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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Well, I think that there have been things that got done, maybe not everything, but some things, and that while under constant attack by US imperialism. Cuba, for example, learned how to live without imported pharmaceuticals and came up with a health care system so good that they send doctors all over the world. They learned how to live without oil. They solved a lot of problems that we're going to face sooner or later. So did Ecuador. So did Bolivia. So did Venezuela. So had Libya until we bombed them into rubble. They had the highest standard of living in Africa. All this without becoming anarchists or living in small collectives or by themselves.

They found practical ways to improve their lives by getting rid of corporate rule and using all the money and energy that was freed up to provide housing, health care, education, almost everything we don't have and that is on our List of Grievances. They didn't end up in chaos, and seem to be doing  better than they were under corporate rule.

I don't know who the people you're trying to question are. But they probably aren't capitalists so they probably aren't trying to sell anything to the American public, and therefore can't come up with an answer as to how they plan to do that because that's now what they're planning to do. And if they're Occupiers, some of them may be cold, hungry, wounded, tired, and suffering from debilitating illnesses for which they can't affod treatment on top of PTSD from combat, so they might not be anxious to answer your questions. They might just want to find a place to sleep where the cops might not beat them up or arrest them. They might prefer talking to others who already know where they're coming from instead of being interrogated by something who thinks they should be mass marketing some Ponzi scheme or other to organize and energize people to operate in the old ways that don't work any more, or at least not for them.

You know the old joke when somebody asks the price of some luxury good and the reply is, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it." Maybe it applies to social change also. If you have to ask, you don't really want it.

If you're worried about preserving private property, you probably have some. Most people in the world live on less than $2 a day and own nothing but the rags on their backs--not even shoes, because capitalism forced them off their traditional lands and they weren't able to compete for jobs.  If you're worried about preserving capitalism, it is probably working foir you. It is still working for some, even though it has destroyed billions of others. If  you're worried about preserving civilization, just remember that when asked what he thought about Western civilization, Gandhi said he thought it would be a great idea. If killing innocent babies is civilized, I'm so stupid and ignorant that I can't figure out what uncivilized behavior might be. Maybe uncivilized behavior would be killing innocent babies with rocks instead of with drone bombs?

Have you gone into a big corporation lately and asked the receptionist what their business plans are for the next quarter, how they plan to implement them, what their profit margins will be, and  how they plan to sell their competitors on it? Receptionists are usually just people who need a job and don't know a damned thing about what the corporate CEOs and Board of Directors are doing. Often they're from a temp agency and have hurriedly memorized the correct formula for answering the phone and use the corporate directory for everything else. And after work that receptionist may go down to Occupy, dog tired and numb, but excited to think that there might be another way to live--even if nobody can say exactly what it is or how to get there. People who have been knowledge-deprived their whole lives don't expect answers, but they may want hope and change. In fact a lot of people do. And they learned in 2008 that voting won't do it for them. Maybe for somebody else, but not for them. And that receptionist might just happen to be chatting online with an uncle who lives in Venezuela and learn somthing practical that would be useful to Occupy and bring it to GA the next day and then somebody might be able to give you one of the answers you're looking for. Who knows?



Right. Thanks, Mark. Have a good night. 

That is exactly it. I believe they want anarchy without actually saying so. They don't want a replacement for the current system.

Occupy Wall Street decision making was designed by anarchists not advocates of direct democracy.

In my opinion "direct democracy" is being used as a code word for anarchy. Direct democracies all still have representatives they are just selected differently. Wikipedia:

"The main bodies in the Athenian democracy were the assembly, composed by male citizens, the boule, composed by 500 citizens chosen annually by lot, and the law courts composed by a massive number of juries chosen by lot, with no judges. Out of the male population of 30,000, several thousand citizens were politically active every year and many of them quite regularly for years on end. The Athenian democracy was not only direct in the sense that decisions were made by the assembled people, but also in the sense that the people through the assembly, boule and law courts controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public business.[5] Modern democracies do not use institutions that resemble the Athenian system of rule."

I don't think people would consider randomly chosen representatives as a better alternatives. I didn't want Occupy involved with electoral politics because it's divisive. But true democracy means people get to make their own choices and as you pointed out Occupy has become a movement of the left to most people. Individual occupations have taken their own paths already anyway. The cities have distinct personalities. If some are choosing to use their energies to support specific candidates they have a perfect right to.

Ironically, it is the anarchist style of Occupy that allows for choosing different directions. There is no central command to say "thou shalt not get involved in poltics". I think it's very amusing.

Well, if wiki says so, then it must be true. And if you believe that they are anarchists who want anarchy, whether they are or aren't, you're entitled to your beliefs, your prejudgments, and there's no arguing with beliefs.

There are all sorts of anarchists, just as there are all sorts of Democrats and Republicans. If I run into a few Republicans who are old-fashioned conservatives who want to preserve the environment even if it hurts corporate profits, I can't say they're all like that or that's what they all want. If I run into a few Democrats who are war-hawks and will support any war, anywhere, any time, for any reason, as long as Democrats are in power, I can't say all Democrats are like that or that's what they all want.

