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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They will also know that the government requires their consent, not the other way around.

Brilliant framing, Gisele. 

The act of telling people that the government needs their consent is subversive. The current narrative is "people have the right to vote". "The government needs your consent" is a very different way to look at it.


Maybe, "Government needs your consent, you don't need theirs!" is what I'll write on my next sign,. Does that rephrase your first statement clearly?

I've observed that there are several types of people in the Occupy Movement who support the status quo and resist change fiercely, and not all of them fear political or economic instability. Some of the fiercest I call "the believers."  These aren't necessarily stupid or ignorant people and some are quite fearless. If there is such a thing as an "addictive personality," perhaps there's a "believer personality." One guy I know cannot let go of a belief. He was raised to believe in creationism, but when he went to college he started to believe in evolution. So he wrote a book reconciling the two beliefs, explaining how they could be interpreted so as not to conflict with each other. It's a very clever and well-written book, but it is sort of like saying you believe that our current system is democratic by interpreting "plutocracy" to mean, "democracy with a few flaws that can be fixed without changing the system." That's a very common interpretation these days, that rule by the wealthy few is democratic, although the people should have more of a voice, the wealthy shouldn't be able to dominate totally, etc. It is reformist rather than revolutionary. 

I also agree completely with your previous statement, Gisele, that collective brainstorming is a way to move forward, despite times that it doesn't produce solutions. There are also times when it does, as you've enumerated, whereas a refusal to think never will.

What comes to mind if I say "The fire department needs your consent". What do they need my consent for? Unanswered questions tend to drift in people's minds more than statements. So I might leave it at "the government needs your consent".  Some people will think about it.

I've been working on my writing recently I realized sometimes less is better. Almost everyone in Montreal is functionally bilingual but not necessarily in written form. Translators like "" work better with short simple straight-forward sentences. So I started dropping superlative adjectives and split-up complex sentences. For example the previous sentence would become "I started dropping adjectives."..."I also separated complicated sentences."  I started examing my arguments for brevity. I realized that I was stating the obvious too often. I was so eagar to support my opinion that I delivered an avalanche of reasoning to support my opinion. Once I edited back my arguments were more persuasive not less.

A technique I use for slogans or for a "talking point" is to word it every way I can think of, inverted sentence, different wording anything I can think of.  Live with them for a few days. You'll be drawn to one.

Yes! I will do everything you suggest, Gisele, and see what develops. Thank you.

At the other end of the spectrum from boycotting elections. 25,000 came out on December 11  to a call by the coalition of ever present and never ceasing who represent the real 99% to protest the nationwide Republican voter rights action.  No help no show from Occupy


25,000 marchers, peaceful, united, welcomed.  Not one "spontaneous" act of anarchism.  The didn't confront or harm anyone.  They didn't take over and vandalize any vacant buildings..they had a parade permit.

Occupy could  and should learn a great deal from these tried and true advocates for the poor and working poor in how to witness evil, how to stand in solidarity, how to seek change, how to organize an action.  How to focus effort meaningfully.  How to raise awareness meaningfully.

 Also watch the video at RealNews ( or any of the many videos on the event)..In contrast to many Occupy protests and actions these 25,000 were the real face of the 99%..blacks, hispanics, asians, people of all ages and backgrounds and cultures.  A true people's coalition.

Can Occupy do that?  Has it done it yet?  When will it start?


Yes, Lindsay, there are many people, particularly those who were denied voting rights in the past, who still believe that their right to vote is valuable. 

It would be, if this was a democratic system of government in which the votes had to be counted and actually influenced policy decisions.

Voter suppression is a common ploy to distract attention from the real problems with our system. An example is the Florida 2000 race where many blacks were illegally disenfranchised. The election, however, was not ultimately decided by counting the votes. The Supreme Court ruled that there was no Constitutional right that the votes be counted, ordered that the vote count be stopped, and selected the President themselves. So it wasn't just those who had been illegally purged from the voter rolls who were disenfranchised, the entire electorate was disenfranchised. The same thing happened in 2004 when one candidate conceded before the votes could be counted. There were even efforts at voter suppression in 2008 when both candidates had the same big corporate donors and the same pro-war, pro-bailout agenda and it didn't matter at all to the 1% which one of them won.

