Originally published in Truthout on October 30, 2014 and reprinted by permission.
Pop icon Russell Brand raised a ruckus last year when he exhorted, “Don’t vote” to millions of his fans; a radical political directive under fire even by the likes of Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten.
But Brand was just preaching to the choir.
Many Americans, particularly the young, believe that voting is an exercise in futility, or worse, an immoral display of support for a fundamentally corrupt political system. Far more appealing is to build a diverse grassroots movement – organically and horizontally – to change our consciousness, our lifestyles, the way we grow our food, harness our energy, travel, trade – and how we treat each other as human beings.
In other words, direct action to the change the world, starting with ourselves and our communities, seems more viable than investing hope in a political apparatus sold out to big money corporate interests on both sides of the aisle.
But not everyone feels this way. Some see our current dire situation as more of a yes, and opportunity, as in: Yes, we should do all of the above – radically change ourselves, radically change the world, and radically engage in the political process.
Casting a ballot never precludes more direct acts – that’s just a cop-out. The fact is that not every societal change is made at the personal level, or through revolution on the streets. That’s why millions before us, most recently African Americans and women, have protested, fought, were imprisoned, set upon by police dogs, lynched, force-fed in hunger strikes, and killed for the right to cast a ballot. And even so, millions of former felons will still be disenfranchised in the coming elections, as will those who lack proper ID (thanks to a slew of new discriminatory laws pushed by the right wing to suppress minority voters).
Meanwhile, thousands of students in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution are putting their bodies on the line right now to demand true suffrage, standing up to the Chinese Communist oligarchy that murdered democratic activists in Tiananmen Square. Those youth are fighting for control of their future by demanding democracy and refusing to back down.
In a candid moment that he may live to regret, Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed political leader Leung, who lives in a palatial mansion, stated that China could not allow the majority of the citizens of Hong Kong to rule, because doing so might allow the working poor people a potentially dominant role in running their own lives.
In light of all this, Russell Brand’s call to toss aside what so many still mightily struggle and suffer to win, seems disrespectful, in the kindest light.
If we have a future (and granted, this is debatable), we all have to Occupy Democracy. We need to Occupy Elections, Occupy Legislatures and Occupy Local town and City Councils. The concept of Occupation has been central to many movements over the past century. Occupying means you are bringing your conscious intention and fierce dedication to change the system to reflect your values.
In a recent article, Carl Gibson of US Uncut points to the high standard and sanity of living in Denmark, a country where 87 percent of voters turn out. That public showing could account for practically all educational institutes in Denmark being free as well as a truly “living” minimum wage of $21 an hour.
For those of you still on the fence, here are 10 pretty epic reasons to vote this November – and to prepare to get active in the critical battles to come in 2016.
1. Climate Change
As Naomi Klein and 400,000 protesters in NYC recently pointed out, climate change is forcing a time of reckoning upon our capitalist culture of excess. While everyone will have to make profound personal lifestyle changes to help balance our ecological books, many of the big transitions to sustainable energy and development must happen at the state and federal levels. And it will take an enormous amount of political activism, cooperation and vision to move the agenda.
Cynical political abandonment allows the wrong people to control our government and decide whether climate mitigation is a national priority, or a “liberal conspiracy.”
So, after taking the Climate Mobilization Pledge, as we solar-panel our roofs, relearn the wonders of riding a bike, cut carbon-intensive meat from our diet and consider establishing an eco-village with our friends, we can also get involved in supporting the candidates who are committed to taking meaningful action. Tremendous government investment and war-time mobilization is needed to make the transition away from the climate cliff.
We must Occupy the streets and the political process at every turn, to change laws that disallow for a sustainable society: from international trade agreements to local policy banning front yard vegetable gardens and keeping a few goats and chickens.
“How, in poetic essence, are they going to pull the stake from the heart of democracy driven in by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision?”
So yes, your active political participation and your vote will help determine whether humanity builds a green bridge across the abyss, or rides an oil-funded warhead into oblivion.
2. The Koch Brothers.
These two guys are the fossil fuel, petro-chemical kings of our dirty and self-destructive economy. They’re worth $43 billion and deeply invested in thwarting a less carbon-intensive, more just society. To that end, they’re spending some of their pocket change (a few billion or so), and using their pay-to-play operation ALEC, to control our political process: buy candidates and campaign ads, fund climate-change denier propaganda, install anti-democratic puppets in office, dismantle unions and kill state legislation promoting renewable energy and other green incentives.
Voting overwhelmingly for candidates who are not funded by the Kochs will knock back these arrogant oligarch’s attempt to simply buy our country and our future.
3. Right-Wing Fascist Take-Over
Whether you “believe” in voting or not, the fascists will take over if we don’t stop them at the ballot box. Once they take over, history proves it’s really hard to get them out of power without a war in the streets.
