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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If the ruling class isn't bother by low voter turn-out, Gisele, why did the US government send the brutal Egyptian ruling military junta, which had 15,000 protesters in jail at the time, twenty-one tons of tear gas in the week before their election to suppress the election boycott advocates in Tahrir Square?

They sent tear-gas to suppress the protesters not to suppress the vote-boycott. If the protesters weren't there and  people didn't vote it wouldn't be a problem. The ruling-class would simply say that the people don't have a tradition of voting.

No one will break-down your door for not voting. They don't have to. As long as you go to work everything is fine.

Gisele, the big corporations donate to the two major parties in the US in almost equal amounts. Check the 2008 donations to McCain and Obama--the big donations came from the same big corporations with only slightly more going to Obama than to McCain.

So if the corporations don't care which one wins, why do they spend billions of dollars on elections? Why should they care if everybody stayed home? As long as a handful voted, they could install whichever of their puppets they wanted and nobody would care. Why spend billions of dollars on major media campaigns to get out the vote when they really don't care who wins and donate in almost equal amounts to both parties?

Could it possibly be because they want to keep pretending to be a democratically elected government with the consent of the governed? Is it possible that this consent makes it possible for them to claim legitimacy, makes it easier for them to govern, makes it easier for other countries that wish to be seen as democratic by their own people to ally with the US, and makes US creditors feel more secure that the US government is stable?

If the ruling-class cared which one won, why would they give money to both parties in almost equal amounts? I think they do prefer Republicans but it's not that big a deal.  Republicans and Democrats do care which one of them wins because the ruling-class bribes the winners more than the losers. It keeps giving the losers some money to continue the competition. Whomever wins is beholden to the ruling-class. The number of voters doesn't matter as long as the non-voters are not interfering in the economy. Hence, the need to suppress unions. Unions are shit-disturbers that get people all upset at government policies that favor the wealthy.

I agree with you that it matters little in the grand scheme of things who runs the system because the ruling class controls it either way. But mattering little is not the same thing as not mattering at all. Because there are some good people in the system some of them are denouncing the new bill that gives the military enforcement powers on US soil. Uprisings have protected some unions. States are objecting to federal powers.

Apartheid did not end because of a vote-boycott alone. Many protesters sacrificed their lives and Mandela spent years in prison. It is protesters who pushed governments to begin isolating SA economically. The government capitulated on that one issues but they didn't give up power just because people didn't vote. The basic system didn't change.

The Egyptian protesters failed to convince voters not to vote because the people of Eygpt want stability.

Strikes and protest in the United States brought child labour laws and building codes for factories and limited work hours and countless other benefits to the people. There is no reason that and more can't happen again. There is a lot of work to be done. A new constitution is needed. Electoral reform is needed. Chavez was elected. There was no vote-boycott.

The US is not half as bad off as many other countries. It is becoming more repressive but it is still a democracy in which people do have power. Vote-fraud can only go so far as Chavez has proven. People in the United States are free to create local councils and community gardens and anything else they please.

If there were any suspicion that not-voting would lessen US power in the world voters would come out in droves. US citizens don't want to overthrow the system because when all is said and done the US is still a democracy, however flawed. As you have noted, people need to feed their families. A complete overthrow of the US system of government would cause economic chaos. Not even the Greeks want to overthrow the entire system. Chavez didn't even dissolve the system. He kept paying the corrupt public officials and still does pay them as he creates a parallel system in order to maintain stability.

You think if Greek people didn't vote it would make a difference? Delegitimize the government? The EU just put a banker in charge of the country while there are on-going mass protests. The EU doesn't care that the banker is not the legitimate leader of the country. Economic stability must be maintained. The world economy is even more dependent on the US. That will change as China becomes the primary consumer nation but the US will remain important.

Everywhere people like Victoria and Lindsay are working on better systems, better constitutions, better ways to run the economy. US Americans have forced change before and they can do it again.

Yes, there are some good people in the system who are denouncing the NDAA. And there are many good people outside the system denouncing it also. But in our system government has the final decision and there is no way to elect enough good people to change that decision within our lifetimes. That doesn't mean it can't be changed, but not by electing good people, unless you're willing to wait until thousands and thousands of people have been disappeared, as our government has done to other people in other countries and now has the power to do to us. Since they've done it to others, we have no reason to trust that they won't do it to us, and if they weren't going to do it to us, why would they need to make it legal to do it to us?

The violence in South Africa went on for many years, but it didn't bring down the Apartheid government and it couldn't have, as the government was the legitimate government and those who opposed it were terrorists, rebels, or common criminals. The election boycott changed that because the government could no longer claim legitimacy, no longer could claim the consent of the governed, and it became an illegitimate government, while the ANC and other opponents of Apartheid became freedom righters trying to oust an illegitimate government that nobody wanted.