I don't know how to explain to people that uncounted votes are not valuable and that casting an uncounted vote isn't a precious right. I've tried many times, such as when I asked election integrity activists if they'd still vote if the only federally approved voting mechanism was a flush toilet. Half just laughed and said that of course they wouldn't. But the other half became angry with me for asking, and accused me of trying to take away their precious right to vote, for which their forebears had shed blood. How to explain to people that their forebears didn't die so that their votes could be flushed down a toilet, but for them to have a real voice in government? If you can do it, you're a lot better at explaining things than I am.

For the 1%, voter suppression is a very effective tool. How can you make people believe something is valuable unless they think somebody is trying to take it away from them? If all the 1% did was spend billions of dollars getting out the vote, without spending a few million on voter suppression, people might ignore their media campaigns. They can't deliver the vote unless they're able to convince people that uncounted votes are valuable, and there's really no better way to do that than some widely publicized attempts at voter suppression. 

Lindsay, did you ever read my little essay on The Value of Voting?

And thank you for mentioning the voter rights rally, Lindsay. I'd noticed that somebody had started a topic about it, but I'm trying to honor Ben's request that I limit my responses to this discussion alone, so unless you'd mentioned it here, I wouldn't have been able to respond.

You make an important point about diversity. We had the same situation in Montreal. I have been thinking about that myself. I feel that Occupy is in a semi-dormant state right now which makes it a good time to think about philosophy. We should be thinking about outreach and how to accomplish it. We need to check ourselves and examine how we are failing to represent these communities. We need to read their blogs and genuinely ask them why they aren't involved. We need to be ready to be insulted. The "liberal academic elite" is regularly criticised for not listening with respect. We need to ask them what solutions they would like to see rather than walking in with a lecture ready to tell them what they should think. We can't "sell" them on the idea of participation. If we are truely inclusive then we have to welcome them on their own terms and acknowledging their reality.We can reach out through the churchs to begin with. I don't know about elsewhere but in Canada we didn't get much teen interest either. It's a very important demographic. Even if they are too young to join they would enjoy the experience of a youth GA and group discussion.

Wow, I just read back and saw the attacks on Mark and I am so appalled I had to respond. This is not the Occupy Movement I experience in Montreal. Montrealers get upset with each other too but when it happens other people step in to calm the waters never to cause further strife.We are dedicated to non-violence in our words as well as our deeds.

Mark thought I was a troll at one point and now I can see why he thought I might be because people have entered this thread with the sole purpose of attacking him. Knowing that Mark is every bit as sincere as I am in wanting a better world I bit my tongue and proved that I am not a troll by not acting like one. Mark may be over-zealous to the point of being abrasive but it is coming from a good place. At the heart of the Occupy movement I know is a commitment to non-confrontational consensus building. If someone's passion gets out of hand we do not attack and bully the individual. We calm ourselves so that we can de-escalate tensions not exaberate them. We do not badger the person with questions intended to challenge rather than to reach deeper understanding. Sometimes in the end we have to agree to disagree but we try to do so with respect towards each other.

Suggesting Mark is dangerous to the Occupy movement is just perposterous. Mark is not capable of forcing people to waste their time. He isn't forcing anyone to read and respond here or anywhere else. The best way to get rid of anyone is to simply refuse to engage. Do you fear his arguments are so persuasive that hoards of people won't vote because they read his posts?

It is very odd to me that people within the movement are promoting voting. All governments in recent history have been complicit in padding the pockets of the wealthy while robbing the poor. The point of OWS was to turn the light on the structural corruption of democracy by the financial elite. It's like choosing between drowning and water-boarding. Water-boarding may be the better choice but I would rather not have either.

I am not saying the entire system has to be destroyed but telling people to vote seems like a pretty naive solution to me, especially considering the fast rate of destruction of the only planet we have to live on. Voting is not likely to turn that around. I don't agree with Mark that telling people not to vote is the answer right now but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea or that it is harmful.

Concerning direct-democracy; Mark is not promoting national twinkle-fingers. You can read more about direct-democracy as a system on Wikipedia. It's not a concept Mark created personally. As Mark proved in another post "direct democracy" is indeed an OWS philosophy. Even though it is not being broadly promoted as a replacement for the current system of government it has been a focal point of the movement. In Montreal we invited the public to participate in a GA to illustrate the concept. We wanted to show people that there is another way to approach politics. We wanted to illustrate that consensus building can be used as an alternative form of decision-making as opposed to our current confrontational method that leads to vicious attack ads rather than reasoned debated. 

