Caught in the Election Crossfire

Since posting the piece to my blog yesterday about not voting, I’ve been called a “cynic,” a “traitor” and stuck in a “castle,” etc. I guess when someone’s about to pull the lever for a politician she thinks sucks slightly less than the next guy, it’s better to blame some red for the miserable debacle of our elections.

It’s OK, really. After more than 25 years of being a socialist I’ve been spat on, sucker-punched and called every filthy epithet in the book. I had come to accept it as an occupational hazard of sorts, but lately socialism is having a definite revival and many more folks are curious, not hostile about these ideas.

Nonetheless, I loathe being called a cynic and this charge rankles like none other. It is invariably slung at socialists around Election Day, when the political debate in this country reaches its nadir. All politics is condensed in this period into what happens during the 5 minutes or less that it takes to vote. Yet politics is so much richer and complex than that one simple act of pulling a lever or punching a ballot.

I consider the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours a year activists spend organizing protests, rallies, speak outs, fundraisers, meetings, speeches and the like to be the most crucial political acts a person can undertake. It is the stuff from which genuine change is made.

Usually activists meet and organize in small numbers for years with little or nothing immediate to show for their efforts at resistance until the accumulated baby steps, ideological cracks and other shifts in society at large seem to give way and more noticeable and substantive change seems to suddenly and spontaneously erupt.

Look at the efforts of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP). It began about 15 years ago with the idea that prisoners themselves and their family members, alongside activists, could mobilize to shift public consciousness in this country by exposing the racism and class inequities at play and the innocence of so many of the death penalty’s victims. Over the years, they’ve played a modest but very important role in reducing both the number of death sentences and support for this horrid Medieval practice.

Gallup now reports the lowest support for the death penalty in the U.S. since it began tracking it 30 years ago and today 30 percent of Americans oppose it in all cases, in contrast to 16 percent when the CEDP began its work. Dozens of exonerated death row prisoners hail the CEDP as a tool in having freed them from hell.

The Boston anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure group City Life/Vida Urbana and the newly formed Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC) have won real gains in both of those cities through education, organizing and taking direct action. Just last week, Cook County Sheriff and mayoral candidate Tom Dart halted all evictions based on foreclosures from GMAC, JPMorgan and Bank of America just days after the CAEC protested at his office.

There are dozens of other examples I could offer of grass-roots activists taking on the system today and making small, but real gains. And then there are moments when the gains are enormous, as when an international solidarity movement combined its efforts with the Black workers of South Africa to bring down apartheid. Or the sit-downs, marches and endless petitions that combined to achieve civil rights in this country. Only later did politicians and the courts codify what was won on the streets.

Naturally, these gains are not enough. It’s why I’m not simply a movement activist, but a socialist in movements. So long as we live under a system of profit, racism, wars, poverty, bigotry  and oppression of every conceivable sort will persist.

Whether someone votes next Tuesday or not is not the decisive question in my opinion. I don’t vote for the Dems because history has taught me that this is not where real power lies and real change is made.

The American socialist, Eugene V. Debs, had a good line about this sort of thing. He said, “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it, than vote for something I don’t want and get it.” I find Debs’ logic irrefutable.

Take a plunge into activism and join me and others this evening at NY’s LGBT Center at 6:30PM to organize the next US boat to break the siege of Gaza (The Audacity of Hope).

I’ll be speaking Friday, Nov. 5 at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, on Fighting the Right. Details to come.

9 responses to “Caught in the Election Crossfire

  1. Right on, Sherry.

    There is always the “you wasted your vote by voting for (some-such 3rd party candidate)”; or “you didn’t vote so you can’t complain” B.S. that circulates amongst the self-congratulatory sycophants this time of year. But under any level of scrutiny, the “wasted vote” argument very quickly breaks down. The same folks use the “every vote counts” mantra, as well. So then, if “every vote counts” but my vote – or non-vote – was “wasted” then what the hell kind of logic is that?

    Keep up the good work.

  2. I am a proud cynic when in comes to the democrats or liberals in general. The past two years only provide vindication of that point, if anything I haven’t been cynical enough about them. I haven’t decided if I’ll vote third party or simply turn in an empty ballot, but I refuse to push a button for a D as well as an R.

    As for being a traitor, I will happily turn my back on any liberal compromise with war, exploitation, or bigotry no matter how badly it hurts the liberals versus the conservatives.

  3. I’m still voting because I still believe that my vote counts here locally in San Francisco where our City Supervisors actually have a considerable amount of power, and one supervisor’s vote can sway things like the proposed Sit/Lie ordinance which would send homeless people into jail holding cells.

    That said, one thing you said really resonated for me. ” Usually activists meet and organize in small numbers for years with little or nothing immediate to show for their efforts at resistance until the accumulated baby steps, ideological cracks and other shifts in society at large seem to give way and more noticeable and substantive change seems to suddenly and spontaneously erupt.”

    I remember organizing direct action protests with over 5 years ago now, in a little rundown dirty office in a warehouse in Jamaica Plain, MA with the local Socialist Workers group. They were kind enough to lend us the little resources they had – a truck that they shared, an old soundsystem, and some posterboard. From there, we ended up forming the largest ever protest of Focus on the Family, ever. We scared them, and we woke up the local gay community a little bit by connecting the issues to other social justice issue like the war in Iraq, and immigration.

  4. It’s amazing what you get when you educate stupid people. Read above for examples.

  5. I am not a socialist, but you and Debs are correct about voting. I see voting as consent. If there’s nothing worth consenting, there’s nothing worthing giving my vote.

  6. As I recall, Noam Chomsky has (somewhere) described this as “boycotting” what passes for elections. That seems to be a pretty succinct description, as it highlights the fact that—as you pointed out—the issue is not apathy, but disgust with Democrats’ politics. It seems that voting merely lends support and credibility to a system that really doesn’t deserve much of either. Helping to build a movement, on the other hand, reinforces the reality that the real power to change society is in the hands of the people who keep it going.

  7. Curious. Since this is not a Socialist country and you are so very discouraged by our system here, why don’t you move to Canada or some other Socialist country? If I lived in the desert and always complained about how hot it is, wouldn’t I eventually be a fool for not simply moving someplace cooler? Just seems so simple to move and do something for myself. I don’t wonder why the desert simply refuses to be cooler. I just worry about all of your pent up anxiety with not having the whole country change to different system just because a few people don’t like it, especially when there are so many other places that are just as beautiful, from a scenic standpoint, but with the style of government that you’d prefer. It should be obvious to you, because you seem intelligent, that after Obama began lying to and betraying his constituents on policy, and the rejection that they have shown by running in droves to the Tea Party, that this is clearly not a country which finds socialism an acceptable option.

    Just curious.

    • Am not sure where to begin with someone so divorced from the reality of the lives of tens of millions that the response is, go “back” to Canada. How about, the Earth is round, workers are screwed by their bosses and this country has a rich history of left-wing rebellion and not just right-wing insanity. Sorry, but I’m staying and fighting for equality and decent wages and health care for all.

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