Voting: Why we Don't Vote

Will 2012 be the Final Election of Lesser Evilism?

posted Aug 23, 2012, 12:18 PM by Christopher Mandel   [ updated Aug 23, 2012, 12:21 PM by Steven Bailey ]

Will 2012 be the Final Election of Lesser Evilism?

Just when the Obama campaign couldn't appear any less inspiring, Paul Ryan was put forth as the Republican vice presidential candidate. Suddenly team Obama was supplied with enough political munitions to scare every last American over the possible destruction of Medicare, Medicaid, cuts to Social Security and the various other evils inherent in Ryan's proposed national budget. Consequently, many Liberals and Leftists across the spectrum are now focused on preaching the horrors of a Republican presidential victory and thus the necessity of re-electing Obama.

But critical thinkers are immune to scare tactics. It's no coincidence that the Obama campaign is not running on its own merits, but the lack of merit of its opponents. Many Obama supporters, such as leftists Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson,
argue that Obama's record doesn't matter, because this election is about defeating the right wing's "white supremacy and political misogynism."

For progressive economist and former Labor Secretary under President Clinton Robert Reich, Ryan's budget
represents the nightmare of "social Darwinism", and therefore Obama must be elected.

This writer will not argue with the above points about the far right, since there obviously exists deep elements of racism and misogynism in its camp. But voting for Obama is no way to fight these evils; quite the contrary.

Voting for the Democrats does not empower working people to fight against right-wing extremism. Instead, working people are forced to give away their power to a political party that is in no way beholden to them, since the Democrats have a corporate agenda divorced from the needs of the vast majority of working people. There is no way to hold Democrats accountable once they're in office, especially when they've all but stopped making campaign promises to working people.

By now it should be clear to most Americans that the Democrats and Republicans are corporate-owned parties, and as such they are free to act as they wish, regardless of the political rhetoric they spew.

For example, in 2008 Obama promised Latinos a more humane immigration policy, and then proceeded to deport people more than Bush Jr. did. Obama likewise promised organized labor the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as a more pro-labor policy. EFCA was then betrayed and Obama presided over the most anti-labor environment since Ronald Reagan.

When he campaigned, he voiced support for single-payer health care. He promised to renegotiate NAFTA. When he was elected, he declared single-payer health care “off the table” and did nothing about NAFTA. When he campaigned, he denounced Bush’s tax cuts for the rich; as president he extended them.

Let's not forget Obama's bank bailouts, Afghan "surge,” free trade deals, domestic spying, pro-corporate "race to the top" education program, etc. When the Wisconsin uprising happened Obama did not even visit the state; when the Occupy movement was being repressed nationally, Obama's silence implied support for the anti-democratic police actions.

The point is that Obama and the Republicans are in general agreement about the trajectory of this country and strive through various social policies to create a difference that is largely fictional.

But is not voting for Obama a bulwark against racism? In reality, ethnic minorities in the U.S. suffer directly as a result of Obama's foreign policy. By continuing Bush's wars in the Middle East and North Africa, Obama is re-enforcing racism at home. Foreign wars for conquest and occupations are fueled by racism, since they lack the inspirational purpose that would otherwise enhance combat morale.

When U.S. troops return home, many bring back the racist beliefs supplied to them as their fighting fuel, which can sometimes result in the kind of massacre that recently occurred at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The broader population too is subjected to the type of unconscious racism that must result from passive support of foreign wars across the globe, the victims of which want nothing more than U.S. bombs and military bases out of their countries. It's obvious that if Obama were bombing England — and not Afghanistan — Americans would feel more inclined to protest.

Obama, like Bush, is a war criminal. His drone assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia — and likely others — are in obvious violations of the Geneva Convention.

Former President Jimmy Carter said of Obama's foreign policy:

"It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles [of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights], our government's counter-terrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration's 30 articles, including the prohibition against 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'."

When it comes to the domestic economic policies of the right wing, the Democrats have proved an important ally in implementing the corporate agenda. Obama himself has been instrumental in pushing Congress to implement "entitlement reform" — cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs, opening the political door that Paul Ryan exploited in his anti-entitlement budget proposal.

The only force capable of putting up a true fight against the far right is the power of organized working people, who, by putting faith and resources in the Democratic Party, are squandering their own independence and power.

Arguing that voting Democrat is a "lesser of two evils" is not an argument at all, but rather a statement about the fundamental political problem that is the two party system.

