Voting: Why we Vote to Win

Why Occupy Should Be the Left's Tea Party

posted Aug 28, 2012, 12:17 PM by Christopher Mandel   [ updated Aug 28, 2012, 12:18 PM ]

May Day was a success, but Occupy needs to rethink itself if it wants to change America.


| From Mother Jones
occupy may dayPhoto by Mark Murrmann

By most estimates, the Occupy movement's May Day protests were a resounding success, with demonstrations held in more than 100 cities and a march in Manhattan that drew some 30,000 people—more than any Occupy event last fall. But if the movement is going to sustain the kind of momentum that captured the nation's attention six months ago, it must begin to evolve in a different direction. Occupy's much-hyped Phase 2, the "American Spring," suggests an end game that's virtually impossible in today's America: the toppling of a corrupt political system under the sheer weight of its own repression. Unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, the only real revolutions in our comparatively affluent nation have ultimately been won or lost at the ballot box.

For months I've devoted myself to reporting on Occupy Wall Street, but I haven't shared many of my own views of the movement until now. I see myself foremost as a reporter, not a pundit, and I also thought that other observers were too quick to judge. I have the utmost respect for original OWS organizers such as Marissa Holmes, Sandy Nurse, Amin Husain, Nicole Carty, and Jason Ahmadi, to name just a few, who took the art of calling bullshit on the political system way further than the chattering classes thought it could go. Instead of handing over the movement to the Professional Left, they effectively gave the reins to anyone who felt disenfranchised. Their famously nonhierarchical General Assembly and working groups might have been unwieldy, but they're also what lent OWS its legitimacy as a true movement of and for the 99 percent.

In the early days of the General Assembly, Occupy Wall Street seemed poised to grow in any number of directions. There were people who wanted to make concrete political demands or get involved in electoral politics, and people who didn't. Yet the meetings were long and tedious, and those who slogged through them all winter more often than not tended to be the same kind of people who'd first slept in the park, which is to say, radicals, often anarchists, who believed that engaging with the political system would only legitimize it. Still, many of them were happy to collaborate with more mainstream groups, such as labor unions, on protests against common enemies like Wall Street.

For a while I believed that this kind of limited partnership could be enough to keep the Occupy movement relevant. The thinking goes that the protests will gradually win over more Americans, growing in size and frequency to the point that corporations and elected leaders, whoever they are, will somehow be forced to respond. This has certainly happened to a degree, with Occupy protests arguably playing a role in extending a millionaire's tax in New York state and helping to convince the shareholders of Citigroup to vote against a cushy pay package for CEO Vikram Pandit. Still, that's pretty small potatoes compared to all the press Occupy got this fall, which could be why the press and most Americans have mostly stopped paying attention since then.

If May Day somehow leads to major political victories for Occupy, it will be the first time that an American social movement has caught fire without sending its own guys to Washington. "There really isn't any precedent for that," Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University professor who studies social movements, told me last month. Though politicians don't always fulfill their promises, history shows that social movements tend to advance when they help elect people who at least feel compelled to listen to them. Lyndon B. Johnson was not seen as a great progressive in the '60s, but his time in office coincided with the civil rights and anti-war movements. Obviously, the left hasn't fared as well under Republicans. 

Since the Occupy movement probably can't stomach campaigning for Obama, it could instead loan its 99 percent message to and the unions and progressive PACs, who are already hammering Mitt Romney as Mr. 1 Percent. But while occupiers are justifiably skeptical of Obama, they're also unjustifiably paranoid about being co-opted by Obama supporters, to the point that Adbusters, the magazine whose call for protest helped spark Occupy Wall Street, recently blamed MoveOn for the "derailment of our movement."

Occupy activists, many of whom don't have a lot of experience with politics, seem to think that MoveOn is taking its orders from the White House. In reality, MoveOn polls its 7 million members on which candidates to support, and it often runs campaigns to unseat Blue Dog Democrats when it thinks a more progressive candidate has a shot at winning. But whatever. What Occupy really ought to do if it intends to live on is plunge directly into electoral politics on the local, state, and congressional level. It ought to co-opt the Democratic Party.

