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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Why a vote boycott could fail:

During the build-up to the Iraq war Dr. Phil, in reference to a question about protesters, said that he didn’t know about the details but it didn’t matter. He supported the President’s position. Once a president is elected he won so Americans should support him.  It has bothered me ever since.  He was saying that it’s okay to not pay attention when your country is on the verge of going to war.

Now I realize he was saying much more than that. He was saying that once you elect someone you’ve done your duty so you can go home and forget about it. Leave everything up to the people you elect.

I don’t believe he didn’t know about the argument over the presence of WMDs and about the UN saying there were none. He is part of the 1%. That would be cocktail chatter in his social group. He would never be so oblivious to the major news story for months.

A lot of people are completely disengaged from politics. They may not be happy about what is going on but they have been taught to believe it is all complicated and over their head anyway.  Why should you vote if you don’t know anything about politics? Better to let people who know about it vote.  If you are Republican you just vote blindly because you know who you are supposed to vote for.  I think Democrats have fewer “blind” followers. So what happens is you have a lot of people staying home out of ignorance.  Even though they know nothing about politics, they do know that they should “support their President”.  He won fair and square.

What would these non-voters do if some protesters tried to take power from politicians?  In my opinion, they would rise up to support the President. The protesters would definitely be seen as a threat to the United States, terrorists trying to bring it down from within.

For that reason, I support Victoria’s position on voting for now. Even to convince people to boycott based on social justice requires that they be engaged on some level.  You can’t stop voting if you were not voting in the first place. Just because you aren’t voting doesn’t mean you aren’t invested in the current system and won’t protect it if it is threatened. Is there any doubt that the establishment would be focused on fear-mongering?

Therefore, step one is to try to get people engaged in very basic politics. They don’t have to know all the ins and outs.  One or two major issues without too much detail is enough.  In becoming engaged they gain more confidence in their ability to understand politics and to judge politicians rather than blindly following them. Even when people don’t like politicians’ actions they will often think it doesn’t matter who they vote for anyway because they are all the same. Thinking that is not the same thing as thinking the system needs to be changed. It’s surrender to the inevitable. Saying no it isn’t, you can change things, won’t be believed. Politicians are smarter than us. They know what they are doing. People aren’t going to choose an unknown system over what they have. Certainly not the Venezuelan system! Are you crazy? Chavez is a dictator!  You would not convince them otherwise in a matter of days or weeks or even months. Not even because they don’t trust you. It would be because they don’t trust themselves to choose. 

Do you sew? Can you follow simple instructions?

Select the fabric based on the options given on the pattern regarding weight and composition.  (Cotton, Linen, microfiber, stretch etc.) Choose needles and thread based on the fabric. You will also need notions like the right size buttons and elastic or trim or cording. You need interfacing the weight of which depends on your fabric. Iron-on is easier but make sure it is compatible with the fabric. If you can’t use a hot enough iron it won’t work.  

Pre-shrink your fabric depending on what you chose. Now choose one of several layout diagrams based on your size, if your fabric has a nap, one-way design or pile as well as the width of your fabric. If it has stripes or plaids you have to do your own lay-out, and I hope you remembered to increase the length of fabric you bought based on the size of the repeating pattern and the number of pattern pieces you have.

Pin and cut all pattern pieces making sure the guidelines are parallel to the selvages and patterns are matched if you have plaits or stripes.  Cut in notches, mark all circles, mark seam allowances unless you can do it by eye.  Now take the pins out and get the 2 bodice fronts and the back. Stay-stich the neck and armholes edges (unless you are using interlining or facings) and gather between notches on the bottom bodice front. Place right sides together unless you want French seams in which case place wrong sides together. Sew the fronts to the back along sides only, making sure to match notches. Don’t forget to iron open all your seams as you sew. Clip, notch or graduate seams as needed.  If you didn’t do French seams then clean finish, pink or zigzag the seams.  In some other steps you may need to reinforce, slip-stitch, stay-stitch, top-stitch, under-stitch blind stitch or edge stitch. If you are using lining rather than or with interlining then repeat all steps with the lining but don’t attach it to the bodice until it’s finished. If you do a lining don’t bother finishing your seams (unless your fabric frays a lot) because they will be concealed.

