'm saying that if a refrigerator doesn't keep foods cool, is leaking toxic coolant, costs much more than we can afford just for the electricity to keep it running, and would cost more to repair than the price of getting a new one, we should get rid of it and get a new one. 

I'm not saying that our current electoral system isn't doing a job it wasn't intended to do, I'm saying that it is not doing the job that it WAS intended to do, is harming us, our economy, and our environment, costs more than we can afford, and would cost more to repair than the price of getting a new, functional electoral system that was honest, open, free, fair, and did the job it was intended to do, i.e., gave us a voice in government so that our interests would be represented.

I'm also saying that IF the refrigerator is not only NOT keeping foods cool, but is also leaking toxic coolant that is making the foods inside inedible, we should stop eating that food and stop putting more food into it until we get a new one. In other words, if our electoral system is furthering the interests of the 1% instead of the interests of the 99%, we should stop voting until we get a system that would allow our interests to be represented.

Voting would be a great way to protest if the votes had to be counted and the results could be verified. Since the votes do not have to be counted and the results cannot be verified, it is like protesting by hiding inside your closet with a protest sign.



After not hearing back from him for a day, I saw him at Occupy last evening, said I was still awaiting his reply, and he indicated that he did not intend to reply.

Here's another email I got from a Democrat a few weeks ago:

I am supportive of the Occupy movement’s goals and their democratic process. But other than making demands or requests of those in power, I don’t understand how you envision making structural changes, unless you’re advocating an actual overthrow by violent means, which I don’t think is your intent.

Here's my response:

Thank you for your support of the Occupy movement's goals and process.

Do you know how to change a flat tire by yourself if you have to? What would you say to somebody who insisted that if you changed a flat by yourself instead of asking a qualified mechanic to change your flat for you, you might be trying to violently overthrow the automotive repair industry, although they were reasonably certain that wasn't your intent? Would you think somebody like that was baiting you?
What if you got a flat right in front of an automotive repair business, but the last time they'd fixed a flat for you they had not only overcharged you, but had scraped the paint on the side of your car and accidentally dented the fender? Would you feel justified in fixing the flat yourself even if it interfered with their ability to maximize profits? Would you consider yourself a revolutionary for fixing your own flat because you already knew that the people who fixed it last time charged too much and did more harm than good?

Fixing the system ourselves instead of making demands on people in power might just be the sensible thing to do. If the people in that garage are crooks who intentionally cause more damage to cars so that they can charge for extra repairs, and they see you fixing your own flat tire right in front of their business, they are likely to be angry. But I'd say that if you are capable of doing it yourself, and they have proven themselves incompetent or dishonest, you have a right to do it yourself instead of paying them to do it. Of course you can't demand that they do it unless you pay them. And if they happen to have a customer who will pay them more, you might have to wait around for hours before they get to you. You know how the system works.  ;) 


I never got a reply to that one either.




The most frequent question I'm asked when I give a teach-in about boycotting elections is, "What difference would it make? If only a hundred people voted, the government would make whoever got the majority of those hundred votes President and things would go on as before."

At my most recent teach-in when that question was asked, somebody who'd been to my teach-ins before spoke up and answered the question for me, having already heard it numerous times.

When a government loses the consent of the governed, it can no longer claim to be an elected government, and is very likely to lose allies, credit, and any lingering credibility it may have had. Here's something I wrote a while back to explain it:


Recently I asked the new president of a local activist group that had banned me from speaking, if I would be allowed to speak under the new leadership. I explained that I'm an election boycott advocate. The reply I got was:

"So my question is - how does NOT voting change anything? I can see actually writing in someone you believe in - but not voting simply is giving up."