Though Occupy could support many sympathetic candidates in Democratic primaries, some pundits haven't pushed the idea because they worry about a tea party effect on the left, with liberal Democrats losing to Republicans in the general election. Yet other than a third-party bid, with its potential for another Nader debacle, this may be the only way to command Washington's attention. Many occupiers believe it's futile, however, because they'd never win against an avalanche of unregulated corporate political spending.

Maybe they're right, and I'm wrong.  Maybe it's too late now that the Occupy brand has lost some of its early resonance. But I'd like to think that now's the time to consider a true diversity of tactics. Occupy has drawn attention to the rigging of the political system by boycotting it. Now it can campaign against that political system—against Washington—by working to elect people who will unrig it. Forget "Hope." Think of it as another iteration of the popular Occupy placard: "Unfuck the world.

The Lesser of Two Evils:

posted Aug 4, 2012, 2:16 PM by Steven Bailey   [ updated Aug 5, 2012, 9:14 PM ]

What American Occupiers should consider before deciding on calling for a Presidential Voting Strike.

On many overarching issues it is likely going to make little difference who we vote for or if we vote in the presidential election of 2012. Neither Candidate will do any thing to address the Military Industrial Complex, mass corporate and government corruption, American Imperialism, severe economic inequality, the restoration of our many lost civil liberties, campaign financing, the “two party” political monopoly, corporate consolidation of power, lobbyist influence, the Electoral Collage, or even hold accountable the criminals who perpetrated the greatest financial crime in American history. On these issues the two party establishment candidates are very similar and there is little point in voting for the lesser of two evils.

It is imperative that we call attention to this and bring it to the forefront of political debate in our country. Occupy calling a Voting Strike is a way to do that. It has the potential to be effective to that end.

That being said, on a great number of other issues there are vast fundamental differences between the two candidates.  Let’s consider a few of them, as these differences constitute the basis of determining the lesser of two evils.

Health Care:

Around 45,000 Americans die each year due to a lack of health insurance restricting their access to care. Millions more suffer needlessly with treatable illnesses. 62% of all personal bankruptcies are the result of medical expenses. Health Care Is a Human Right and the Affordable Care Act falls far short of that. It is a first step though.  It has and will help a great many of us. It extends Medicaid, expands coverage, adds preventative care, stops exclusion of pre-existing conditions, eliminates coverage caps, and many more positive steps. It will save tens of thousands of lives each year. Our vote in this election will determine whether it is appealed and millions lose the care they are finally receiving.

LGBTQ Rights

Our LGBTQ community has struggled valiantly for so long to gain the rights too many of us take for granted. They fought through being shunned, ridiculed, denied, raped, tortured, murdered, and blamed. The amazing story of their struggle moves and motivates not only many of us but history it’s self. We are so fortunate to have the passion and experience of many activists from their movement to help shape and guide us. I consider it an honor to know each of them and be able to help them in their struggle for civil rights. The last progressive administration took what many consider to have been a sickening first step toward decriminalizing LGBTQ military personnel. This progressive administration has removed the policy of Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell and made it possible for our LGBTQ community to openly serve. Very recently the current president came around to right and made a public statement in support same sex marriage. Although the strides they have made are great the fight continues all can be undone by an anti-equal rights president. Our vote in this election will determine the rights of an entire heroic people.


Every single individual in this country who is not full blooded Native American is here as a result of immigration. The struggle for immigrant rights is the most cyclical issue in our history. Again and Again different immigrant communities have had to struggle for rights among the established population. There is nothing more “American” than doing whatever it takes to make a better life for yourself and your family. Our immigrant community is divided into the categories of “legal” or “illegal” based on how well they fill out paper work. If you, or your parents when you were a small child, haven’t filled out the right paperwork you are not afforded the rights of a citizen and live in constant fear of deportation breaking up your family. With an executive order the president created a limited version of the Dream Act that congress was unable to enact. This gives young Americans who have lived here most their lives a hope for an open and equal future for the first time. Unfortunately everyone who applies for a work visa under the order is officially admitting “illegal” status and risking deportation if the next administration chooses to reverse the order. It is far from full immigration rights but it is a step. Our vote in this election will immediately determine the rights and possible deportation of as many as 80,000 young people.