That is the first step of a pattern in the “Very Easy Butterick” section. A pattern this simple I wouldn’t even bother reading. If I told you all the other steps, you’re confident you could make me a dress this afternoon that I could wear tonight right? After all, I told you how and it’s easy. My grandma only went to 8th grade and she does it without instructions. Heck I was sitting at the machine by the time I was 10. When I was 12 I could have made this dress.  People who don’t know how to sew are not going to decide to make a gown the day of the dance.  They will wear what they have, even if they don’t like it.

People, who are disengaged from politics, even if they are dissatisfied, will still defend the devil they know. Because they are disengaged you won’t be able to interest them in a new form of government especially direct democracy.  (they don’t know how to sew)When you tell them about Iraq they will tell you Iraq did have WMDs. They will tell you the president knows things we don’t know so we can’t second guess his decisions. They will tell you those countries have been freed from monstrous dictators. Google Chavez Dictator. If Obama assassinates Chavez people will insist that he was a dictator.  If you say you want a Venezuelan system they will be horrified.  

It’s much tougher to try to educate people at their pace. People reach a personal critical point. I started following politics on 9/11. That’s the first time I heard of Al Quada.  I never heard of this Osama Bin Laden guy. I had a vague idea of where the Middle East is, somewhere around Africa I thought, or maybe China.  China gets called “the east” right?  I had never heard of Afghanistan. 9/11 was so huge I started reading CNN, then the BBC, and MSN.

I supported the invasion of Afghanistan. We had to get that Bin Laden guy! It was full of terrorist training camps and they stoned women to death.  Girls aren’t allowed to learn to read! Not only were we going to get the terrorists, we were going to rescue women from brutal subjugation! Evil Russians invaded Afghanistan and ruined it. Before that it was a good place where women were educated. The Taliban were only able to take over because of what Russia did. If we invaded and got rid of the Taliban then women could be free again. Those people on message boards are wrong!  The US may not be perfect but Americans are good people. They may not be going over there to free women but it will be a positive outcome. Sometimes people have to die for freedom. People should be praising the United States not nit-picking. Everyone has a right to self-defence. I’m proud that Canadians are going to go over there. I think they should be honored not criticized. Some of soldiers are going to give up their lives. We owe it to them to be nothing but supportive.  How do you think they feel reading this shit when they are putting their lives on the line for us? Do you expect us to just do nothing and wait until they attack Canada too?

I stumbled onto The Guardian. Then there was the Chavez dictator stuff going on. Then I found Venezulanalysis. Whoa, this was completely different.  What was true? That was the moment I really became political. Looking for an answer, evaluating what I found, and deciding for myself gave me confidence. I realized I didn’t need to know a lot about politics or understand the economy. I know right from wrong. I can decide what’s true and what isn’t even with just my high-school diploma with my credits for home economics, art and typing.

By the time Iraq came along I was sceptical and supported Canada’s refusal to go to war even though Harper, who was in opposition at the time, was all for it. Ever since then I stopped being intimidated by politics.  I discovered day to day politics is usually quite simple. When “fracking” for gas in Quebec came up I read up and it wasn’t that complicated to understand the basics. The XL pipeline issue isn’t hard to understand. 

Before 9/11 I wouldn’t have formed an opinion on those things. I assumed things like that would take too much time to understand. There were always complex environmental studies that people would argue about. The economy is important too. People do need jobs.  How could I possibly make a better decision than a politician? They know so much more than I do.

Getting people to vote empowers them not because their vote will make a difference, but because they accept that they have a place in the political process, and they believe in their ability to judge.  

If you do your duty as a worker you expect a pay-off. If you feel cheated you go on strike.