I decided to answer the question as thoroughly as I could. Here's what I wrote: 

South Africa endured many years of violence under the Apartheid regime. Many people and countries worldwide boycotted Apartheid, but the US government insisted on supporting the Apartheid regime, saying that while the US abhorred Apartheid, the regime was the legitimate government of South Africa. Then the Apartheid regime held another election. No more than 7% of South Africans voted. Suddenly everything changed. No longer could the US or anyone else say that the Apartheid regime had the consent of the governed. That was when the regime began to make concessions. Suddenly the ANC, formerly considered to be a terrorist group trying to overthrow a legitimate government, became freedom fighters against an illegitimate government. It made all the difference in the world, something that decades more of violence could never have done.
In Cuba, when Fidel Castro's small, ragged, tired band were in the mountains, the dictator Batista held an election (at the suggestion of the US, by the way). Only 10% of the population voted. Realizing that he had lost the support of 90% of the country, Batista fled. Castro then, knowing that he had the support of 90% of the country, proceeded to bring about a true revolution.
In Haiti, when the US and US-sponsored regimes removed the most popular party from the ballot, in many places only 3% voted. The US had to intervene militarily, kidnap Aristide, and withhold aid after the earthquake to continue to control Haiti, but nobody familiar with the situation thought that the Haitian government had the consent of the governed or was legitimate. 
Boycotting elections alone will not oust the oligarchy, but it is the only proven non-violent way to delegitimize a government. 
A lot of people here are complaining about the Citizens United decision. Some want to amend the Constitution because there is no appeal from a Supreme Court decision (their edicts have the same weight as the Divine Right of Kings), but getting enough states to ratify is a long drawn out and not always successful process, as I'm sure you recall from the ERA. But suppose that the corporations spent ten to fifteen billion dollars on an election (they spent at least five billion on the last midterms, so that's not unreasonable) and almost nobody voted. Do you think their boards of directors would let them do it again?
Here are some of the most common canards that political party operatives use to argue against not voting:
1. Not voting is doing nothing.
If you're doing something wrong, or something that is self-destructive or hurting others, stopping might be a good idea. 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? 
2. If we don't vote the bad guys will win.
A. We've been voting. When did the good guys win? Besides, it is often hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Suppose Gore had won, and then died of a heart attack. Do you think the Democrats who voted for him would have been happy with Joe Lieberman as President? Besides, Gore actually did win the popular vote. The Supreme Court stopped the vote count and put Bush in office. So just because the good guys win doesn't mean that they get to take office. Kerry also won the popular vote, but before anyone could finish counting the votes, he had to break both his promises, that he wouldn't concede early and that he would ensure that every vote was counted, in order to get the bad guy back in office again. Our Constitution was written to ensure that those who owned the country would always rule it, so the popular vote can be overruled by the Electoral College, Congress, the Supreme Court, or by the winning candidate conceding, and is not the final say. Even if we had accurate, verifiable vote counts, and everyone who voted, voted for a good guy, it doesn't mean that good guy could take office unless the Electoral College, Congress, and the Supreme Court allowed it. Even then, the good guy might fear that the Security State might assassinate him they way they killed JFK, and either concede or stop being a good guy in order to survive. The Supreme Court, of course, has the Constitutional power to intervene on any pretext, and its decisions, no matter how unconstitutional, irrational, unprecedented, or even downright insane, can not be appealed, so they do have the final say. 
3.  If you don't vote, you can't complain.
A. What good does complaining do? When successive administrations of both parties tell you that they will not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions, you can complain all you want and it won't do you any good. But you don't need to vote to have the right to complain. The Declaration of Independence is a long list of complaints against a king by colonists who were not allowed to vote. The right to gripe is one of those unalienable rights that is not granted by governments or kings. If you're treated unjustly, you have the right to complain. A lot of people who voted for Obama are now angry with his policies and are complaining loudly. He couldn't care less.