Liberals, Leftists, and working people in general cannot simply accept the lesser of two evils argument as meaningful, but must actively fight to change the absurdity that is the two party, corporate owned political system. This change cannot happen when labor and liberal groups funnel energy back into team Obama as they overlook the destruction his administration is causing at home and abroad.

The final philosophical barrier against breaking with the Democrats is again put forward by Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson, who essentially argue that the failure of the last four years was due to the progressive social movement that failed to "put significant pressure on the Obama administration" through an "independent progressive strategy.”

In short, this means that the "social movement" created by Obama's 2008 campaign did not maintain its independence and organization adequately to hold Obama accountable.

This is patently nonsense.

For one, the activists who campaigned for Obama did so under his organizational umbrella. There never existed an independent pro-Obama "movement.” More importantly, when average people are inspired enough to become active in politics, they do so with the expectation that "their" candidate will serve "them.” When their candidate betrays them, the natural response is demoralization, not organized protest and sustained action. Any average person who understands what Obama really stands for would not actively campaign for him, and thus will be unable to "hold him accountable" once he's in office.

Anyone who believes that there exists anything near a social movement to campaign for Obama in 2012 is deluding themselves in embarrassing fashion. Many working people will hold their nose and vote for Obama, but this motivation does not include phone banking, door knocking, or financial contributions. The passion that Obama inspired by his demagoguery in 2008 has been crushed by reality, leaving an election that will be determined by the "big donors" and consequently, the number of TV commercials that can be purchased by the rich.

And because the rank and file of labor and liberal groups will not campaign for Obama in a significant way, he will be even less likely to reward them politically, thus ensuring an even deeper slide into the corporate abyss if he is elected.

Also, average working people are pushed into the camp of the right wing by Obama's anti-worker policies, since the far right offers "solutions" to the two party system, while labor and community groups only offer more corporate Democrats.

The only thing that the Democratic and Republican parties respect is power, which they also fear. The Wisconsin and Occupy movements inspired people across the country, while striking fear into the heart of the two party system. And while the Democrats did their best to co-opt both movements, the potential for independent political action still exists.

Scaring the two party system to pass pro-working class policies requires mass, independent mobilizations for demands that address the real needs of working people, such as a massive federal jobs program, Medicare For All, saving and expanding Social Security, providing full funding for public education and social services, all to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. The Democrats cannot be scared by groups that are donating their time and resources into electing Democrats, while tricking their constituents into believing that Obama is a "pro-worker" candidate.

Ultimately, the only way out of the irrationality of the two party system is for working people to organize independently. In dozens of other countries this task was completed decades ago when labor unions broke with the traditional parties and used their own organizational and financial resources to build their own political party to represent all working people.

This remains the task of the day in the United States. Organized labor is the only social force among working people at this time with the resources capable of building a party able to compete with the two parties of big business. If unions broke with the anti-union Democrats and raised their own pro-worker demands, tens of millions of Americans would happily leave both the Democrat and Republican parties.

The Democrats cannot be reformed; their "progressive caucus" has proven unwilling to inspire working people with bold action, and serves only to give political cover to the corporate soul of the Democratic Party. Working people are overdue for change, and won't be fooled again by fake promises of hope.

Shamus Cooke is a social worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ( He can be reached at


posted Aug 16, 2012, 9:36 AM by Christopher Mandel   [ updated Aug 16, 2012, 9:36 AM by Steven Bailey ]


By  On August 13, 2012 · 3 Comments

In solidarity with Occupy Charlotte’s call to action for September 6th, Occupy Chicago would like to propose a uniformed action.

While Barack Obama is accepting the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States we will be outside his national campaign headquarters in Chicago burning our voter id cards, rejecting the 2012 presidential election.

Occupy Chicago sees this action as a way of symbolizing our rejection of our representative democracy which has continually failed to represent the American people or address the crisis of global capitalism. This action will be topping off four days of action we will be taking around the DNC as part of our #OccupyObama campaign.

Occupy Chicago would like to work with occupations around the country to help get this message out.

 email: and we will connect you with the organizers of this action.

Why I don't vote

posted Aug 4, 2012, 7:58 PM by Steven Bailey   [ updated Aug 4, 2012, 8:24 PM ]

Vagabond Theorist

I don’t vote. I have never taken part in an election and I never will. To many, the idea that someone who actually cares about what is happening in the world would refuse to vote seems incredible. The common sense of the democratic state tells us that voting is the way that we can change things and that those who don’t vote are apathetic. It has even been said that those who do not vote shouldn’t complain.