While there are a lot of corporatist sell-outs on the Democrat’s side of the aisle (called Blue Dogs, or Democrats in Name Only), most of them aren’t actually fascists. The right-wing extremists, however, have strong fascist leanings. Like a mob of thugs, they will viciously attack women’s rights, gay rights, voting rights, workers rights, immigrant rights, civil rights, environmental protections, push for more oppressive policing – and for more war.
“The future of our precious internet can’t be decided by lifestyle choices.”
We can’t just close our eyes and make these people go away. Ceding the political battleground to them is suicidal.
4. Democrats in Name Only (DINOs)
We just mentioned these guys. They pretend to support the more progressive platform points of the Democratic Party, but they’re really just power brokers who consistently sell us out.
In most races – and always in the presidential race – we lack a viable third party. This is due to ballot access rules thwarting grassroots participation, unequal media coverage and voting systems that ensure the dreaded spoiler effect. Sadly, a lot of progressives Democrats today can only hold their noses and vote for these DINOs, hoping for the lesser of two weevils.
But where truly progressive candidates are running in the Democratic primaries, voting becomes a revolutionary act.
We can effectively challenge DINOs in the 2016 primaries when we support populist and progressive candidates rising up from the grassroots and essentially Occupying the Democrats. They need us to help in their campaigns and to show up at the ballot box.
“Big decisions on government accountability to citizen rights are made by government.”
5. The Internet – Free and Fair or Co-Opted and Controlled?
The future of our precious internet can’t be decided by lifestyle choices. FCC rules are going to determine whether the web remains a truly revolutionary democratic “free market” of products and ideas, or is transformed into a virtual Big Box strip mall of bad zoning laws, Big Brother censorship and unfair advantages for the already powerful.
We still have time to help prevent this by promoting and voting for candidates who support Net Neutrality.
6. Civil Rights, Electronic Privacy, NSA and the Dystopian Nightmare Future
Most of us are now hooked in and wholly dependent on global electronic networks for our livelihoods, communications, commerce, credit and travel. And, as Edward Snowden’s revelations recently unveiled, they are all fully infiltrated by an unaccountable shadowy spy network. These corporate/government/military “national security” spooks and unelected bureaucracies direct policy and pull the strings on government in every administration.
“Issues that affect our most personal, intimate lives often get decided in public referendums or ballot initiatives.”
Meanwhile, as the definition of “domestic terrorist” is mission-creeping to include potentially anyone deemed an enemy of the state, activist groups are infiltrated and their electronic communications monitored and sabotaged.
This isn’t democracy, it isn’t the future we want, and again, it isn’t something we can control with our wallet or by being nicer people.
Big decisions on government accountability to citizen rights are made by government. That’s why we need—we need—to find and support candidates who will commit to turning our techno-culture away from the dystopian nightmare sci-fi flick we’re becoming.
If we can’t find enough of those candidates, we may need to become those candidates.
7. Gay Rights, Marijuana Legalization, GMO Labeling, etc.
These and other issues that affect our most personal, intimate lives often get decided in public referendums or ballot initiatives – forms of direct democracy. Opposition forces and mega-corporations like Monsanto, are deeply threatened by this grassroots process that does an end-run around their puppets in government.
So, as unfolding in Colorado right now, they spend millions to flood the airwaves with propaganda prior to the vote; deceptive ad campaigns that generate enough fear to drive a lot of angry, paranoid and confused people to the polls.
If we stay home, we often lose by tragically narrow margins.
All our antiwar protests fall on deaf ears in government, if the ears belong to a bunch of war hawks, spoiling to hand lucrative contracts to their weapon-contractor buddies, or the guys who get rich building military bases and then rebuilding the cities they’ve bombed into ashes.
“We can choose to vote for antiwar candidates, when we can find them, and to force all candidates to answer the question of how they will undo the Constitutional damage of the past 13 years.”
War is big business, they say, and war is a racket. But war is also a staggering waste of our resources, an environmental catastrophe, and an unconscionable human rights violation. Yet the United States, post 9/11, is in a state of permanent war. The War on Terror has been used to undermine our Constitutional rights, to keep secret “black site” prisons, to torture, and to drone-strike “terrorists” at will, including innocent people, and children, and babies.
War should have no place in our future. This is our choice.
We can choose to vote for antiwar candidates, when we can find them, and to force all candidates to answer the question of how they will undo the Constitutional damage of the past 13 years (the PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, Guantanamo Bay and others) and change the course of the future toward peace.
Any candidate who can’t, or won’t answer those questions, is not qualified to lead or deserving of our vote.
9. Corporatocracy and Corruption vs. Democracy and Transparency
Why are we increasingly losing faith in democracy – which is essentially losing faith in ourselves? It’s because democracy itself – its very bones and sinews – are being dismantled and unraveled by anti-government forces within government. A lot of wealthy wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing have wormed their way into office in recent decades (sometimes through rigging elections) to undermine government because they actually don’t believe in democracy.
They fear it.
Government, when it works, can truly serve the people who comprise the body politic, protect us against exploitation and abuses, set rules and regulations that rein in the excesses of capitalism, prevent ecological destruction, provide justice for minority groups, education, and investment that reflect our deeper values.