If Egyptians think that "stability" is having 15,000 Egyptians being tortured in military prisons and the government continuing to kill anyone who protests, they've got a strange idea of stability. If they think that stability is being ruled by a military junta that is supported by the US, then they don't know what the word stability means, because many military juntas supported by the US have been ousted and replaced with democratic forms of government.

Yes, once we had a new Constitution and an honest electoral process, we could bring about change by voting. But we can't bring about change by voting until we do.

The US is not and never was a democracy. It is a plutocracy. It has always been ruled by the rich. People here were materially better off than many people elsewhere, but that doesn't make the US a democracy. 

If the Greek people continue to protest, they may eventually get a democratic form of government. Iceland is doing it. Other countries have done it. The US probably could too if people weren't afraid of change.

Do you think that the Occupy Movement is doomed to failure because people want stability and if there was the slightest suspicion that the Occupy Movement would lessen US power in the world, people would have come out in droves to oppose it?

When you delegate your power to government & it betrays you, the fault is not government's but yours. If you want power, don't give it away.

Mark, I've been posting on an Occupy Facebook page recently. The people there are very much against elections and don't want to talk about interfacing at all with the existing system. I should say, many of them are that way, not all.

The problem is, so far, they've got no ideas. No other ideas. I am not in there promoting voting, I'm in there to ask them what their ideas are. They don't any. They only have vague concepts of "a better world" and "an egalitarian society."

So I say great, I'm all in, what do we do, how do we get there.

Silence. Crickets.

I ask, do you think the current system will fall by itself? Just a question, that's all.

Silence. Crickets.

I ask, how do we get this message out to the broader society?

Silence. Crickets.

I ask, how will direct democracy work if we get rid of representation?

You know the answer. Nada. No one can answer or seems interested in answering and eventually they get pissed off that I'm asking.

It's discouraging, to say the least.

I'm actually trying to be encouraging of everyone, every idea, while asking how to grow the movement, how to explain what Occupy is to people who have no idea, who are maybe hostile to it. 

I ask, at what point do we move beyond describing the problem and protesting to describing solutions and modeling?

The most I get are references to small anarchist collectives and someone pointed me to a website on Dual Power which starts out saying it was first used by the communists and Chairman Mao (wow, that should be popular!).

I'm afraid that, for lack of ideas and strategy, Occupy will just be occupied by MoveOn and the Democrats.

What say you, oh guru of the better way?

I've been posting on an Occupy forum where many people are very much for elections.

When I ask them what they'll do if the central tabulators flip the vote


When I ask them what they'll do if the Supreme Court decides not to allow the votes to be counted

Silence. Crickets.

When I ask them if they think that electing a few more good people will break the control that the 1% have over Congress, the President and the Supreme Court

Silence. Crickets.

When I ask them why people should vote for a government that is responsible for every single item on the OWS List of Grievances

Silence. Crickets.

When I ask them why they call their present form of government representative when they're not represented

Silence crickets

When I ask why they keep trusting a representative form of government that has given itself the right to arrest them and hold them indefinitely without trial, or even assassinate them

Silence Crickets

When I ask them if they think our militarily overextended empire, without enough jobs, taking money from food stamps to fund wars, can last forever

Silence Crickets

When I ask them how they can win a rigged game that they know is fixed so that the house always wins, by gambling in that game, they tell me that they think if they can get a different dealer it would change the game. But the house hires the dealers, they don't. So they say they'll petition the house to get a new dealer. When I ask how that will make the game more honest

Silence Crickets

When I ask them if they think that voting can prevent new wars of aggression

They tell me I'm rude and insulting and have an abrasive tone and style

The closest I got to an answer of how voting could accomplish anything was somebody telling me that protests had accomplished things and that while it might take a few lifetimes they believe that voting might also.

That didn't make any sense at all and it is discouraging, to say the least.

But I do have an understanding of what your problem is with those other people.

You're asking them the same leading questions that they've been asked hundreds of times in previous years by political party operatives defending the status quo and getting out the vote. Like, unless you can tell me precisely what a new system would do, shouldn't we keep the old one?

Uh, we don't know exactly what a new system would be like or what it would do, but we've already decided that we don't want to be arrested and detained indefinitely or assassinated without due process or be complicit in crimes against humanity, so we don't want to keep the old system because we know what it does.

When you ask at what point we move beyond describing the problem and back into politics as usual, they see immediately that either you don't understand that politics as usual is the problem, or that you're just being disruptive.

Alternatives to the system like cooperatives and collectives, which can be small or can be multi-million-dollar enterprises like my local organic food co-op, and which may be anarchist or not, as long as they're not owned by the 1% to exploit workers, poison customers, and siphon money out of the community to maximize profit, and which, being worker-owned, can usually pay more than a living wage with full benefits, even though they don't look like politics as usual, are forms of noncompliance, ways of creating alternatives, and are actually doing something. If the only "doing something" people recognize is voting every few years to let government do whatever it wants, then actually doing something probably looks like doing nothing.