4. It is a citizen's responsibility and civic duty to vote.
A. Only if the government holding the election is has secured your civil and human rights. If it has not, if it has instead become destructive of your civil and human rights, " is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." Declaration of Independence
5. Your vote is your voice in government.
A. In a democratic form of government it would be. In a democratic form of government, such as a direct or participatory democracy, people can vote on things like budgets, wars, and other important issues, and have a voice in government. In our "representative" government, people can only vote for representatives who may or may not listen to them or act in their interests, and who cannot be held accountable during their terms of office, which is the only time they hold power and need to be held accountable. Waiting until somebody has killed a million people in a war based on lies, destroyed the economy, and taken away your civil rights, and then trying to elect somebody else, is much too late because by then much of the damage cannot be undone and your grandchildren will still be paying for it.
6. Just because things didn't work out the way we wanted last time, and the time before that, and the time before that, doesn't mean that they won't this time.
A. Some say that Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same experiment over and over and expecting different results.
7. If we don't vote, the Tea Party, the Breivik-types, and all the lunatics will, and they'll run the country.
A. They're a minority, no more than 10% at the very most. Of the approximately 50% of our electorate that votes, fewer than 10% vote for 3rd parties. South Africa tried to seat the winning candidates after the election boycott, but nobody thought they were legitimate.
8. You don't have the numbers to pull off an election boycott.
A. There are already more people who don't vote, who either don't think our government is relevant to them, don't think their vote matters, or don't think that anyone on the ballot would represent them or could, since anyone who represented the people would be a small minority with no seniority in government, than there are registered Democrats or Republicans. We have greater numbers than either major party, but they haven't given up so why should we?
9. People who don't vote are apathetic.
A. When you vote, you are granting your consent of the governed. That's what voting is all about. If you knowingly vote for people you can't hold accountable, it means that you don't really care what they do once they're in office. All you care about is your right to vote, not whether or not you will actually be represented or if the government will secure your rights. Prior to the '08 election, when Obama had already joined McCain in supporting the bailouts that most people opposed, and had expressed his intention to expand the war in Afghanistan, I begged every progessive and peace activist I knew not to vote for bailouts and war. They didn't care and they voted for Obama anyway. That's apathy. But it's worse than that. Once I had learned how rigged our elections are, I started asking election integrity activists if they would still vote if the only federally approved voting mechanism was a flush toilet. About half just laughed and said that of course they wouldn't. But the other half got indignant and accused me of trying to take away their precious right to vote. When I finished asking everyone I could, I ran an online poll and got the same results. Half of all voters really are so apathetic that they don't care if their vote is flushed down a toilet, as long as they can vote. They really don't know the difference between a voice in government, and an uncounted or miscounted, unverifiable vote for somebody they can't hold accountable. They never bothered to find out what voting is supposed to be about and yet they think that they're not apathetic because they belong to a political party and vote.
I waited a couple of days, and when I got no response, wrote to ask why. This was the answer:
"I did not respond because I have nothing to add to your excellent feedback - one way or the other. All valid arguments for your case. But most of us, and I do admit to including myself, do not act on reason - we act on gut. That sort of makes you a lonely person? But courageous nonetheless. Keep speaking out."
In other words, it is saying that I'm right, but since it makes people feel uncomfortable, I still won't be allowed to speak. I have been speaking out for five years, but since most organizations are in some way political party, candidate, or electoral issue related, they will not allow me a forum.