If you do your duty as a citizen and vote, you expect a pay-off. If you don’t get your pay-off the next time an election rolls around you may well “strike”.  You did your part but they didn’t do theirs.  Now when they see or hear “The government needs your consent” it will piss them off because as you said, they did not give their consent.  They were cheated.  Now when you explain the difference between representative and direct democracy they will get it. Now when you talk about the powers of the president and the Supreme Court they will try to understand.  Fool me once, shame on you (Afghanistan), fool me twice shame on me. I didn’t get fooled by Iraq. I read more. I read Fox and CNN and the Guardian and Truthout and CommonDreams. Then I found Mother Jones and the rest is history.

Gisele, maybe that's how it is in Canada, but it doesn't seem to be the same here. People trying to get out the vote say that non-voters are apathetic, not engaged, etc., but that rarely seems to be the case.

There was a study not too long ago to see how much people knew about religions. They selected a large random sampling of people, which included members of various religions, atheists, agnostics, etc., and asked them to answer questions about religions. It turned out that atheists were more knowledgeable about religions than any other group. 

It is the same way with politics here. Most of the non-voters I know or have heard of do not consider themselves ignorant, incompetent, apathetic, or unengaged. Most of us are more knowledgeable about politics than voters who think that once they vote they have done their civic duty, they've demonstrated that they are participants in the political process and can leave it up to whoever is elected to make the best decisions--decisions that they don't feel competent to make themselves because they're so uninformed.

As for the expected pay-off, voters here get burned time and again, but they keep right on voting. They may feel cheated, but if they vote, they believe that at least it is better than making decisions themselves, something for which they don't have any time or interest anyway. And besides which, they trust the system more than they trust their neighbors. Their neighbors are lunatic right-wing extremists with guns, and the system is....oh wait--haven't they noticed that the system is also lunatic right-wing extremists with guns? Or maybe they're not Occupiers or their particular camp hasn't been raided yet and they don't stay in touch online.

How many of those informed non-voters are not activists and want a new system similar to the one you propose?

I'd guess (it is just a guess) that the proportion of activists to non-activists is about the same among non-voters as among voters, but I could be wrong. But many people I know, both voters and non-voters, are active in nonpolitical ways, some of which are more mainstream and some of which are alternative and can be seen as noncompliance.

It seems to me that the more people are aware of systemic problems, the more likely they are to attempt to fix those problems in any way they can.

The Occupy Wall Street List of Grievances is something that most people can identify with but, incredibly, despite the length of the list, many people view it as a list of single issues rather than as an indictment of the system responsible for all those grievances.

Occupy Montreal also has a list of grievances but they don't even see it as single issue. Instead it has become an anti-poverty/feed the hungry/anti-free trade/anti-etc. group.

Now I know why I don't sew.

If politics is like that for people with no understanding or experience, no wonder they avoid it!

I have a very close friend who knows almost nothing about politics and government. It's a wonder she knows who the president is. I've been amazed to see how easy it is for her to avoid information. She lives in New York City and works all day and doesn't watch the news or read the paper. She didn't even know we were at war in Iraq -- after about 6 years.

I'm not sure why this is, she's not stupid, she cares about people and living things. I think she just assumes she won't be able to understand what's going on, and doesn't think it has much bearing on her life.

She likes to listen to me explain things to her because she says I'm the only one who makes it easy to understand and also interesting. But other than my visits, she never talks about it with anyone. She and her friends talk about their personal lives.

How many people like that are out there? Millions and millions and millions . . . 

It's not like that, it's worse because it's combined with earnest/angry/patient/educational preaching and a desire to convert you to something. If you don't get converted it isn't unusual for the preacher to get exasperated or even angry. Not always of course, but often enough to make it an unwelcome topic of discussion. "easy to understand and also interesting" It sounds like you inform rather than preach, give her a chance to get a word in edgewise, and don't make her feel like you think she's an idiot because she doesn't know all about it, and invite rather than pressure her involvement. 


Victoria is looking over a newspaper or reading an article.  The waitress brings her a coffee.

Victoria, looking up to acknowledge the waitress, says: I’m really worried. There is so much corruption in government it is sickening.

Waitress: yeah they’re all a bunch of crooks

Victoria: Did you know X is running for whatever?

Waitress: No, who’s she?

