This post is written mainly as a response to criticism from my sister Vivian, who thinks it hypocritical of me to advocate for political change when I did not vote in the Presidential election.Therefore I will at times be addressing her directly. This started when she took umbrage with me sharing the following photo on facebook:
First off, this Princeton University researcher sums up my stance pretty well: “I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.” [Update 8/20: I’ve learned that this study has been debunked. See my follow up to this post.] These “economic elites and organized interests” have been referred to as the Deep State. Real talk: America is not a democracy, it’s an oligarchy. And I’m not an oligarch.
For this reason and others, I have no faith in the American political process. I believe that working inside of the system is a waste of time. Vivian disagrees. She thinks that change is slow, but it is only possible by concerted, cooperative effort inside the political system. I think this view is naive.
By voting, you are implicitly agreeing that our system is just. It is a tacit agreement that the Way Things Are is acceptable, it is condoning the status quo. By participating in the 2016 Presidential election you agreed that it was a legitimate process to decide the leader of America. I don’t think it is. The French Revolution proved once and for all that the power lies in the people. When you vote in a broken system, you are handing that broken system your power. Furthermore, I feel that believing your vote has meaning actually dis-empowers you. By believing that your vote matters, you are less likely to engage in political action that does actually have an impact.
I’m going to even take this one step farther. You (Vivian) accused me of resting easy on my privilege. I going to actually flip this argument back onto you. You say that voting is meaningful. That working inside the system is slow and incremental but is what makes actual change. The very fact that you can afford to wait for slow, incremental change is what privilege looks like.
You’ve been more politically active than most people, but tell me, how many times have the changes you’ve pushed for become a reality? As I understand it, you’ve been on the losing side almost every time, even at the local level. How many hours have you spent demonstrating with nothing to show for it? You exercised not only your vote but also your right to demonstrate and speak and still nothing changed. Tell me again how voting is effective. The fact that you continue to support a system that perpetuates injustice simply does not make sense to me. Again, I will reiterate my basic stance that ordinary citizens no longer have any meaningful impact on the political process in America.
Here’s a brief list of political issues that I have feelings about: monetary reform, climate change, cutting down the rainforest, plastic in the oceans, ocean acidification, desertification, soil erosion, factory farming (CAFOs), monoculture agriculture, Monsanto patenting plants, Nestle owning water, fossil fuel dependency, economic structure (i.e. capitalism), American military atrocities in other countries, racism, fascism, gender inequality, wealth and income inequality, political corruption, police brutality, pollution, oil pipelines, human trafficking, ending the drug war, terrorism, NSA spying on all Americans, literal Nazis, the military-industrial complex, education reform and more.
Each of those issues have multiple people dedicating the bulk of their lives to righting those wrongs. And they’re losing. For every victory, there are five defeats. There will never be a congressperson, let alone a Presidential candidate, that will represent my stance on even a fraction of these issues. The US political system systemically precludes that possibility.
It’s too much. As an ordinary citizen I cannot make much of an impact on any one of those issues, much less all of them. It is impossible. The only solution I have been able to find is to cease being part of the problem.
I remember you arguing that while Hilary has her faults, she was the lesser of two evils. I don’t disagree. But that still doesn’t qualify her to lead the country. It’s a classic sales technique, that I learned as the “alternate of choice.”
The Alternate of Choice is a closing technique in the form of a question with two answers — and either answer is an agreement. The key is to give two solutions that both lead toward the sale. By giving two choices, one or the other is usually chosen. This is much better than what happens when you give one choice and the only other option is “no.” Here’s an example: “The way I see it, Mary, the only real decision we need to make today is how soon you can start reaping the benefits of our fine service. Shall we schedule our people out here tomorrow, or would the next day be better for you?” Once it’s scheduled, it’s sold.
“So Citizen, which will it be, the blue asshole or the red asshole?”
As if all of these reasons weren’t enough, there’s the simple pragmatic fact that my vote, should I ever cast it, would not count. And neither does yours.
I want to be clear that I am not against voting in general. In fact, I am very much for it. I am quite politically active here at East Wind. I attend, and speak at, virtually every community meeting we have. Not only do I attend them, but I have initiated our political process here by proposing meetings myself. I likewise vote on virtually every community vote we have. Furthermore, I regularly discuss community issues in my free time. The difference is that here at East Wind, because there are only so many members, every vote actually does count. When my vote counts, I vote.
I take a much broader view of political action than you do. I view every action as political. It is in this sense that I view myself as far more revolutionary than most people. For example, by living at East Wind I pay no taxes to the Federal government. This means I am not supporting the military in its killing of countless civilians in the Middle East. I am not paying for drone strikes. Anyone who does pay Federal taxes is. You are paying for those bombs, I am not. Another benefit of living here is that both my economic and carbon footprint is much smaller than the average American’s. I am thus that much less responsible for the devastation of our planet than the rest of my country. Lastly, I am in the process of writing what is ultimately a political book that I hope will have a far larger impact than my vote ever could.
If you want to pretend that voting makes a difference, fine by me. You didn’t hear me criticizing your naivete until now after you forced the issue. I direct my political efforts in other directions that I feel to be more meaningful. It is not apathy that makes me refuse to vote, but conscientious abstention. I wish you would stop criticizing me for trying to solve the many issues of our world in a different way than you choose to. Be happy that we’re both working to make the world a better place.