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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(Mark) Sham votes in sham elections where the government does not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions cannot bring about change.

Then how did Chavez win an election? Venezuela was crooked as they come. Even after he managed to win the election they tried to depose him. The ruling-class owned the media (still does to some extent) and used it to try to prevent people from knowing what was really going on. It didn't work. People demonstrated to demand his release. The military chose to support him.The US has done everything in it's power to help the old elite depose Chavez but they haven't been able to do it because he has the support of the people.

If the people had said, it's no point, we might as well stay home and not vote, the same people would be in power. There would be no new constitution. The US would still be buying Venezuelan oil. The corporations would still be in charge.

You are right that the government needs the consent of the people but not voting isn't withholding consent. As long as people continue to consent through going to work and paying taxes everything is fine. Especially if they aren't protesting. As Victoria pointed out voting is only one form of consent. In my view it's the least important form of consent.

In Egypt protesters were not just trying to get people to not vote. If that were the case they would have all gone home by now. That was only one tactic. The protesters were not going to go home and do nothing if people had not voted. They would have persisted in their demands for change just like they are persisting now. The people did vote, and the protesters did not leave. A vote-boycott would have strenghtened the protesters demands for civilian power not sent them home satisfied because people didn't vote.The military knew that.

Why didn't the protesters just stay home and not vote? They could have promoted non-voting through the internet. The protesters are protesting for the cameras of the world. They want to illustrate that they are under brutal military rule not in a democracy.

The rulers want economic stability. Their interest is monetary. Protests are scaring tourists away. If they don't suppress the protesters then other people will be enboldened to protest too. Strikes will spread. So even though it brings negative publicity the military has to put a stop to the protests.

They appeared to stay on the people's side because the suppression could be done by the police and they wanted to keep the public's support. The protesters were aiming at Mubarek which didn't threaten military power. They were willing to sacrifice Mubarek not their power. They hoped to placate the population with moderate reform that didn't touch the structure. To a large extent they succeeded.

The police certainly haven't become the good guys but they are less willing to be the fall-guy for the military and with the military now in charge protesters would have demanded that they step in to protect them. Now that the protesters are aiming at the military they are acting directly because they have more to gain by getting rid of the protesters than they have to lose by the world witnessing their brutality. Israel is still buying the oil. The US is still sending money and supplies.

We may see our current democracies as a sham but it is still a democracy. All the democracies I know of are still representative. Even Chavez's local councils elect representatives. We have the freedom to elect anyone we want to. We have the freedom to create new honest political parties. I know, with the money in politics it is virtually impossible to do, but it is not impossible. If enough people wanted to they could do it. Other countries would have no reason to protest that not enough Americans were voting. Now if US Americans refused to work or pay taxes then other countries might step in or at least voice concern because that would mean the US couldn't pay the interest on it's debts. Even then US miltary might would prevent other countries from stepping in. The US military could go decades without buying new tanks or guns etc.

A vote-boycott just seems like a dead end for the United States.

I checked out the Wikipedia article on South Africa and a vote-boycott did not result in the end of apartheid.There were tons of boycotts against sports and cuture to apply pressure, and:

(1983) The first Tricameral elections were largely boycotted by Colored and Indian voters, amid widespread rioting.

But that did not end apartheid. In fact blacks made advances incrementally through protests that eventually lead to negotiations beginning in 1990.

By 1987 the growth of South Africa's economy had dropped to among the lowest rate in the world, and the ban on South African participation in international sporting events was frustrating many whites in South Africa.

There was no mass boycott of elections by whites to get the vote for blacks. Even if there were, the point was to get the right to vote. US Americans already have the right to vote. If we don't like our government we have the power to elect people who want to change it. I know elections are rigged. If you protested for international observers that might get somewhere eventually but probably not because no one wants to offend the US.

The government of Venezuela was corrupt (a US-backed oligarchy) but their elections weren't as corrupt as ours. I've explained it in a another comment this morning for Victoria, so I hope I don't have to repeat it again.

If they'd had a system where the Supreme Court could simply decide not to count the votes, Chavez wouldn't be in power.

The phrase "the consent of the governed" comes from the Declaration of Independence. It's there because it is the most important kind of compliance or noncompliance.

The Egyptian military knew that the US government would back them to the hilt in suppressing the protests and ensuring that there was no election boycott because the US had suggested the election in the first place as a way to make the military junta appear to be a democratically elected government.

You don't think killing and torturing people scares tourists away?

I can't take you through all the research I've done, but I can tell you that the US does not want people to know about successful election boycotts and has censored most information and published many lies.