The Cold War is over, Gisele. We won. McCarthy's dead, many say from alcoholism, his chief counsel, Roy Cohn died of AIDS which he deliberately spread to everyone he could, the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall fell, and smearing somebody as a Communist, anarchist, or leftist, won't get them blacklisted any more. Nice try, though.

While there is no central command to tell people what to do, everyone is free to choose to work in the spirit of direct democracy that the Occupy Movement was founded upon, to stick with politics as usual, or to try to co-opt the Occupy Movement. In San Diego, the co-opters won. They haven't won in New York, San Francisco, Oakland, or a few other cities yet, but they might eventually. Then we'll get fifty new severe problems to add to that long List of Grievances caused by politics as usual, and maybe a different movement will spring up. Or maybe the 1% can convince people that things aren't that bad, that the Occupiers are just a bunch of spoiled hippies and anarchists, and that just because the government is pauperizing the country so it can continue killing innocent babies, doesn't mean that we should abandon it--there are probably lots of good reasons for killing innocent babies that ordinary citizens aren't qualified to understand but elected officials do. If you're doing okay, why not trust them? There are still a few countries left in which some people are doing okay. Half the people in the US are living in poverty, but I hear it isn't that bad yet in Canada. 

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." What you are calling "direct democracy" is the model of group decision-making that anarchists promote. People aren't stupid. It's not the word "anarchy" that people don't like. That's why people keep asking how this "direct democracy" would work. You are way too smart and commited to not have put time into thinking about a new system of government. In my opinion you don't have one to suggest because you don't want a system of government to exist. When people get too close to that you attack.

I am not smearing anyone I'm stating a fact. Anarchism isn't a bad word. It's just a system that most people don't want.

"They were mostly pretty obviously horizontals: people more sympathetic with anarchist principles of organization, non-hierarchical forms of direct democracy, and direct action "

You are right about one thing. I am smart. I try very hard to understand the points of view of other people.If you don't consider yourself an anarchist that's fine. Everyone has a right to define themselves. It doesn't change the fact that the system you are promoting is called "anarchy".

Wikipedia has been tested and is almost as accurate as major encyclopedias. It is "crowd-sourced" and They might attribute something to the wrong person or get a date wrong or not list all the parts of a motor. They don't make huge errors. the crowd-sourcing takes care of that.

I read that link you gave, Gisele. It was indeed written by an anarchist. But he states clearly that he wants democracy, not anarchy.

Are you opposed to democracy? Do you think democracy is a code word for anarchy?

Are all democratic forms of government anarchist or Communist or pagan?

I grew up during the Cold War. I learned to hate Communists as the enemy. But when I got much much older I volunteered for a year in my Congressman's local district office. His name was Ron Dellums and he only retired from Congress after 24 years. Every year he introduced a National Health Care plan. It was a very well-thought out plan, contained in two thick black binders, a copy of which was always available in his Washington office and in each of his district offices. Every year he introduced his National Health Care plan and every year he got called a dirty pinko Communist and his plan never did pass. 

Well, there was a conservative woman who lived in the same apartment building I was in, and when she learned I was volunteering in Dellums' office she never missed an opportunity to tell me what filthy pinko Commie scum he was. Until one day, I got home and she came running up to me crying, "They just doubled my health insurance premiums. I can't afford it! Can you ask the Congressman to help me?"

Well, you live in Canada, Gisele, so you know how much advocating a National Health Care plan means that a person is a dirty pinko Commie, right? Somebody who is trying to subvert the whole capitalist system and bring chaos and anarchy? Don't you admire the US for being the only developed country left in the entire world that has stood up to those filthy Commies and resisted adopting a National Health Care plan?

Dellums was a Democrat, by the way. Most other Democrats in Congress were opposed to his National Health Care Plan because they didn't want to be smeared as Commies.

And I started wondering why only Commies thought everyone should have access to health care. Then I learned that in some Communist countries they had free higher education. And I didn't think that was a bad idea and I wondered why only Commies would do something like that. And then I learned that some Communist countries had subsidized food and housing so they didn't need soup kitchens like we do and they didn't have thousands of homeless people sleeping in the streets in every major city like we do. And I wondered why only Commies cared about poor people. If they're so horrible, why were Commies the only ones who did good things? So eventually, late in my 60's, because I'd never dared read disgusting stuff like Commie propaganda, I started reading an anthology of Fidel Castro's writings. And as I read it, I wished over and over and over that I'd read it forty years earlier. 

Because it isn't Communism, socialism, or anarchism to feed the poor, heal the sick, teach the children, and house the homeless. It is common human decency. And no matter how people arrive at it or what they call it, it's why we have hearts and brains instead of just teeth and claws. 

The world isn't divided into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, men and women, Muslims and Jews, Communists and capitalists, or other divisive categories, Gisele. There is only one kind of person, the human kind, or humankind, and if we cannot be kind, we do not deserve to be called human.