But common sense often hides a great many unquestioned assumptions. This is certainly true with regard to the commonplaces about democracy and voting. I hope that by explaining why I don’t vote, I will expose some of these assumptions and raise a few questions.

If my refusal to vote sprang from apathy, obviously I wouldn’t take the time to write this. In fact my refusal to vote stems from a desire to live in a certain way, a way that requires a radical change in the social structure of our lives and the world. As far as possible, I try to confront the world in which we live in terms of these desires, acting toward their realization.

Put briefly, I want to live in a world in which I can be the creator of my life, acting in free association with others with whom I feel some kinship and whose presence I enjoy in order to make our lives together on our own terms. The existing social order consists of a global network of institutions that stands in the way of the realization of this desire. This network includes economic institutions, not just the corporations as such, but also the entire system of economic exchange, private and state property, and wage labor – the institutions of capitalism. It also includes government, law, the police, the military and the social bureaucracy – the institutions of the state. These institutions define the conditions of our social life, forcing us into roles that uphold and reproduce the institutional order. My desire to create my life on my own terms places me in rebellion against these institutions. If I find others with a similar desire and we join together in collective struggle for its realization, that is potentially revolutionary.

In order for the ruling institutions to exist at all, they have to take away our capacity to create our lives for ourselves. They do so precisely by directing our energy into activity that reproduces the institutions, and selling some of the product of this activity back to us. This theft of our life’s energy means that the social order and those who hold power in it are objectively our enemies, because they have made themselves our masters. This is why class struggle is an inevitable part of this social order. But subjectively, we become the enemies of this society when we decide to take our lives back as our own and begin to act on our decision.

Having made this decision, what would voting mean to me? First of all, let’s consider the kinds of choices that appear on the ballot. All of these choices can be reduced to two questions: 1) who do we want to rule us? and 2) with what rules do we want to be ruled? These questions themselves already assume that we should not or cannot be the creators of our own lives, that we should give our ability to decide and act over to others who will determine the conditions of our lives (or uphold those long since determined by the global social order) on the basis of pre-existing rules. But a ballot doesn’t even present these two questions in an open way that allows the voter to choose freely. This would be impossible since election officials couldn’t possibly manage to go through a series of essays in which people described what they wanted even within the limited framework of these questions. So instead we are given a few candidates to choose between for the various elected offices – individuals who want to exercise power over other people, whether for “the common good” or out of crass self-interest –and ballot measures on which to vote yes or no. The candidates and ballot measures are presented to us by professional politicians, people who have the time and money to determine the questions that they are willing to let us vote on. None of this will ever call the ruling order into question, since the electoral process itself assumes the necessity of this order.

So voting is nothing more than choosing which of the masters among the few on the ballot that the voter would prefer to be ruled by and deciding which of the potential rules presented on the ballot for managing this master/slave relationship s/he would like to see them use. Since the democratic process is based on majority rule (with a few notable exceptions, such as the use of the electoral college to choose the president), one’s individual “choices” will not, in fact, determine what sort of servitude s/he will experience. Instead, the “choices” of the majority (as determined by election officials) will determine this for everyone.

In short, voting is not taking action, nor is it taking responsibility for one’s life. It is the very opposite of this. When people vote, they are saying that they accept the idea that others should determine the conditions of their life and their world. They are saying that others should determine the limits of the choices that they make, preferably simplifying these choices into mere either/or decisions, quickly dealt with by a simple momentary gesture. They are saying that they would leave the responsibility of taking decisive action to others. In other words, those who vote are saying that they are content to leave their lives in the hands of others, to refuse the responsibility of creating the life they desire, to avoid the task of finding ways to directly make decisions and take action with others of their choosing that could lead to a real transformation of social reality. So every voter would do well to ask themselves if this is what they mean to say.

I want to make my life my own. I want to find others with whom to create ways to freely act together to directly determine the conditions of our lives on our own terms, without rulers or institutional structures defining our activity. In other words, I want to live in a world without masters or slaves. Therefore, I do not vote. Such desires could never fit in a ballot box. Instead I do my best to create my life in revolt against the ruling order. I talk with others around me about our lives and about what is happening in the world in order to find a few accomplices in the crime called freedom. And I act, alone when necessary and with others when possible, towards the realization of the life and world I desire and against the ruling order and the misery it imposes on life everywhere.

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