Victoria: She’s a new candidate and I’m hoping that she’s more honest than X has been. Did you know that X built a new governor’s residence at the very same time he was closing down the public pools?

Waitress: no that’s disgusting. Why do you think the new woman will be any better? They never are.

Victoria: I don’t really know that she will be better but she can’t be any worse. She has worked with these community organizations. These are her main positions, XYZ.  I think she deserves a chance.

Waitress: She does sound good.

Victoria: Are you registered to vote?


Cut to 2016

Victoria (wearing an “I’m on strike” button): Hi

Waitress: Who’s on strike?

Victoria: I’m on a vote-strike

Waitress: yeah I get it (laughing). I did go vote for “newbie”.  I was right. She wasn’t any better than the rest.

Victoria: That’s not really fair, she tried but she got blocked by the others every time. That’s why I’m striking. We elected someone good and they stopped her from doing her job.

Waitress: Figures. Heaven forbid minimum wage gets raised (rolls eyes)

Victoria: Well I’m not going quietly. That’s why I have this strike button. I have some more do you want one?

Waitress: Sure. It totally sucks that she couldn’t get minimum-wage raised.  I was really hoping for that. Like it would kill for them to give us an extra dollar an hour. How did she get stopped?

Victoria: blah blah blah. I’m going to a march on Saturday with Occupy.  Want to come with me and a few of my friends? We can talk some more about it then. I’d love for you to meet them.

Waitress: Yeah sure, why not. The weather is going to be good and I can get a tan at the same time ha ha.

Victoria: okay, meet me at X and we can go together.

And that’s how non-political people get political. They learn that it isn’t that complicated. They learn that they count.

You know, Giselle, I read over your last two posts, and while I can perceive the truth of what you are saying, thanks to your uncanny ability to communicate, the type of thought processes you are describing is like "sewing" to me. I have the beginnings of a migraine headache. But the effort to understand is totally worth it.

Most people tend to project their values and thought processes onto other people. They think "It's so obvious to me. Surely this other person will see it my way if I just explain carefully enough," not realizing that they might as well be speaking Martian.

And oh, by the way, guys, the situation is even worse than you think. Right now, I'm trying to convince my mother and sister that it's a waste of time to vote for Obama again. (Them: "I know that he and the other democrats are owned by the corporations, but we need to buy time to make reforms. It the republicans are elected, it's over." Me: "If they know that people will continue to vote for them, they have absolutely no incentive to reform anything. And Obama has been the worst civil liberties president of all time.") I argued against voting for Obama last time. (Me: "Look at his voting record. This guy is not on our side." Them: "I believe he means well.") These are not stupid people, but I'm utterly failing to reach them. Right now, I'm feeling rather stupid and useless myself.

Right now on this thread, we're talking about voting for good people/ensuring that our vote counts vs striking/boycotting the system entirely. I hate to say it, but there's a whole lot of people out there who are still voting for the "least worst" corporate democrat.

You know what might actually help? A blog written by a master communicator that breaks down the issues in a way that anyone, from the "story level" to the "narrative" level, can understand. Activists who are having trouble communicating with the people in their lives could just point the person they're trying to convince to the blog.

For now, I'm going to point my mother and sister to this thread. Couldn't hurt.

I said somewhere near the beginning of this thread that I don't really think the solution lies in voting or not voting. I think voting is better for now because getting water-boarded is better than outright drowning. I don't want either but if I must make a choice I'll take water-boarding. Mark would say "you don't have to make a choice", but if I don't make a choice, I might get drowned instead of waterboarded. So I choose waterboarding.

That is what your mother and sister are doing and this thread will not change their minds. If they see a third candidate getting popular then they might change their minds. As long as there is a possibility they may drown rather than getting water-boarded you are unlikely to affect their opinions. They may find this thread interesting but it won't change their mind about which way to vote. If you convinced them chinese water torture is a viable option then they might go along with you. Otherwise, they are going to choose to avoid drowning.