Suppose I'm your government and I grant you the right to vote. The way I allow you to vote is to write the name of the candidate you want on a piece of paper and then swallow it. Or I allow you to tick the box for which candidate you want and then instruct you to flush your ballot down the toilet. Does that mean you have a democratic form of government because I allowed you to vote?

You're much smarter than that, Gisele. 

Unfortunately no, killng and torturing doesn't keep tourists away. Most don't even know about it. Tourism did just fine under Mubarak and they didn't just start killing and torturing people. They've had practice.

The only reason the Supreme Court was called in to make a decision is because the vote was so close a recount could have changed the outcome. I agree their decision was a travesty of justice but it doesn't mean they will now choose the president every election.

Yes, vote fraud is occuring but the Republicans are trying desperately to stop people from voting if they don't fall into the Republican demographic. They wouldn't be doing that if they controlled the vote. In fact Obama never would have won at all. I'm pretty sure they tried to rig the election then too. The Supreme Court didn't step in because it wasn't a close call between two parties.

Mark, you say you are not promoting an anarchist system. You are promoting direct democracy. In your direct democracy there would be no President, no Congress, no Governors because there would be no representatives. There would be no need for anyone to control the military because there wouldn't be one.

You can avoid using the term "anarchy" but you can't change it's meaning.

This has been a wonderful thread and I don't want to leave it on a sour note. You are correct that the countries you mentioned provide for their citizens. US Americans will not go for a Cuba system but they could go for a Venezuelan one. Even without a Chavez it would be possible to set up local councils. It is true that they wouldn't have the power that the established government has but they could still do a lot of good. They could also be ready to help out if the system does collapse.

There are communities in other places that were too poor. Alternative currencies were set up because essencially money is simply a means of bartering goods and labour. So far they only seem to work on a community basis but that has helped citizens tremendously. They exist in the United States too. I imagine they will grow tremendously fast if economic collapse happens. 

Local councils could set up alternative currencies now. They could simply continuously state what they would be doing if they were in charge.

I agree with you that the First Nations in North America have been terribly abused.  The Occupy movement has failed to reach out to communities of colour and the First Nations peoples but the movement is still young. 

If the US collapses Canada will follow. We are very dependent on trade with you.

The countries you mentioned all still have representative governments of one sort or another. Presidents could be elected directly by the people and there could even be more than one. Perhaps military action would have to be approved by the people too. Property could be redistributed. You mentioned running businesses as co-ops for example. You have a successful one in your neighbourhood. Choices are limited only by our imaginations and our willingness to reach out for one another across our differences. All the good that happened in this thread has not vanished. I have learned a great deal from you and others. You educated me about constitutions.

This thread appears to be coming to an end at least for now. You have fought hard to defend your views.  I think you should have the last post, and I think it should summarize your argument for supporting a vote-boycott. You deserve our respect and you have mine.

I admire your heart and your love for people tremendously.



Thank you, Gisele. And thanks to Lindsay, Victoria, and everyone else who participated.

I have a neighbor who is overweight and has serious health problems. He doesn't eat healthy foods and he likes to go to all-you-can-eat restaurants and eat as much as he can. Last year he told me that his doctor had ordered him to lose some weight. I asked if he was going on a diet, but he said no, that he was just going to watch his weight. He didn't start eating healthier foods and he kept right on going to all-you-can-eat restaurants and eating as much as he could. Needless to say his weight hasn't come down and his health hasn't improved.

About five years ago I was seriously overweight myself and had been for about 25 years. I didn't have health problems, but one friend tells me I looked like an apple, as big around as I was tall. Well, I fell in with some vegans and I got interested, so I tried going vegan a few times, but it never lasted more than a couple of months. However during these attempts I became more conscious of what I was eating. I used to go to all-you-can-eat restaurants myself, when I could afford them, and eat as much as I could. I stopped doing that because most of what they offered was fried, starchy, or otherwise filling but not very healthy. I tried to eat more fruits and veggies, but I'm very lazy and they take preparation, so I didn't succeed. I guess I ate more fruits and veggies than before, but not to any great extent--nowhere near the suggested daily requirements. 

Then I learned about organic foods and that seemed like a sensible idea, so I started shopping at farmers' markets. They had lots of delightful fruits and veggies and the novelty of it got me eating more healthy foods. Of course when you eat more healthy foods, unless you increase your food intake, you eat fewer unhealthy foods. 