I am sure that you are good people who feel passionately about what you think the Occupy Movement should do but in my opinion your behavior reflects much worse on the movement than Mark's. I don't agree that "getting out the vote" should happen as an Occupy activity. I think it undermines the movement. However, seeing as the Occupy movement is a direct democracy there is no leader to tell you that you can't do that.

Gisele, this is to you, for your benefit alone, because you seem like a genuine person. You have many misunderstanding about what my position is, though you say you read the threads. I personally never stated or advocated most of what you attribute to me. 

But before I clarify, the fact is that Mark himself engages in so many horrendous attacks on the people who don't agree with him. As you'll notice if you reread, his constant refrain is that those who do not support his "direct democracy only" system are essentially fascists -- people who support genocidal baby killing, etc. If that escaped you, I encourage you to reread. I can promise you that the people Mark fights here and on other forums are people who are spending most of their lives engaged in fighting the corporate killing, here and abroad -- just not in Mark's demanded method.

I was clear and honest that I didn't come here to reach consensus with Mark, but to call him out, to force him to expose the essential fallacies of his arguments, which he makes in many other forums besides this one, wasting people's time and confusing the dialog.

I care about this because I care about Occupy. One of the great risks of Occupy right now -- maybe the greatest -- is to become a "fringe" movement, to be marginalized as full of extremists with unworkable ideas. Many people outside the movement already see it this way and THEY are part of the 99%, supposedly. How do we reach them if we are promoting the end of the Republican form of government a huge swath of the population deeply supports? If we are saying things like "taxes should be voluntary" -- most people will write us off as lunatic hippies and NEVER listent to a thing we have to say again. Regardless of how you might feel personally about this, it's the damn truth.

Do I think Mark's ideas are so provocative that people will follow them? Absolutely, yes. And he does a very strong job in communicating many of them -- up to the point where it has to be explained how they will actually work.

Gisele, they don't work. We aren't going to scrap representation for a consensus based system of local, state and national government -- only, perhaps, if some massive cataclysm, ecological collapse, etc, decimates us to the point where we only have local community to communicate with and rely on. And that may happen, I'm not ruling it out. But even then, it won't last forever, we will evolve again toward more complexity requiring forms of representation.

As I said more than once, I am FOR direct democracy, on the community level. What I am NOT for is pushing totally unworkable ideas within a movement that needs, more than anything, to be taken very seriously by people outside its small numbers. It's actually a very, very small movement right now -- it has a big media presence, but still very small numbers -- and everyone on the outside is waiting quite impatiently for Occupy to make some kind of definitive statement about where its going.

Also, many other people in Occupy besides Mark DO support the end of representation and using only direct democracy tools -- and some young techies are calling for totally online direct democracy where everyone votes online directly for legislation. This is possibly the worst idea I've ever heard, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that we need to vote with hand-counted paper ballots, not online. But then of course you have the true madness of decentralized legislation, which leads to the topsy-turvy stupidity of what happened in California and their dueling ballot initiatives.

Anyway, I did not, as you inferred, ever say that Occupy should do a "get out the vote" campaign. I am working with Occupy Rigged Elections to call attention to the way our votes are stolen at the ballot box by centrally rigged computers.

This is incredibly important information that needs to come to light, and which I know about because my father and uncle spent over 25 years investigating corporate computerized election fraud.

If our votes were not centrally rigged, and if we organized together to demand the full and total end to corporate money controlling our representatives (which we are starting to do), then I do believe we would make significant change. I believe we could elect a majority of decent people to office, who would end the wars, reinvest the money into sustainable infrastructure, which would create new jobs, and undo many of the worst attacks on our liberties in the past 10 years.

Marks' ideas of national consensus are, I believe, 100% totally unworkable ideas. But that doesn't mean they won't find their supporters. Communism was a bad idea, it got a lot of supporters. A lot of people don't have a very strong grasp of politics and history. Look at Michele Bachman! Anyway, just because an idea is unworkable or even insane, doesn't mean you can't reach a critical mass of people buying into it -- especially if it's extremist and beguiling because it gives a cultish black and white lense in which to see the world, it reduces complexity down to sound bites, it makes life seem simple and workable and that you are on the "good" team and everyone else is evil (genocidal baby killers who support the system, like me, according to Mark).