That's my philosophy, Gisele. And if you think that makes me an anarchist or a Communist, I don't give a shit. But when the Canadian government follows the US government into needless misery and suffering, please don't ask me to intercede with my Congressman. He has no more power in Canada than he has here. The 1% run things and he either obeys them or he loses his job. In fact he just resigned from Congress to run for Mayor because he hopes that he might have more power as a Mayor than as a Congressman. He's a white, Jewish, Democrat who was a Freedom Rider back in the Civil Rights movement. I won't vote for him because I know how rigged the system is, but I like him and I wish him what I wish for all good people involved in US politics--that he die of natural causes instead of being shot. Because that's the best that good people involved in US politics can realistically hope for.

So far you haven't offered up a model, even a really loose one, that explains how "direct democracy" would work on a state and national level. If you know a way to run the United States without any representatives by all means let us know what you envision. Who would create the federal budget?

He doesn't have a model, Gisele, and he doesn't care. Don't you see that by now? It's not for him to offer a model, that's not what he's doing here, and he's never going to do it. He's only advocating for total non-compliance and total rejection of what we currently have. If you agree with him, you're still on your own as far as developing alternative systems. 

If Mark wanted there to be an alternate system he would have figured one out. He doesn't have an alternative system because he doesn't want one to exist. It's a gaping hole in his argument he would have fixed by now given how hard he has worked on the rest of his argument.

He's promoting "direct democracy" but has no explanation of how it would work. How can you promote a system if you have no idea of how it would work?

When pressed, he goes back to the attack on our current system and starts pointing at other places where people have used vote-boycotting to achieve a goal. When I called it what it is "anarchy" he suggested that I was calling all democratic systems "anarchist" which of course I am not doing. In fact I am not calling "direct democracy" anarchy either. I think it's a great idea. We should have more referendums in which citizens should get a direct say on issues.

Running the entire country through direct democracy is completely impossible. No one would have any time to get any work done. We would be voting day and night.Direct democracy isn't even workable on a city-wide level.

Ergo, there would be no country.

The country, Gisele, was here long before people were. The country is the land. If you mean the nation, I'm living on land that belongs to the Kumeyaay Nation. It is currently inhabited mostly by Europeans who came here with corporate charters to kill people and take their land. Those who weren't killed, usually entered into treaties. The US government broke every single treaty it ever signed with the Native Americans, so those treaties, if this was a nation of laws, would be null and void.

It's the voters who haven't figured out how voting could bring about even the smallest reforms, no less change. At best, they know they might get a few people elected, but they know that a minority wouldn't be able to accomplish any reforms.

Yet they encourage people to vote without any idea of how they could achieve even the smallest goals, like getting the government to regulate banks.

Representative government doesn't work, not on a national or even a city-wide level. at least not in the USA. Maybe it does in Canada. But here, the wealthy 1% control more than 90% of the legislatures along with the Presidency and the judiciary, while the 99% don't control enough to get any legislation passed whatsoever.

And when you press people as to how they intend to achieve any reforms by voting, they go silent or talk about vague dreams that might happen within several lifetimes. That's because they have no answers. They just think that if they keep trying to do the things that haven't worked for them in the past, maybe a miracle will happen, if not in their lifetimes, perhaps fifty or a hundred years from now. In the meantime, they're not concerned about the suffering of the people harmed by government deregulation, privatization, outsourcing, wasteful budget priorities (we have school kids go hungry while our Pentagon loses, that is mislays, has no record of, and cannot account for about a trillion dollars a year, in addition to at least another trillion in overpayments and other expenditures the Pentagon itself classifies as waste, fraud, and abuse), and don't really care if things continue to get worse, as long as they can preserve the system.

Ah, but voters have a model. I remember pleading with one woman peace activist not to vote in '08 because both candidates were pro-war. The woman told me, I'm going to vote because Obama's going to give me medical. Well, he did start a few new wars, but he never managed to give that woman medical. He says he's going to try again after he's reelected and I'm sure that woman will vote for him again. Did you ever see the cartoons with Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football? Yup, you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Another woman, an environmental activist I pleaded with not to vote in '08, as neither candidate had a record of protecting the environment told me, "I'm going to vote because Obama is going to protect the polar bears." We he opened up new oil drilling even after the BP spill, but he didn't protect the polar bears. That woman is not going to vote for him again. Sometimes people get fiercely attached to polar bears.

Voters have no plans, just hopes and dreams that if they elect the right people, those people might do something, maybe. They even can't tell me how they plan to elect people by voting in a system where the Supreme Court can decide not to count their votes, but they're not really looking for solutions or for reforms, they're just dreaming.


There can be no model, Gisele, because, as Victoria already wrote, "It's not for him to offer a model."  Despite that clarity, Victoria missed a key point on her way to "you're still on your own as far as developing alternative systems."

Direct democracy means both that no one is on her/his own and that no one is minding your business but you and the people with whom you (choose to) make arrangements.  Different constellations of people will and must be different, just as a salt marsh is necessarily different from a prairie, is the key point.

The implied slowdown is important for the success of the unprecedented process of socio-ecologic restoration that the creation of post-industrial sustainable communities requires.


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