And so, another question that must be lit like a grass fire under the asses of all serious candidates, is: How they are going to reverse the corruption that has obscured democracy?
How, in poetic essence, are they going to pull the stake from the heart of democracy driven in by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision; by “corporate personhood,”by the shameful lack of support for public campaign financing; by unjust electoral rules, and by corporate lobbyists outright buying our representatives?
When these questions are made a top priority, and all candidates must answer, we will begin to wake up to what real democracy looks like. We will begin to heal, as people, as citizens.
In other words, we will actually begin a peaceful, powerful and intelligent democratic revolution.
10. The Banksters, Corporate Welfare, Emergency Management and TRILLIONS in Looted Cash and Public Assets
We have a critical economic situation reaching a tipping point, and your vote can help turn the tide.
You probably remember when the criminals on Wall Street crashed the economy in 2008 and screwed millions of Americans out of their homes and savings? Well, the inaction of both major political parties in enacting economic reform has been brewing popular discontent, even among conservatives.
We’ve endured decades of “trickle-down” (or “on”) voodoo economics, mass outsourcing, corporate-plunder free trade agreements, rising education costs, exploitative school loans, and now Chicago School austerity measures, cutting domestic programs and services. This collective self-abuse has created an entire generation of young Americans with crippling debt and few employment prospects, far too many abusing prescription drugs amid crumbling cities and infrastructure. What a stupid, pointless waste of our potential, all so the filthy rich could get filthier.
Meanwhile corporate welfare and the rampant tax evasion of the 1% funnels trillions – yes, trillions – out of our tax base. As we bleed to death, fat and happy millionaire Ayn Rand acolytes in government crow that America is “broke” – and of course, blame the beleaguered working class and the poor.
The next phase in this orgy of deception and national looting is “Corporate Emergency Management” as seen in Detroit, where cities (usually minority) have their democratic government suspended and are forced into bankruptcy so their assets – including pensions – can be siphoned off to private interests.
If all this bothers you – and it really should bother you – one way to fight it is to vote for candidates who are not slavish whores to Wall Street banks, who are courageous and moral enough to hold the corrupt architects of poverty and false austerity accountable.
Key reforms should include closing all corporate welfare loopholes, and a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) on Wall Street as a way to regain the lost revenue and looted assets. We must make taxing Wall Street part of the new paradigm of economic reform, not austerity. We know they have robbed us blind – let’s get out the smart policy pitchforks and start fighting back.
11., 12., 13. . . . Add your issue here and keep going
Voting – or not voting – in some way impacts almost every aspect of our lives, including whom we can love.
Your body, your food, your air and water. The working conditions you enjoy or despise, the racism and violence of your local police force, the political agenda of judges, health care, homelessness, education, product safety, minimum wage, gun laws, public transportation, emergency preparedness, traffic lights, pot holes, school lunches, day care, birth control, and every possible environmental, civil and human rights protection you can imagine.
CAUTION: If you decide to vote this year . . . Beware the stolen election.
Yes, it’s true. In the end, there’s currently a very strong possibility your ballot could be lost or stolen through vote rigging. This, too, is something we need to fix together.
America’s voting system has been privatized, sold off to a handful of shady companies, some with criminal histories. Most of our votes are now counted in secret by their easily rigged and hacked “trade secret” computer software.
Paradoxically, this crazy-making subversion of democracy is actually why we all need to get out and vote. It’s much more difficult to manipulate votes by large margins. Low turn-out and lack of public interest helps criminals steal elections.
“It’s much more difficult to manipulate votes by large margins. Low turn-out and lack of public interest helps criminals steal elections.”
If you’re planning to vote by absentee ballot, by mail, or in early voting, – all of which provide marvelous convenience – understand that these systems have a downside. Without full oversight of those ballots, they make easy pickings for election rigging.
Cast your ballot in person on Election Day if at all possible.
The only way to achieve full oversight of the voting process is to cast voter-marked paper ballots and count them by hand on election night, at the voting precinct, before they are moved to a central tabulating location. The UN has called this the “Gold Standard” of democratic elections. The trouble is, a lot of our computerized voting machines don’t even produce a paper ballot, so we can’t count, recount or audit the election.
The powers that be will not restore integrity to our voting systems unless we force them to do so. To become a grassroots Election Integrity activist, learn how to count ballots yourself (fun!), and fight for a fully transparent vote count in 2016.
Occupy the Future
As we radically re-envision our world, and our future – imagining green cities, clean energy, free education, local sustainable commerce, just laws, celebrations of diversity, an end to war – we must include a renewal of democracy in our plans: Our vision will not survive under fascism. It will be crushed.
We have to fight on every level to take back the public sphere that’s been stolen from us, mangled and mutilated by corruption, privatized and sold off to the highest corporate bidder.
Democratic elections must be part of the central commons we build together. To change everything, we need everyone.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.