The Occupy Movement has allowed me a forum both through teach-ins and now here at Occupy Cafe, and because the movement is nonpolitical, it can resist divisive tactics and has the potential to prevail. We have less than a year until the next Presidential election. Will people once again consent to the status quo, or will there be enough people who withhold their consent to delegitimize the empire? 

Here's part of a very astute comment that a friend posted on my website in response to the above article:

Way to go (again) Mark. In five years of following this "conversation" with election boycott advocacy naysayers, I don't recall anyone so blandly confessing to be incapable of acting from reason. Truly astonishing. The Fleetwood Mac song "Hypnotized" comes to mind. ("Seems like a dream, they got me hypnotized...") And then there's the Orwell description of (self-) deception: "The process of deception has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt.... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary." George Orwell, 1984. The person in question is engaged in self-deception in this manner. Hypnotized by Big Brother, perhaps.

In any case, I've noted before, so I'll note again, what the essential difference is between the elections boycott advocate and the political engaged naysayer:

In general, the election boycott advocate's position might be described as sociological, rather than political. That is, the arguments for election boycotts proceed from a sociological understanding of political power, while the objections generally arise from conventional attitudes associated with various modes of participation in the electoral process. In other words, the election boycott advocate believes (to paraphrase Upton Sinclair's thesis regarding journalism in America) that elections are among "the devices whereby industrial autocracy keeps its control over political democracy... Not hyperbolically and contemptuously, but literally and with scientific precision," the elections boycott advocate defines The Electoral Process in America as the business and practice of engineering political consent in the interest of economic privilege.

From this perspective it should be easy to see why the objections to elections boycott advocacy, and objections to the rebuttals to those objections, always fall short: They systematically fail to address the sociological perspective on political consent and its relation to political legitimacy - the sociological fact that political power requires consent to be legitimate. That's not to say that political power requires legitimacy to exist, but political power will be maintained more easily as more claims to legitimacy can be secured. Conversely, as those in power lose legitimacy, so do they then face increasing threats of loss of power. This is the reason for elections boycott advocacy. To participate in elections is, ipso facto, to legitimize and perpetuate the status quo; to boycott elections is to delegitimize and politically starve the status quo.


What are your thoughts? Can we prevail against a government which claims our consent to bash our heads in? Wouldn't we have a better chance if they didn't have our consent? Only about half the eligible electorate votes in this country, and among voters, only 9% approve of Congress. Can the Occupy Movement expose those who disapprove of the government they're voting for, to direct democracy in time for them to decide not to vote in 2012?

This reminds me of what Peter Block has to say about the need for us to shift from being "consumers" (even in politics) to "citizens."  Here's a taste from Community: the Structure of Belonging, my favorite book of his:

If what holds the possibility of an alternative future for our community is our capacity to fully come into being as a citizen, then we have to talk about this word citizen. Our definition here is that a citizen is one who is willing to be accountable for and committed to the well-being of the whole. That whole can be a city block, a community, a nation, theearth. A citizen is one who produces the future, someone who does notwait, beg, or dream for the future.

The antithesis of being a citizen is the choice to be a consumer or a client,an idea that John McKnight again has been so instructive about. Consumers give power away. They believe that their own needs can be best satisfied by the actions of others––whether those others are elected officials, top management,social service providers, or the shopping mall. Consumers also allow others to define their needs. If leaders and service providers are guilty of labeling or projecting onto others the “needs” to justify their own style of leadership orservice that they provide, consumers collude with them by accepting others’ definition of their needs. This provider-consumer transaction is the breeding ground for entitlement, and it is unfriendly to our definition of citizen and the power inherent in that definition.

The Meaning of Citizenship

The conventional definition of citizenship is concerned with the act of voting and taking a vow to uphold the constitution and laws of a country. This is narrow and limiting. Too many organizations that are committed to sustaining democracy in the world and at home have this constrained view of citizenship.Citizenship is not about voting, or even about having a vote. To construe the essence of citizenship primarily as the right to vote reduces its power––as if voting ensures a democracy. It is certainly a feature of democracy, but as Fareed Zakaria points out in his book The Future of Freedom, the right to votedoes not guarantee a civil society, or in our terms a restorative one.

When we think of citizens as just voters, we reduce them to being consumers of elected officials and leaders. We see this most vividly at election time, when candidates become products, issues become the message, and the campaign is a marketing and distribution system for the selling of the candidate. Great campaign managers are great marketers and product managers.Voters become target markets, demographics, whose most important role is to meet in focus groups to respond to the nuances of message. This is the power of the consumer, which is no power at all.

Through this lens, we can understand why so many people do not vote.They do not believe their action can impact the future. It is partly a self chosen stance and partly an expression of the helplessness that grows out of a retributive world. This way of thinking is not an excuse not to vote, but it does say that our work is to build the capacity of citizens to be accountable and to become creators of community.  pp.63-64

Perhaps the central and most compelling aspect of the Occupy movement is a rejection of the passive stance of the consumer and a bold and highly visible reclaiming of the role of citizen.