I'd like to see a united movement in 2012 to end corporate personhood, enact full campaign finance reform, and institute hand counted paper ballots in every precinct so that when Occupy - aligned candidates start to run (and they will, that is already starting) they will have a strong populist platform, and they will have a chance of getting real support, and their votes will be counted. 

Mark has the right to his opinion, but he doesn't have the right to accuse me or anyone else of supporting all the evils of empire because we are working to seize the empire from within, instead of boycotting it, as is his choice. But he does that because it feeds into the narrative of his "good" vs. our "evil." 

I personally feel the evil empire would love nothing more than to see all us good people opting out of the system. The system doesn't need us. It will keep running. It has grown stronger through our existing apathy and lack of engagement. This is why I believe that advocating disengagement now is exactly the opposite direction we need to go. I will personally do ANYTHING that I believe will create the conditions in which we can level the playing field and end the corporate stranglehold over us all -- and I think we are seeing a new resurgence of political awareness now, and engagement, that could create those conditions.

And if we don't do it now, if we don't seize control of the system via legal means, using its own tools, we will have to resort to open revolution, and they will crack down on us with all the power of their military machines. They may do it anyway.

But in the end, you are right that at the moment, Occupy as a decentralized movement has no right to tell anyone what to do in its name, short of banning violence. If we are indeed the 99%, we will have many different ideas, and will be fighting on many fronts. Some people will choose to engage in the electoral process, others will not -- and perhaps the movement will split along those lines, or perhaps there can be a way to align strategies and tactics toward a common goal.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond so fully and for telling me more about yourself. I want to respond as thoughtfully as you have so it will take a bit of time. I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your words.

I have read in this thread, not other threads, but it isn’t necessary to get into the details. Mark admits that he has been banned from multiple forums. He is incensed at how America behaves outside its borders. America blows up whites sometimes but usually American targets are other colors. America doesn’t even count casualties because they realized it lessens support for blowing people up especially little children. When American can’t avoid referring to them they call them “collateral damage”

America doesn’t just fight wars for self-defence. They make it perfectly clear that they “defend American interests abroad”. In other words they blow up babies for oil. If Obama dropped a bomb on New York would you tell people to get out and vote? I assumed Mark is American born but that isn’t the point. He can relate to people of all races whose lives have been sacrificed for American comfort, not defense. America anointed itself the “Leader of the Free World”.

The people in the twin towers may have been innocent but America certainly isn’t. America’s hands are awash in blood. Just try hinting that America invited the attack. Americans think they are entitled to decide who has the right to fight back. Killing people with drones from thousands of miles away is valid, but a 15 year old throwing a grenade out of a house being attacked by the US military is a criminal that can be detained indefinitely without any contact with the outside world.

Mark is not wrong about Americans allowing their government to wage war against innocent civilians when they aren’t busy supporting brutal dictatorships. We live in democracies. We are responsible for what our governments do. We say “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Well Americans know what their government is doing in their name and still have not risen up to stop it. Americans have over 1,000 military bases around the world and calls itself the world police.

Mark should not be inferring that posters themselves are fascist or support baby-killing. He undermines his own arguments when his anger gets the better of him; but it’s not that unreasonable. He’s trying to shock. He is trying to tell people that they are consenting to blowing up babies. He’s right. As long as the bombs aren’t falling in North America we don’t care enough to really do something about it. Both Canadians and Americans are self-involved and we are responsible for our governments’ actions. We pay the taxes that pay for the bombs. We elect the people who decide to drop the bombs. Is his anger so unjustifiable, so misdirected?

I agree that people will probably not withdraw consent in large enough numbers to cause a serious rupture in the governing of America. That means Americans will continue to consent to blowing up babies. That is the simple truth. If American babies were getting blown to bits in Boston or Washington we would overthrow the government within hours. The military, the police, citizens, everyone would rise up and take control of the White House. But it isn’t American babies, so no one rises up. Maybe Mark is being unrealistic to think that just maybe Americans will stop giving their government funds and permission to blow up babies. That’s a sad commentary on America not on Mark.

