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Ben Grosscup, "The Vote Fallacy"

"The Vote Fallacy:

Strategically Advancing Radical Politics in the 2004

Ben Grosscup

While election seasons are widely seen as times when the polity
practices politics, this is an illusion; electoralism that accepts the
premises of representative democracy is conceptually distinct and
incompatible with practicing true politics. Politics involves public
debate on the issues of a self-manging political community that leads to
social policy. Voting is no political act in that it has nothing to do
with this. Rather, it is a highly personal act, which indicates the
isolated location of the citizen in representative democracy. The class
of bureaucrats who legislate social policy systematically exclude the
majority of the population from substantive political participation
through varied means: 1) making politics a professional endeavor 2)
carefully choosing what kinds of people can occupy such professions
through the the two-party-system and the mass media and 3) directly
disenfranchising targeted groups who are expected to vote the wrong way.
Insofar as citizens choose to vote in the national election, they are
making a private and politically ineffectual choice between the
bewildering threat of Bush and no positive alternative. Such
vote-centric politics have mystified and colonized the progressive
political imagination, oftentimes making its advocates actively
complicit in their own political isolation by allying themselves with
forces that uphold the status-quo.

On the surface of political life today, a festering polarization between
the neo-conservative nexus of national security and regressive
anti-secularism on one side and an angry and incoherent backlash against
it is crucially feeding into the illusion that voting is politics.
Majority opinion on the U.S. political left has become transfixed on
their correct assessment that the Bush administration presents an
unprecedented threat to constitutional limits on state and corporate
power. This has allowed the hyper-immediate task of defeating Bush in
the electoral arena supplant political vision and a clear-headed radical
analysis of power. With revived urgency, the left's primary political
strategy is turning back to an emphasis on the conventional mechanics of
political participation in representative democracy: voting, mobilizing
others to vote, and even making new parties to vote for at the national
level. Frequently, liberal pundits argue that voting exemplifies the
moral duty of responsible citizenship, and that it is the key, or at
least a good first step, to renewing democracy.

This approach mystifies what is at stake in this election. Issues like
the war in Iraq, and the globalization of capitalism are not at stake,
because these things will continue no matter who occupies the
presidency. This reality becomes no clearer when the biggest U.S.
anti-war organization, United for Peace and Justice, initiates a
get-out-the vote campaign, with the slogan, “Vote — Your Future is at
Stake.” On the other hand, so-called “democracy” (i.e. representative
democracy) is at stake, but not in the sense of the oft-lamented
widespread reality of not voting. What's at stake is that right-wing
scare-tactics at the grass-roots and legal maneuvers at the state level
are undermining the taken-for-granted notion that all people are allowed
to vote and that every vote is even counted. (For an excellent rundown
of current disenfranchisement efforts see

”Bullies at the Voting Booth" by Anne-Marie Cusac.) By shifting the
focus from the structural operations of the state and capitalism to the
individual choice of voters, the left diverts attention from the causes
of the War In Iraq and the rotting away of the voting system. This
admits defeat; all that could be worse would be active campaigning for
the Democratic opposition.

Inasmuch as a pragmatic dimension must be part of any visionary
politics, the most immediate problem for so-called democracy in this
election is not low voter turnout, which emerges from the accurate and
widely held perception that voting is politically inconsequential.
Rather, it is that the Bush administration is replacing republican forms
of government with even more dangerously authoritarian and even
quasi-fascistic forms of statecraft. Thus the pragmatic thing to do is
not to get votes for the Democratic opposition, but to stop the rotting
away of old taken-for-granted channels of republican political
participation. That means constraining the political space that
unaccountable and non-transparent vote-machine corporations occupy. It
means confronting right-wing thugs who intimidate people of color at
polling stations. With the combined efforts of these companies, the
prison/court system, which legally disenfranchises people of color
disproportionately, state election boards that arbitrarily remove people
of color from the voter roles, and local organizations that intimidate
vulnerable populations from voting, the neo-cons threaten to steal the
election again. By fooling people with the idea that their vote gives
them power, the left's vote-centric approach actually fails at the
laudable aim of removing the special threat Bush poses.

Those that count the votes, those who control the means of communication
to tell us what the votes mean, and those who justify their political
power on grounds of the voting system's supposed legitimacy have power.
While what we do concerning the voting booth is for each of us to decide
personally, our collective political task is to contest them for this
power, and to re-organize it along egalitarian lines. Radical political
practice must broaden its critique beyond Bush and affirm a vision of
the social good: a direct democracy founded on principles of solidarity
economics, ecology, and non-hierarchy.

Ben Grosscup can be contacted by email: stokingthefires@riseup.net.