Nearly forty years ago, I picked this up from Wendell Berry:

There is a chief way for the production of wealth, namely, that the producers be many and that the mere consumers be few, that the artisan mass be energetic and the consumers temperate.

It's Confucian.  It stuck and has provided much guidance.  Fairly recently, it dawned on me that it is not primarily an assertion, but an observation of ecosystems.  The assertion is that ecosystems provide a model for socio-economic design.

Since ecosystems are local/regional, with global processes influential, my visions are of local/regional substitutes for nearly everything the big inhumane system has built and proposed.

We are to be producers, participants in and with creation.  The way things are, one is not a producer simply by virtue of employment.


As Makana sings, "We are the many, you are the few." Wendell Berry's wisdom is deeply rooted in the soil. Capitalism simply doesn't allow us the pride of agency our work merits. Seeing ourselves as part of an ecosystem, the way that you do, David, is the only way that we can escape from the big machine or Matrix that isolates and dehumanizes us. Thank you.

Thanks, Ben. I agree with most of what Peter Block says. The only part I disagree with is when he writes about, "the helplessness that grows out of a retributive world."

In asking people why they voted against their own best interests, for example in asking local peace activists why they voted for a pro-war President, I found that most said that they felt that they had no choice, that they believed that they had to vote for what might have been (but in reality wasn't) a lesser evil, in hopes of avoiding a greater evil. That sounds like helplessness to me, a feeling of having limited options, and acting out of fear of retribution.

In the only poll I know of that ever asked nonvoters why they didn't vote, most said that they didn't believe that anyone on the ballot would represent their interests. That, to me, indicates engagement, strength, self-confidence, and empowerment, rather than apathy. They know what their interests are and they know that the candidates on the ballot wouldn't represent them. 

You sum up the genuine options neatly: to continue as passive consumers or to be active citizens. 


Just a quick helo to say thanks for inviting me and that I do indeed hope to participate in this dicussion. 

The whole issue exactly as you pose it  does indeed have to be visitied when we "put on the mind of the 99%".

.that question" what do you mean..I never consented"  is really the heart of it

.If we don't come to understand that none of this can be without our active ongoing cooperation ( a poster here used the analogy of the 1% being a tapeworm in us. a parasite that we feed and nurture by our own choices in every phase of our puchasing bottled water).

Also, most of this "awakening" to "I am the 99%" seemed to come suddenly into focus in the disastrous wake of the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008..  We didn't realize we were consenting and cooperating because it didn't start then.

.for most of the is generational and for us baby boomers., the last to truly have a piece of the pie, something that has been part of our adult lives since we were just satrting our happened slowly, insidiously invisibly over the past 35 years..  We didn't see or know about any gaps beween our value systems and the choices we made every day.  We didn't see or feel that real incomes were going down the whole time.  We didn't connect up in a personal way with what that word "GDP" means.. what "economoc growth means"..that it was including us, including our lives less and the sense of giving us security, food securoty, housing security, personal security.

 It's almost like that hideous story that is told about the boiling frog who doesn't realize he's being boiled alive until it is too late...not that I think it is too late..but I think it is just so amazingly complex.

I have been astonished  nearly to the point of sickness  to wake up at this late date and through the internet begin to see the real story being played out globally and locally in the background of my life, my striving toward livingness for myself and others, ever narrowing my possibilities and theirs.. I had no idea.  I didn;t see it.  I didnt get it.  Like the frog in the boilng water.

Part of the work I think that we have to do to put on the mind of the 99% is to help others caught in rage, and despair to name the present circumstances of their lives that frighten them, oppress them, make them feel helpless and then help them track that back out to the what and who generates those paricular current in the moment events that have a direct impact on their lives, their possibility.

