This post is divided into two competing opinions on the topic of voting: I posit that voting is necessary in order to achieve change and voluntary demobilization of progressive groups could have terrible consequences come 2012. Doug Greene, another author for The Occupier, posits that groups, such as the occupations, can most effectively achieve change through non-electoral means. While both sides argue valid points, I will leave it up to the reader to determine which viewpoint is the more effective manner of changing the status quo; if, after reading both sides of the debate, you wish to make your opinions heard, please reply in the comments section with your conclusions.
The Case for Voting
By Josh Sager
The voting booth is the vehicle with which the average American can directly affect their local, state, and federal governments. Voting allows for Americans to select politicians who represent the views and ideologies that they would like represented in their government. Unfortunately, massive increases of money in politics during recent years has decreased our faith in the voting process, thus some people see no point in voting.
Politicians receive massive campaign checks from interest groups, lobbyists, and corporations during their election campaigns, thus they become indebted to these interests during their terms in office. Many politicians take money or favors (often legally, due to our lax laws) from moneyed interests while they are in office in exchange for votes on legislation. Once election season comes around, politicians who have yet to sell their votes for cash are faced with the daunting task of fighting off candidates for their seat who may not be so ethical. At all levels of politics, we see the corrupting influence of money that threatens to overshadow our votes.
Why is it important to vote if our current political system has been so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money? The answer to this question is twofold: First, the opting out of the voting system by large numbers of people who share an ideology will inevitably shift the balance of power to the ideology opposing theirs. Second, voting gives us the best available tool by which we actually can shift policy in our country to fit our ideals.
If large numbers of voters voluntarily leave the voting system in protest, the politicians representing the opposing ideology receives a far larger percentage of the vote than if the voters remained in the system. Imagine our political system as a scale; removing votes from one side of the scale will tip it to the extreme of the other side. A perfect recent example of this phenomenon is the 2010 midterm election. The massive demobilization of Democratic voters led to a wave of right wing extremists being voted into office. Even if it is a choice between the least of evils, voting is something that everybody should do in order to represent their interests, lest they end up helping those who they oppose.
If we don’t vote, we forfeit the right to complain about the actions of our government and give up any hope of changing the system for the better. Every American can use their vote to assure that their interests are represented. If a politician conducts himself in a manner that you don’t approve of or is against your interests, organize, mobilize and go into the ballot booth to get him out of office. Because we have the right to vote, politicians can only be as corrupt or extreme as we let them be.
Even with the corrupting influence of money, we can affect change through the power of the vote. Money cannot buy votes, and if enough of us get together around an issue we can overcome the influence of money (Ex. Civil Rights). Politicians may sell out, but we can organize and punish them come voting day. If a third of the country were to decide that they would not vote for any politician who took corporate money, how long do you think it would be before many politicians would stop taking lobbyist’s calls?
Voting is slow to affect policy and likely needs additional help to be effective, but it is a necessary first step in affecting change. Vote, but then go out and organize in order to assure that your politicians don’t forget just who they are accountable to next time elections roll around.
The Case Against Voting
Practicing the Politics of the Impossible
By Doug Enaa Greene
The U.S. electoral system is all about the politics of what the system deems possible. During each election season we are given the choice between a few politicians who promise change; we vote and then things remain the same. Elections in this society provide a democratic façade for a system that remains fundamentally undemocratic. A candidate can support abortion, oppose gay marriage, or propose fewer taxes. Yet elections can’t usher in a new social order that places the needs of all before the profits of a few. The system deems that this is impossible. Now is time for us to practice the politics of the impossible.
In the U.S. electoral politics is structured in such a way that you really can’t do anything to change the basic capitalist order. You can vote for any party. One may give you some reforms that make life slightly more bearable. The whole rationale of the “politics of the possible” is to keep us hemmed in and accept the reigning social order.
Instead of accepting the parameters of possibility that the system gives us, people at Occupy are questioning them. The discussions at Occupy encampments ranged from what capitalism is, to the nature of the electoral process, and many other issues. This flowering of truly open, critical discussion challenges the politics of the possible.
This upsurge of ideas naturally has those in Occupy asking and debating what to do next. How should Occupy help to establish a society that prioritizes the needs of all before the profits of a few?
There is the argument that the goal of providing for all can be achieved, or at least promoted, through becoming involved in the U.S. electoral system. According to this argument, reforms will come if we use the possibilities that the system allows. Take the example of President Obama. Some of the reforms passed by the President, such as financial reforms on Wall Street instead of giving letting the stock market run rampant, are laudatory. Obama believes that the system can be reformed to become better, more balanced and stable, more fair (at least for some). And that may well be true. But if we end up arguing for these domestic concessions and backing Barack Obama, then what about opposing imperialist wars overseas which he has launched? Is that the possibility we should accept?
What should we do instead?
We need to break with the politics of the possible and practice those of the impossible.
By the logic of the system, the 99% should not be able to determine their own destiny. Yet the 99% can build a new world. They can emancipate themselves from capitalism. This is what philosopher Alain Badiou might call the “Truth” of Occupy. This is the Truth that Occupy must pledge fidelity to and carry that commitment through to the end: We, the 99%, can remake the world on new foundations!
Occupy is the site of the Event, which is a rupture with reality and the creation of new possibilities. The organization of a new Truth is embedded within this Event. This Truth is that he people at Occupy are taking hold of their lives and remaking themselves and the world through struggle. This is no easy task, and it has no ultimate guarantee of success. To return to the politics as usual now, by focusing our energies on the electoral realm, and thus on supporting the corrupt order in the form of any of the major parties, would be a betrayal of the Truth that has made Occupy worth working for.
We need to be radical and to accelerate the break with the system, rather than reforming it, and build Occupy as genuine people’s power that overthrows the rule of the 1%. We need to discover new strategies to radically changing society.
In that way, we remain faithful to our Truth and practice the politics of the impossible.