I can’t fault Mark for (figuratively-speaking) shaking people’s shoulders and screaming “DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND THEY ARE KILLING BABIES IN YOUR NAME WITH YOUR TAX DOLLARS!!!!!!!!!!” “YOU HAVE TO STOP THEM NOW, NOW, RIGHT AWAY, YOU CAN STOP THEM, IT IS IN YOUR POWER, WITHDRAW YOUR CONSENT!!!!” Mark is actually showing great faith in the goodness of people. He believes if only people really understand what is happening in their name they will make it stop. No one can say he is wrong. There are moments in which people rise up and cause dramatic social change. The French revolution wasn’t scheduled. The ruling-class is wreaking havoc across the Earth. Occupy is a worldwide movement. Maybe people are really waking-up. Dramatic changes are happening.

I sense the same window of opportunity as you do Victoria. So does Mark.

I understand that “lets overthrow the government” is an extreme stance that few people are likely to support. On the other hand, the United States is turning positively Orwellian. The police are buying drones. How much time is left for people to regain control? Do you really think electing a different government is going to make that much of a difference? Do you not get the feeling they are playing good cop bad cop?

The representational system we have now failed. Period. It has failed utterly and completely. Power is not in the hands of the people. I agree that a purely direct democracy with no representation whatsoever is unworkable. Ideally we will find a way to combine them. We will not be faced with a ballot someday with tick-boxes asking us to choose between direct or representative government. It is valuable for people to learn the concept of each. We do need a means of keeping direct control over our government. It should not be possible for our government to blow-up babies in our name without our consent. Rather than running scared from the mention of direct democracy it would be better to embrace the concept and study various ways in which it is used now. California is one example but Switzerland is another.

I am reassured that your focus is vote fraud. I hope that Mark can agree that if people are going to vote it is better that the elections at least be fair. In a democracy people can rise-up to take back their government rather than overthrow it.

We have been shoved into this right-wing left-wing dichotomy for so long we have forgotten that most Americans and Canadians are decent people that care about others and their environment. That is what Mark is showing faith in, the common decency of Americans.

I am not comfortable with the idea of Occupy-aligned candidates. I think the non-partisan nature of Occupy is important. It was how we could say “we are the 99%”. The most important thing about Occupy is not that we have somewhere to lead people. It is that we are listening to each other, engaging each other, connecting citizen to citizen and talking about what is really important in life. Occupy is the 99% of people who are not happy with the way things are right now. Expecting Occupy to birth a solution is misguided. The fact that it is neither left, or right, capitalist or anti-capitalist, is its strength not its weakness. It is why we can all come together.

Lots of good points, Giselle, and I only have the energy to respond to the last paragraph.

Occupy aligned candidates could be many things. They could be candidates within existing parties that just take a stand to support the 99% instead of the 1%. They could be Independents running on a similar platform. Or perhaps some people will take their own initiative and start a new party -- which I think these people are proposing at the Occupation Party website.

I agree that the most important thing about Occupy so far has been its listening, engaging, connecting. But I don't think I'm alone in stating that I feel there needs to be action that emerges from that. 

I actually do expect Occupy to birth many solutions, and if it doesn't, I'm not sure why I'm interested in it as a movement. I'm only interested in solutions right now, and I hear many, many good ones. If Occupy is only a forum for discussing them . . . then how do we implement them? Where is the center of action? 

It keeps coming back, again and again, to whether and how Occupy engages with the existing structures of power.

Some of the solutions we can implement outside the power structure, but many we simply cannot. We need to deal with the Goliath.

Also, I think most of the world sees Occupy as very "left" and pretty strongly anti-capitalist. You can say it isn't one or the other, but it's hard to make the argument too effectively when there is just so much anti-capitalist sentiment pouring from the movement, and everyone looks pretty damn lefty.

But I do think there are some areas where 99% really could agree, and probably ending corporate personhood and getting money out of politics is at the core of our populist overlap.

But I am all for the dialog and in great respect and gratitude to all the people who have been newly engaging in all sorts of creative ways, after so many long years of horrible silence and complicity.

And btw -- you, Mark, or anyone else, don't need to spend much time convincing me, or probably anyone else in Occupy, about the horrors of our war machine. I've been an anti-war protest organizer for years, and was educating people about depleted uranium, forcing them to look at the photos of the deformed babies -- I even posted them in our local food coop on the bulletin board, it was truly horrendous. But if we don't SEE the images of what we do, we can always continue to not think about it.


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