Coming Out as a non-voter
Well, I'm in enough hot water, so why not wade deeper. I did not vote on Tuesday.
Before someone leaves a comment about how it is my fault that George Bush is president, you should know that I don't buy it. I blame the 52 million or so people who voted FOR him. Blaming people who didn't vote for him, doesn't make any sense at all. Also, I'd like to point out that I did nothing to impose this decision on anyone else. I kept my decision to myself until after the election.
I have several reasons why I chose not to vote. This is a long post, so I'll understand if you pass. But if you are curious, read on.
First and foremost, I really didn't care for either candidate. Both seemed to me to be men of privilige who benefited from being born wealthy and who knew little of the world that I live in. I have voted for the lesser of two evils in the past. I have also voted AGAINST someone rather than for someone. I think the last time I felt good about voting was 1976 when I voted for Jimmy Carter. That was the first time I voted. It was really pitiful to see both sides of the fence talk about how tough they are, how macho they are and how religious they are. I know there were supposedly some sharp differences between the two candidates, but frankly these differences were lost in their similarities. This time I decided I just would be making a more accurate statement to not vote for anyone. If the political parties want my attention the next time, let them put someone worthwhile up for election.
Second, I don't like being told that I have to vote. There are countries where people have to vote. The constitution of the United States does not make such a requirement. It is not a law nor a duty. It is a privilege. I am a good citizen the other 1460 days of the four year period. Many of the people who voted last Tuesday cannot say the same. The test of my citizenship should not and does not lie in whether I vote. It lies in whether I act with civility towards my fellow citizens. The test of whether I care or not should not be about any single act, but rather about a lifetime of actions. I really think that voting was cheapened this year. Signs that suggested that voting was the only freedom of speech we have. Actors and athletes talking about how cool it is to vote. Doesn't it bother anyone else that citizens had to be sold the idea of citizenship? Isn't that all by itself a sign that something is deeply and fundamentally wrong?
Third, exactly when did the elections get reformed since 2000? It's been four years since the Florida fiasco and little election reform has taken place. I'm still hearing reports about problems with the election process. The news people are obediently repeating the meme that the election went well. I actually saw a series of reports on one of the major stations (I think it was Fox) where the first reporter said, "we have no evidence of any problems at the polls," and then immediately after another reporter gave a list of problems at the polls, and then they went to commercial and upon returning, the first reporter was back repeating the report that there had been no problems. So which was it? Were there problems or not? It was like someone was trying to hypnotise the audience. Here is a list of problems, but when you wake up you will forget that there were any problems and you will repeat this sentence: "There were no problems at the polls." Without an independent watchdog (and inherently, NO ONE in the US could be independent, that is why we send international commissions to oversee elections in other countries) to oversee the elections, I don't know how we can trust any result.
Fourth, all of the hoopla about election problems missed a fundamental problem with the election. AND worse yet, it was the exact same problem that was missed for the most part in 2000. States are systematically removing people from the registration rolls. Most of the people removed are people of color. It isn't about whether your vote was counted. It isn't about when you received your absentee ballot. It isn't about whether the exit polls were accurate or not. It is about the fact that a great deal of people in this country were told, "too bad, your name is not here, you can't vote." Contingency ballots are a step in the right direction, but even those are difficult because how does a voter prove a negative? How do you say my name used to be there? Major reform is needed and all elections are compromised without that reform. Unfortunately, only the people elected through this flawed system have the power to make changes. It is the mother of all catch-22s.
Fifth, I am developing the opinion that national politics are mostly smoke and mirrors. Local politics are a different kettle of fish, but at the moment I have no local ties and I would not presume to impose my will on the people in the city where I have residency because I don't live there most of the time. I live in an RV on the road and I travel around the country and, on occasion, out of the country. I think the quest for social justice is going to lie outside of national politics in their current form. I hold no hope that any of the major players have the balls to stand up to the multinational conglomerates who have the power to push their agendas. In the meantime, major news agencies fill the air with the latest about what Washington insiders are up to and do not even begin to cover real stories about the machinations of big business. Does anyone remember that while Martha does her time, NO ONE from Enron has been convicted yet? No tobacco executive has been brought to justice for lying to Congress and Haliburton continues to expand its business on the backs of the Iraqis. Oh yeah, and gasoline is still getting more expensive everyday. Do you really think that electing Kerry would have changed that much?
Finally, I'm really forming the opinion that agents for change are going to have to come from more radical spaces than voting for the democrats. Two sources come to mind: cultural change and healing the past. I found it significant that Kerry felt the need to assert his religiosity in the wanning days of the campaign. I found it significant that several analysts stated that Bush won because of the religious right. Now I know that a number of people will dwell on the theocratic aspects of this, but I was interested for another reason. Religion is a cultural resource. It brings groups of people together and helps define their common goals. Other cultural resources exist and can be exploited for change or fighting change. One of my friends has called me the queen of memes. I find the concept that ideas float around in the atmosphere and take on lives of there own very convenient. Memes explain a lot. Creating memes is a matter of cultural production -- writing, film, radio, etc. Why do you think that the candidates turned to Hollywood so much during the election? Why do you think they made guest appearances on various televison shows? Why do you think they spend millions of dollars on commercials? Because it is not about debate or about reasons -- it is about repetition, repetition, repetition!
Healing the past is also going to be necessary to affect real change. There is a perfectly legal and systematic way to begin the healing process: A Constitutional Convention. A constitutional convention would allow anyone to put their cause on the table. There is great fear that such a move would lead to chaos and that we would end up with something worse than what we have. I don't think so. I think that if it were done well and if it were done fairly, it would open up the possibility for a great healing in this country and, in turn, in the world.
If you are still with me after this long rant, stick with me for one more paragraph:
The constitution of the United States is a remarkable document, but it was formed to be changed. Not easily change, mind you, but nonetheless, the founding fathers never meant for the document to remain static. The possibility of another convention was written into the document. When the constitution was created, only a handful of Americans could vote and that handful didn't trust the rest of us to know anything. (Sound familiar.) An argument could be made that democracy was not born in this country until 1971 when 18 year olds got the vote. Since that time, a lot has happened to undermine the vote. So now that we have many more people participating in the system, why not come to the table and see if we can do better than the forefathers. Why not see if the presence of women, poor people, people of color and young people might not lead to a more equitable system. I think that could lead to a lot of healing and a greater participation. Of course, it would also mean a shift in power and that means that if we want to make this happen, it will have to be a grass roots movement. Of course, isn't that what "by the people" should mean?
Coming Out as a non-voter