Then I learned about the Co-Op and started doing almost all my shopping there. It was expensive, but it was a trip. They have a deli and everything is healthy, so you can really pig out all you want and not gain weight or have any ill effects. So I'd go out of my way to shop there and every time I did, I'd eat at the deli. I'd thought that people who bought organic foods were rich people who could afford such nonsense, but I found that not only was I eating healthier, tastier foods, but I was actually spending less money instead of more because I could buy one potato instead of a sack of potatoes, bulk foods instead of packaged foods, eat as much as I wanted, not have to throw things away, and even lose some weight. That happened very slowly, but over the course of a couple of years I'd lost about 15 pounds without going on a diet.

And then a friend of mine said she was going on a no-gluten diet. That sounded like fun so I tried it. I've been a sugar addict all my life, one of those people who puts a little coffee in their sugar and eats lots of sweets. I'd never tried to stop eating sugar or cut down on sugar because I didn't think I could. Well after my second week of not eating foods with glutens, I noticed that I hadn't had any sugar in a week and hadn't wanted any. Don't ask me how that happened, it just did. I certainly couldn't have done it if I'd tried. Of course I lapsed and started eating both glutens and sugar again, but nowhere near the amounts I'd eaten regularly before. And I lost another 25 pounds. 

Ten years ago I was bursting out of my pants and could barely fasten my belt on the last hole. I was going to buy pants with a bigger waist and a longer belt. Now I usually fasten my belt three holes in and I'm within ten pounds of what I weighed when I was 30. 

I didn't have a plan to lose weight. I just started eating healthier and stopped eating less healthy foods. That was it. No plan, not even the intention of losing weight. 

So the reason I've bored you with all this stuff, is because I became convinced that if I stop doing bad things, and try to do good things, I don't need a plan. Sounds crazy, right? Well ol' Mad Mark never claimed to be sane. I'm just saying that it works for me. I stop doing bad things, start doing good things, and the bad things go away and are replaced by the good things.

About five years ago I stopped voting. I'd been an election integrity activist since the 2000 elections and an HCPB advocate since I encountered Sheila Parks online, and I'd learned that the way the votes are counted is only one problem among many. There's also the fact that the votes don't have to be counted. That it is usually impossible to verify the votes. That even when fraud can be proven, it is usually too late to do anything about it. That the avenues for redress either don't exist or don't function properly. And then there were a few other problems, like Presidential nominees being chosen by political party superdelegates instead of by the voters, the Electoral College being the only people who can vote directly for President and Vice President, Congress being the sole judge of the elections of its Members, gerrymandered districts, no right of recall at the federal level, difficulties in gaining ballot access for third parties and independent candidates, biased media coverage and no Fairness Doctrine to allow candidates to defend themselves against orchestrated smear attacks, corporate money having an undue influence in politics even prior to Citizens United, unequal access to the polls, dirty tricks campaigns like phony mailers to fool voters into thinking their party supported an opposition party's candidate, illegal voter purges, conflicts of interest where the people overseeing elections were campaign managers for a particular candidate or the election official was a candidate, mail-in ballots that can't be tracked by citizens, elections officials having the right to tell political parties who they can and can't designate as an election observer, elections observers not being allowed to actually see the monitor where the running vote tally is supposedly being displayed, elections officials forgetting to notify official observers when they tally the votes, election workers tampering with ballots, elections officials manipulating recounts, the old "Ballot Box 13" trick where elections officials wait until the results are in and then miraculously find enough uncounted ballots to reverse the results, elections officials who violate the election codes, a strange law here in California that says it is legal for an election official to violate the election codes if they claim that they needed to do so in order to hold the election, no possibility for citizens to verify the chain of custody of ballots because the ballots are in the sole custody of the elections officials most likely to tamper with them, political machines that can either ensure that a candidate runs unopposed or get two candidates with virtually identical agendas pretending to run against each other, Congress swearing in candidates before elections are certified, a Presidential election being decided by the winning candidate conceding before the votes can be counted, and much, much more. Victoria's been at it much longer than I have and can probably name a few dozen serious problems I've missed.

What I'd learned after working at the polls, reading shelves of books about elections, observing elections, spending months pouring through election codes and more months reviewing documents provided in response to my Public Records Requests that could only be viewed at the office of the Registrar of Voters, closely following litigation filed by others and even filing a lawsuit myself to try to get the ROV to stop violating the law (the judge found that the ROV had indeed been violating the law, and suggested to the attorneys for the ROV that the ROV consider not doing it again), and studying the Constitution with the help of some expert tutelage, was that not only is our electoral system not secure, but it would take more than just some litigation and a few Constitutional Amendments to make it secure--we'd need a whole new Constitution.