And since I already told you that the word "guru" means "we look," your question translates to, "What say you, oh we look of the better way," which, like your questions to the people on Facebook, isn't really meant as a question at all and is just an attempt to put me or them down.

Suppose you tell me that you can't cook (just a hypothetical, as I'm sure you can) and that you're tired of restaurant meals and you're going to learn to cook. I could point you to some online cooking lessons for beginners. I could share some of my recipes. Or I could say, "But Victoria, if you don't know how to cook, how do you know that you won't ruin the food? Can you tell me exactly what you intend to cook every day for every meal and how you intend to cook it, because if you can't I don't think your intent to learn to cook is anything more than a daydream. And why are you trying to boycott the restaurant industry and put owners, chefs, servers, busboys and dishwashers out of work? What if you can't learn to cook--do you intend to violently overthrow the restaurant industry? And besides, most people have busy lives, don't have time to cook and don't really want to bother--how do you intend to convince them all to stop eating at restaurants and learn to cook, because people are going to be very hostile to your idea and if you can't reach critical mass you won't be accomplishing anything....." And on and on and on....

If those people on Facebook are fed up with the system, they can't be co-opted by MoveOn or the Democrats or anyone pushing politics as usual. 

The only people who can be co-opted are those who either are satisfied with the status quo, or who are conformists and can be pushed into going along with a majority even if it is against their own best interest., 

Did you read the links I posted (and also sent you as the message in a friendship request here on Occupy Cafe) about the Egyptians who won't vote and why they say they won't vote? 

My co-admin posted the newest article for me on Fubar, so most of the stuff is in one place, but not in chronological order:

Oh, and another problem you may be having with those people on Facebook is that when they answer your questions, you ignore or dismiss their answers and just keep asking more questions. People who are familiar with the techniques of political operatives, which you seem to have accidentally stumbled upon, can recognize that one quickly. It's like the toddler who has learned to ask, "Why?" and no matter what you say or how you say it, they just keep repeating, "Why? Why? Why?"

Mark, what just happened? I thought we were being friends now. Why are you attacking me rudely in this post? Did you think I was being rude with the guru comment? It was meant as a joke, and actually kind of as a compliment. Sorry if it came off the wrong way.

But here you are attacking me.

I make it totally clear that I am NOT advocating voting, and yet you accuse me of advocating voting.

I make it totally clear that I am NOT advocating business as usual, and yet you accuse me of doing exactly that.

I make it totally clear that I am only asking for THEIR answers, and that they have none at all, but you have to assume they have actual answers and that I am not listening.

I am listening, but I am not asking people for their utopian dreams, so answering me with utopian dreams is not answering MY question, and despite what you think, I believe I have a right to have a question, like "What kind of system of democracy would you like instead of the one we have?" Excuse me if that vague, join an anarchist collective, just doesn't thrill me beyond belief, but if you're happy with no answers or vague answers that will appeal to about .5% of the population, go ahead and revel in them because that's all there is right now. And apparently that's fine with you.

If this movement is going to keep on for a long time not being able to provide more than these types of incredibly vague answers, it just isn't going to appeal to me, that's all. It's not my kind of movement and I will go do something else. It's basically not anything new, really -- anarchism has been around a long time, and most people haven't chosen to get involved, and small anarchist collectives tend to remain small and outside the mainstream. I've lived in them myself, in North Carolina and in New York, and in New Mexico, and I got tired of everyone refusing to bathe or clean up anything in the house, and it was just too stereotypical and everyone had a fucking sullen attitude and fingerless gloves and facial piercings and was holier than thou, so I decided to stay away and try to find a more appealing path.

Anyway, I'm sorry you felt the need to attack me once again, and not listen to me once again. Maybe we've all been talking enough, certainly this thread has taken up a ton of time in the past few days. We've probably reached our limit on what have to teach each other.

I did learn a lot from you, Mark, and I wish you well.

Maybe your final answer actually IS that we just all need to live in anarchist collectives. And maybe you're right. I just couldn't stand them when I was there and you couldn't bribe me to go back. So that's kind of a bummer answer for me. But maybe that was just the collectives I was part of and there are some that aren't so effing ridiculous and full of people with ego problems who seem to hate everyone and never take off their fingerless gloves.

I was part of Earth First for a while and that was similarly ridiculous and I had to get out.

Anyway, onward.

Yeah, I got involved with a bunch of anarchist here in San Diego and while a few were good people, some were so disgusting that I didn't want anything to do with them.