One thing I noticed about Occupy Montreal is that it was practically all activists who were already involved in one cause or another. Everyone was there to communicate their own solutions, anti-capitalism, anarchy, no borders, zeitgeist, new economy etc. Activists never seemed to have family with them. It did cross my mind that if we can't persuade our families to our way of thinking then we are missing something.

The first step to solving a problem is defining it. If nobody agrees on the problem, then they aren't going to consider solutions. We are moving onto the "solutions" stage without defining the problem. To my mind the problem is not corporate influence in politics, or politicians. A corporation is a thing not a person. It can't do anything. It's huge and it includes everyone from the board of directors to the lowiest janitor. When you attack a corporation you are attacking people's livelihoods. You are attacking the entity that delivers goods to us that we want. You are depicting them as evil but many people shop at Walmart because it is where they get the best prices. If you have three kids to clothe for the beginning of the school year Walmart is the place to be. Yes, Yes, we know they are mean, blah blah, my kids still need clothes and I am not dressing them at the goodwill. They'd get picked on.

There is nothing inherently bad about Walmart. It's a thing, not a person. It's easy to identity, it's big, it makes an easy target, the logos on politicians are funny and will be effective someday. But not until you identity the enemy. I know that isn't an occupy word but the hippie make love not war thing lost the battle a long time ago. You cannot fight an enemy that you refuse to identify and define as such. A political system is not an enemy either. It's just a system. Only people can be real enemies.

The problem (to me) is the existence of a ruling-class. Everything else is a result of that. As long as a ruling-class exists they will corrupt everything. The ruling-class does not exist only in the United States. They exist through-out the world. I am not suggesting there is an organized world conspiracy, but they is an international class of people who fight with each other but basically arrange things to their advantage.With few exceptions, the details of the political-systems don't matter. I don't think very many of them are in politics. I think most politicians are their minions. The political class is not the ruling-class although some people may belong to both.

As a mom you learn to give your children control over decisions. They can't decide bedtime, but they can choose the story you will read. At the store you let them choose the cookies. You give them a say in their school-clothes. That's what the ruling-class does and that is what Mark sees. They let us think we get to make decisions but they choose which decisions we get to make. The important stuff they keep control of. Citizens even agree that we are not sufficiently informed to make the big decisions.We don't even want to make those decisions because we don't feel qualified and it would take years for us to know enough to make those decisions.

What we want are trustworthy "parents" to choose for us. The budget for the country is as unknowable as our parents household budgets when we were kids. When we were kids we didn't want to overthrow our parents. Even when they made us eat something we didn't want we still didn't want to get rid of them. We knew that we couldn't take care of ourselves. We needed them to provide for us and protect us and take decisions that we were not qualified to take.

Because of the "let them eat cake" thing I know the French Revolution happened. They knew who the people were in the ruling-class because they were Royalty. Basically, they wore signs. Royalty is mostly gone except as figure-heads. The ruling-class isn't gone, but they are hiding. So the first thing we have to establish is that a ruling-class exists. Then we have to put their crowns and robes back on. Then we can have a French Revolution.

This will not happen before the next election. So, the interim goal is to try to hold our lines of defense. We need to prevent the troops of the ruling-class from advancing as much as is possible. In the meantime we need to transform ourselves into a think-tank and develop a campaign over years not months. I haven't worked it out yet but I have an idea for a campaign that could hopefully be introduced in January 2013. The sole purpose of the campaign is to popularize the idea that a ruling-class exists. Not even identified, just that it exists. As usual my ideas are in ricochet mode so I can't explain yet but think in terms of (honest) advertising and marketing not activism. The campaign would use humour and not seem threatening at all. It will be a big joke but with a serious underlying message. We would try to push it worldwide, not just in the States, because the ruling-class is international and play countries against each other as well as they do the left and the right.

My brain feels like it’s about to explode.

Like you, Giselle, I don’t see corporations as a bad thing. They exist to make money, and properly regulated, they can serve the community.

And I can’t argue with you about how the ruling class goes about its business and how it corrupts everything it touches. (That would be our word for it, “corrupts.” Their word would be “controls.”)