Women’s Equality and Reproductive Rights:

The conservative War on Women is just the most recent attempt to oppress a women’s movement that is still struggling for equality. In resent years they have supported restricting contraception; cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood; state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasounds; abortion taxes; abortion waiting periods; forcing women to tell their employers why they want birth control, and prohibiting insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their policies. I consider the tactics of the suffrage movement’s marches, pickets and occupation of the White House to be an unacknowledged model of Occupy. Heroic women were arrested for blocking traffic, refused to pay bail, then sentenced to work houses where they were tortured and waged hunger strikes. It wasn’t until 1920 that half our population finally won the very right to vote we are considering asking them not to exorcize today. Our vote in this election will affect the rights of half our community and a movement I hope we stand in solidarity with.

The Supreme Court:

Citizens United is just a resent example of how critical the makeup of the ideological balance of the court is. As several of the progressive leaning justices may choose to retire within the next term, the next administration’s influence may continue for decades. All of the prior issues will be directly affected by the court. The court has the final say on all suites that are brought, including those against any laws that are passed, down to the municipal level. This means they have the power to overturn the votes we make throughout the entire ticket. It is imperative, at this time under this system, for the occupy movement to have as many progressive justices as possible sitting in on the court. Our vote in this election will affect the rights of every individual in our community and all the movements we stand in solidarity with.

Civil Rights:

Four years ago we came together as a progressive community, and elected the first minority president of our nation.  Overturning the majority of our country’s history we looked past the color of his skin and judged him on the merits of his message of hope and change. On January 20th, 2009 millions of us around the world wept simultaneously as he was inaugurated. Each of us wept for our own reasons. A great deal of the minority community wept not only with the hope of political unification his campaign promised, but with a hope for their own future. A hope that one day their great and terrible struggle for equality may actually be achieved. Although electing the first African American president was another huge step, the racial divide in this country is still very deep. It is clear that a vast group of people want him to fail and will do anything to bring him down. For a lot of these people the failure of the first black president will justify the bigotry that not only they hold but that of all their ancestors as well. Our vote in this election will affect the rights of every man, woman, and child in our minority communities.

As a very strong voice in our movement has pointed out “holding peoples votes hostage over wedge issues is not democracy.” I agree with this statement entirely. I also think it illustrates an unfortunate reality. There is an opposing ideology at work in this country that continually tries to oppress great numbers of people. The current system that we all agree is terribly corrupt and broken gives them vast power. It is very possible that even our generally progressive “leaders” allow this to continue just to keep us voting for them; the lesser of two evils.

The questions each of us need to answer as occupiers before we “fuck the vote”, vote, or call a voting strike are these. 

At this time can we, as individuals, afford not to pay the ransom and vote for the lesser of two evils?

I can not. Through the Affordable Care Act my own daughter is now getting the care she needs that we have not been able to afford.

At this time are we, as individuals, willing to not to pay the ransom and vote for the lesser of two evils?

I am not. I believe that it is possible that my perspective as an American born, white, male, in reasonably good health, is that of a privileged class that can afford the consequences of not voting or calling for a voting strike.

Can the communities and movements we stand in solidarity with afford not to pay the ransom and vote for the lesser of two evils?

I do not believe most of them can without major setbacks to their cause.

If we call a voting strike and the communities and movements that we stand in solidarity with don’t feel that they can afford not to pay the ransom and vote for the lesser of two evils what message does it send to them about the Occupy movement?

I worry it could give the impression that we believe that our own political statement is more important than the issues directly affecting the very communities we are fighting for. I am very concerned that calling for a voting strike will result in the affected communities turning completely away from the occupy movement.

If we decide to not call a voting strike, then what other ways can we frame an awareness campaign?

I think we could do a “Voting is the minimum” campaign.

I think the Shelby Idea, if done carefully, can send a similar message without as much risk. 

In Solidarity,

-Steve Bailey

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