Turns out it was one of those wrong groups. They had no understanding of traditional anarchist philosophy whatsoever, had never read Emma Goldman, Kropotkin, Bakunin, or Magon, and just thought that anarchy meant that they could do whatever they wanted.

Judging people by labels is as absurd as judging systems by labels. Because they put humane limits on capitalism, the US called many European and Scandinavian countries Socialist. Strangely enough, they considered themselves capitalist. It is much better to judge people and systems by whether or not they are based on the Golden Rule. Not the 1% Wall Street Golden Rule, that he who has the most gold makes the rules, but the original one that says to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. With no exceptions. If they're not you, they're other and you're supposed to treat them like they were you. 

I've given you the link to that Egyptian stuff three times, Victoria. Did you read it? Particularly the article I quoted, where the guy says that they don't vote because the government that is massacring them is the government that runs their elections. But all the others too, because some of them give much better reasons for not voting than I can.

Sure you have a right to have your questions answered in the way you want them answered.

I gave a long list of how that could work in the opposite way also.

But what it boils down to is who is asserting authority, who is making demands, and who can ask the questions and insist on the precise answers they want. That's a torture technique. You get a prisoner, truss them up so they're helpless, beat them up a little so they know who's boss, and when they whimper, "Why are you doing this to me?" you scream, "I'm asking the questions, you speak when you're spoken to and say only what I ask you to say!"

If you want a well-thought out plan and won't settle for vague dreams, that's your right. Some people are dreamers. Don't they have rights also? What about a synthesis? First we state our grievances, and then we don't have to ask what we want, because we have a long list of things that we don't want and that we want redress for, so we know that we want change. Then we ask ourselves how we can bring about change, and some people talk about their experiences, others talk about their dreams for a better world, and some walk away and say that if we don't have a well-thought out plan, they'll stick with the status quo because they don't find the grievances so destructive of their personal safety, security and happiness as to warrant change. Others, those who have suffered more, perhaps, will gamble on the dreams, the way that people gamble on rigged voting machines. With any luck, some of the people who want concrete ideas will work with the dreamers and come up with ways to actualize the dreams through concrete actions. And maybe the government will arrest and/or shoot them all before that can happen. Because the 1% who run the government do not want change. They benefited from everything that caused suffering to the 99%. They got bailed out while we got sold out. They made money on defense contracts while our sons and daughters died for no reason except so that the 1% could make money on defense contracts. 

Freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose, like Janis Joplin sang it. Those with something to lose aren't likely to want change unless they can see a clear and certain way that it would benefit them. Those with nothing left to lose have nothing to lose and even the vague dream of something to gain can look good. 

The "anarchist" article that Gisele linked was indeed written by an anarchist. But it includes a statement from a woman Occupier/organizer who noted that the reason Occupy took off so quickly was because of students who had played by the rules and found themselves with mountains of unforgiveable debts, no job prospects, and nothing left to lose. They weren't anarchists. They went to college because they wanted to be competitive in the capitalist system. And the system collapsed around them leaving them high and dry with nothing more left to lose. They'd already lost everything. And not by vague dreaming, but by concentrated, hard-headed playing by the rules. Some of them stopped sneering at the homeless when they themselves became homeless. Whatever it was, they saw even vague dreams as better than no dreams at all. Can you blame them?

But it includes a statement from a woman Occupier/Organize who noted that the reason Occupy took off so quickly was because of students who had played by the rules and found themselves with mountains of unforgiveable debts, no job prospects, and nothing left to lose. They weren't anarchists.

I was at Occupy too. I didn't say everyone who has anything to do with Occupy supports anarchy. In fact I'm pretty sure GAs have convinced everyone that it isn't workable on a large scale basis. The students are angry that the banks got bailed out and everyone else has suffered. They weren't rejecting the entire system of government. Occupy as a group never attacked capitalism as a system either.

No, I can't blame them at all. And that may be all we end up with in the end. But I am not asking for pat answers. I'm only asking for dialog. There are many people who don't want that, because it does bring up for them, I think, the problem of actually not having any answers at all, and no real way to consider the problem because they don't understand all the intricacies. 

And also because, fundamentally, there is no answer. If you have completely given up on what we have and see no hope of reform and think its basic premise is flawed, etc, then there's not a lot you can do at the moment. You can cause trouble, throw monkey wrenches into the system, protest, and other than that you can live in anarchist collectives, or by yourself as best you can, without contributing to the capitalist system, which means you can only work in a collective, and walk to work, etc.

A lot of people are doing that already. And then you can ask, why bother Occupying anything at all? Then Occupy would mostly be an educational movement, showing people the problem with the system but not really offering too many solutions that don't involve the basic take-down of civilization as we know it and rejection of capitalism and private property.

We know what a big sell that is to the general American public.

 Well, you know, whatever. It's becoming exhausting. As apocalyptic times tend to be.


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