An open space for global conversation
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 OC.org, 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.
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!"
Here's something to get the discussion started (reposted from the humor topic, with a small update included here):
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.
I'm not saying that if a refrigerator won't heat water, we should get rid of it.
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.
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:
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 life..eg 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 occupiers..it 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 lives...it 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 less..in the sense of giving us security..financial 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 source..to what and who generates those circumstances...to 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 silent..like 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.