You are proposing putting a face on the ruling class so we eventually have a Marie Antoinette moment. I assume you that wouldn’t literally mean “off with their heads.” But if not, what would it mean? Redistribution of their property and money? After all, it’s money that allows a ruling class to have influence over politicians and through them, over laws, and the judicial system which is supposed to interpret the laws.

Or are you proposing frightening the ruling class so badly with the prospect of violence and/or redistribution of property and money that they would willingly give up control?

I could see where either one might work, given a critical mass of public participation.

Speaking of the public, your characterization of the public as wanting “trustworthy ‘parents’ to choose for us is horrifying, but it has the ring of truth (that’s what giving me the headache).

Mark is very convincing in laying out how the ruling class controls us through the mechanisms of government (control over politicians, the judiciary, and so on). As overwhelming as it seems, I guess I was hoping that the public had the capacity to understand these mechanisms and counter them in a concerted way.

If what you are saying about the public is correct (and it does have the ring of truth and corresponds to my personal experiences), then my approach is probably not realistic. That too is horrifying to me, because a more long-range approach like the one you are suggesting will make suffering on an unimaginable scale inevitable. We’ve already seen the complete collapse of our civil liberties (at least in the States). We will also have massive food shortages, migrations, wars, economic disasters, the collapse of governments and God knows what else to look forward to, sooner rather than later.

So, what I hear you are suggesting is minimizing the damage of the ruling class while we educate the public and then either forcibly remove them from power or allow them to abdicate, or if the government collapses first, attempt to install a democratic government in place of the oligarchy. Is that fair?

I’ve got to wonder, though. If you think the public doesn’t have the stomach to attempt reform, preferring to leave their fate in the hands of “daddy” figures, what makes you think they will have the stomach for revolution?

It's not so much that people want parents it's that they want to delegate tasks that they feel others are better able to perform. For almost as long as people have been alive they have done this. There's a butcher a baker and a candlestick maker. Every city has people who make decisions on development and where roads should go etc. Unless something they are doing is particularly controversial I don't want to be involved in that. I assume competent people are being hired. Because the position of "politician" is so important communities hire them directly. Campaigns are just very big job interviews. Politicians are supposed to be public servants. The system has broken down. Our servants aren't serving us and we can't seem to find the right people to hire. Having been in this conversation I now understand that is because the people who framed the Constitution did so to benefit themselves. I can also see Mark's proposition that the entire system can't be fixed because of the depth of corruption.

There doesn't need to be any end goal or vision of what we want the system to look like. There shouldn't even be one. Then we have just become politicians that know better than everyone else.

The main point is that we wouldn't overwhelm. Every thing would come out in bite size chunks. Evolution not revolution. It could be Chavez style with no Chavez.

What could follow? That would be up to the people but:

What if university grad students in each state were asked to run for a national online committee on constitutional reform? What if they were told that a final version was not needed, but that people wanted to know the pros and cons of various clauses? What if E voting was used not for decisions but for taking the "temperature" on this and other issues? This could be done completely disconnected from the political machine.

Or maybe instead of constitutions as a topic we would educate on police and military and why military wasn't supposed to operate on US soil.

What would happen if millions of Americans demonstrated for a system with no parties?

We don't need to have all the answers. We need to deliver questions to the people. Questions like "why can't we have better schools like Finland?"  There are people all over the States that have been working on answers for decades. There are people ready to promote "The New Economy". There are people who know about sustainable development. We don't need to know everything or have a grand plan. We just need to get people informed and engaged.

Babies have a hard-wired sense of social justice, new research shows.

Scientists say infants as young as five months old like to see bad behaviour punished and good conduct rewarded.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the perception between good and bad is not only learned, but is part of our make-up.

People are unhappy because bad behavior is not being punished. That is why there is such a gathering mood of anger. At the same time they want to be able to get on with their lives. People are busy and they don't see how they can change anything. They don't want to grow their own food or have a revolution. They just want to have a normal life, like Linsay's friend. So they vote for the lessor of two evils, or they don't vote at all.

If we can educate without alarming through promoting radical solutions we could get the snowball rolling.


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