It's difficult when you're attached to something, say (although I've never owned one) a car. You don't want a new car, so you make sure that the oil is changed regularly, that the tires are balanced and inflated properly, you get new spark plugs when necessary, you replace the carburetor if you need to, you get a new paint job (or, if you're a hippy put decals on it) when it starts to look disgraceful, you get the electrical wiring fixed when it stops working, you get new upholstery or put covers on the seats when they get worn, you get a new transmission when the old one breaks, you get a new engine if the old one stops working and a new engine block if the old one cracks, etc. But if all those things happen at once, however much you love that critter, it is time to think about getting a new car. Seriously. Or maybe even, if you're strong and healthy, live in a relatively flat area, don't have far to commute, and are ecologically-minded, a bicycle. Yeah, I know how insane that sounds, but I also know people who have done it.

I can't tell people what to do, that's up to each individual. But if everything in a vehicle has gone the way of the Deacon's Shay, I know you're not going to get anyway by sitting forlornly in the car and turning the ignition key. I know that you're not going to lose weight if you maintain bad eating habits. And I know that you're not going to bring about change by voting in a totally broken and thoroughly corrupt electoral system. Ain't gonna happen. 

Of course if you think the system is working and that things are getting better, you'll keep right on doing what you've always done even if you're getting obese, the car don't run, and your votes aren't counted, even if a lot of silly people have some ridiculous List of Grievances where they claim that the system isn't working and things are getting worse. It is hard to break old habits, do things in different ways, or not be afraid of change. But you don't have to be very motivated or have a plan. You can wait until you have no other options, or perhaps you can try to start doing things differently just to see what happens or to be prepared in case some day you really don't have other options.

It took me three years to fight my way off the voter rolls. They're supposed to remove you if you don't vote in three consecutive elections, but I kept getting voters' guides and sample ballots in the mail. I'd throw them out with the rest of the junk mail, phone the ROV and ask to be taken off the list. They'd promise to do so, but they didn't until I finally went down there and raised a stink. They know me. They don't like me. But they may have some way of casting ballots for people who don't vote, so I had to persist until they finally took me off the rolls. At least I hope they did. They said so, but of course I can't verify it. They could have just taken me off their mailing list but left me on the voter rolls.

BradBlog had a story about an election official who said that even if the votes couldn't be verified, people had to trust him. Later on he was convicted for betraying that trust. I'm not a very trusting soul. Some people are. They trust the system, so they vote in faith-based elections. I don't trust the system, so I don't vote. 

Emma Goldman, a greatly feared and eventually deported  anarchist, said that if voting could change anything it would be illegal. I agree, but that doesn't make me an anarchist. I also agree with what President Eisenhower said when he warned about the military-industrial complex, but that doesn't make me a Republican. I think both of them were right, the anarchist and the Republican. Maybe they were wrong about other things, but I think they had those things right.

Mark, it's been a pleasure debating with you and learning from you, and I mean that. You've given me a lot to think about, and I promise to keep considering all you've said and incorporating it into my thinking going forward. I feel finished with the discussion for now, as well.

If we were someplace in person, I'd give you a hug. I wish you the best.


Thank you, Victoria. Hugz backatcha.

Thanks for that very informative link, Victoria.

I'd suspected something of the sort when people here in San Diego were trying to push through the 90% rule and the list of demands by saying that New York had done so. New York had adopted the 90% rule, but hadn't yet used it at that time, and had not adopted any demands. But being able to establish a hierarchy, control the agenda, prevent minority blocks, and recognize the established system by making demands on it, are all essential to successfully co-opting the movement on behalf of the status quo so that the 1% can continue to rule.

I think OWS made a big mistake in accepting more donations than they needed and hoarding them as capital, instead of using them to finance collectives, cooperatives, and urban gardens as fast as they came in. 

I was typing a comment at the time, so I didn't see Gisele's announcement that, if I understand it corrrectly, you, Gisele, and Lindsay had consensed that I be allowed the last word here, as long as I agreed to end this discussion, so I had no idea that my comment was supposed to be my final post here. I wouldn't have agreed because I'm not allowed to mention not voting elsewhere on Occupy Cafe, so if I feel that such mention is important to another discussion, I can only post a link there and post my actual response here. I'm sort of confined to this particular free speech zone, so abandoning it would leave me with no voice at all. I'm always happy to step back, but don't think I should be completely silenced.

No no, we didn't mean your final post forever! Just that we were done with the thread that had been just between us and we were going to leave, so you could have the final post between us. This is your page, after all, we're not saying you have to shut it down!

Ah! That's good. I hadn't even known that you three were an entity--I'd thought I was dealing with three separate people. Thanks for the clarification.


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