Anger, frustration, fear, despair has to give way to a sort of personal inventory of the actual circumstances underneath that..( my house is in foreclosure, I had to stop fishing when they passed that federal law on lines to protect whales cause I couldn't afford that much new line, I can't afford fuel for my boat,  the dock prices don't cover my costs..after I pay stern man I am in the hole by almost 30 cents a pound if lobster at the dock gets only 2.50/lb)

And from there we can begin to march forward shoulder to shoulder..we get a sense of the direction  we get a glimpse of a future that dos include us, our children and grandchildren, an ocean with enough biodiversity to keep feeding us..

And from there we begin to change everything about how we view government, economy, the purposes and possibilities of these things if we engage them to serve life, to serve humanity, to serve the future. 

I sing  Leonard Cohen's song "The Window" almost every day accompanying myself on harmonium or dulcimer.  Strangely although written so long ago it seems to say where we are and what we need to do right now in this particular moment.

A few gems from it.."Why do you stand at the window, abandoned to beauty and pride, the thorn of the night in your bosom , the spear of the age in your side.....oh chosen love..oh frozen love..oh tangle of matter and ghost, oh darling of angels and deamons and saints, and the whole broken hearted host..gentle my soul..come forth from the cloud of unknowing..kiss the cheek of the moon...climb on your tears and be a rose on its ladder of thorns...lay your rose on the fire the fire give up to the sun, the sun give over to splendor..bless the contunuous stutter of the Word being made into flesh."

Am just scrambling to get off for a Thanksgiving with friends and not home again until next week but will check in a bit from time to time to keep up with the conversation even if I can't participate..


Thanks again for bringing us this very key conversation and for inviting me to be part of it.



I too think the tapeworm analogy is particularly apt, Lindsay. Thank you for the Leonard Cohen lyrics and for your keen observations on how we're becoming more socially aware. I agree that we have to replace our negative emotions with constructive plans and actions. My grandparents taught me how fulfilling and satisfactory work is, but when I entered the work force in our capitalist system I discovered that the 1% had found a way to make even work a punishment instead of a pleasure. We really need to turn that around.


It is better to spoil your ballot with a large X rather than not vote at all. Not voting only indicates apathy not disapproval. In fact it can be interpreted as acceptance of the status quo. After all, if you didn't like it, you would vote. A deliberately spoiled ballot sents the message that you are engaged, not lazy or stupid, and don't accept any of the choices being offered.

Aside from spoiling a ballot there are usually a few fringe parties that can use some support. Both the Green Party and the Marijuana Party come to mind.


Why do you think that it is better to spoil your ballot than to not vote at all, Gisele? 

Certainly not voting could be interpreted as apathy, but only by those who are themselves so apathetic that they are willing to support the status quo by voting for people who can't be held accountable, in elections where their votes don't even have to be counted.

It is the turnout, not the ballot choices of voters, that grants a government the consent of the governed. A spoiled ballot counts as part of the voter turnout, and therefore indicates that the person casting that spoiled ballot has enough faith in the system to participate and do their civic duty to the state, even if they can't find any acceptable choices to vote for. 

Why do you think nonvoters are lazy or stupid? Is working to create a new society where there can be honest elections and real choices on the ballot lazier or stupider than just voting in faith-based elections and hoping for change?

As for third parties, a young man in the UK told me that he'd been taught in grade school that countries that don't have proportional representation cannot be called democracies or republics. Where there is proportional representation, a third party that gets 5% or 10% of the votes, get 5% or 10% of the seats in parliament. In our winner-take-all system, a third party that gets 20% of the votes doesn't get a single seat. Wouldn't it be better for third parties if we withheld our consent until we got a system where their voices could be heard and they would be entitled to representation?

Thank you for joining the discussion, Gisele. If you go back and read the articles I posted to begin this thread, you will find that I addressed and refuted the myth of apathy along with most of the other trite old canards that political party operatives have been parroting endlessly for ages. If you think that my refutations are wrong, please address the specific points you disagree with.




Here's a great article by Tarek Shalaby on why he is boycotting the Egyptian election:

Tarek Shalaby is a blogger, political activist, and web designer. He recently led one of the "Vote or Boycott?" forums in Cairo.




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