I know, I know, it’s a notion that a lot of politically minded people refuse to entertain. As a loyal voter, not voting wasn’t something I’ve even considered until I recently joined a discussion with about thirty young activists. Though it was not unanimous, the overwhelming sentiment amongst the group was that they would not be casting ballots this fall. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t view it as an irresponsible mindset. Even if it’s an ideology you won’t agree with, it’s a perspective worth hearing. Here is the case they presented:
Although voting is meant to be an empowering process, it is ultimately disempowering because the system gives leaders the power to make decisions on our behalves. We like to tout ourselves as a democracy, but more accurately we are a republic and acknowledge that fact in our Pledge of Allegiance.
Perhaps having leaders make our decisions for us wouldn’t be so bad were there an actual choice. Currently, citizens are essentially given just two options when voting. The two major parties have a stranglehold on the system by presenting themselves as the only real options and shutting out other candidates from debates and the general discourse.
What’s worse is that these leaders are bought. Corporations can now pump unlimited amounts of money into campaigns, and with the candidate who spends the most money almost always winning, elections are purchased by the elite. Surely they wouldn’t invest millions of dollars in the outcomes if they didn’t expect something in return.
The result? Poverty runs rampant, while the rich get richer. Fraudulent bankers are not prosecuted. Education is an afterthought. Both parties lead us through an unceasing series of wars. An emerging police state quells anyone who speaks out, while the mass media, owned by the same corporations who buy the elections, refuses to report on the corruption. As massive environmental problems escalate, neither party is doing enough to divert us from catastrophe. Can we afford to support a system that will not address these problems?
So why then, in a system that so many acknowledge is faulty, if not completely broken (see this Care2 poll), do we keep trying to vote our way out of it?
The activists argued that voting was a form of legitimatizing the corruption. When they cast a vote, they feel it gives the impression that they had a say when they really did not. They do not wish to be complicit in a system that oppresses the masses and wages war. As they see it, if everyone stopped voting, the same authority would continue, and it would demonstrate how powerless the populace really has been all along.
In the above video, student activists struggle to decide whether to vote.
That said, while most of the activists do not intend to vote for national candidates, some of them are willing to make exceptions by voting for trusted local candidates or, here in California, taking a stand ballot measures, hoping to end the three strikes law (Prop. 36), preventing corporate money from having more sway on elections (Prop. 32), and starting to label genetically modified food (Prop. 37).
One thing the activists agreed on was that it is not enough to simply not vote. Not voting itself should be a political statement. Whether principled non-voters burn their ballots or rally near polling places, they want to make certain that their voices are heard so they are not construed as apathetic. That is not to say that they necessarily label others who do not vote as apathetic either. They feel a lot of people who choose not to vote already feel disenfranchised at some level and that the system does not work for them regardless of the outcome and that is why they choose not to participate.
Not voting is definitely a radical concept, particularly when a lot people will inform you that you’re not even allowed to vote the way you want. Try telling someone that you’re not interested in voting for Obama again and they’ll say it’s a waste of a vote, or a vote against women. When I bring up Obama killing hundreds of children in drone attacks abroad, appealing the decision each time a judge finds the NDAA ruling to indefinitely detain citizens unconstitutional, appointing Monsanto executives to the FDA, and accepting record amounts of Wall Street campaign dontations, they call it a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. I agree that at any single moment, it makes sense to vote for the lesser of two evils. But how many times can you resign yourself to doing that? At what point do you decide to no longer participate in a system you acknowledge to be evil?
I remember when the Occupy movement kicked off a year ago, a friend said, “I just want to know how many of those people vote. I don’t want to hear their complaints if they’re not going to vote.” As I’ve come to find, these are activists who protest and engage in direct actions on a daily basis, and to dismiss them for rejecting what they feel is a false sense of democracy seems shortsighted. How can you champion the citizenship of someone who shows up to vote on local candidates they know next to nothing about other than a party affiliation and then otherwise disengages until the next election over those who commit their lives to improving their community and society?
Despite the activists’ compelling arguments, I do still intend to vote next month. I’m not naïve enough to think that voting will change anything, but I’m also not confident enough to think that voting couldn’t be part of the solution. I know our system needs change, but I’m not yet sure whether that change will come in the form of reform or revolution. As an ally to both solutions, I’m all for a diversity of tactics. So I will cast a protest vote of reform for a third party candidate (admittedly, it’s funny to call a candidate I genuinely like a “protest” vote, but with the pervasive either/or mentality, any vote for someone outside of the two major parties is a symbol of dissent), but then I will spend far more time elsewhere pushing for the change this country needs. Whether or not you decide to vote, your civic duty should extend far beyond the ballot box.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
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