Saturday, July 24, 2010

To Vote or Not to Vote: Strategies for Change

There is a significant percentage of people today who tend to equate voting (although often stated in more subtle ways) with an act of violence, and who counsel against participation in voting. The rationalization used for this is a form of the too-common mistake of confusing symptoms with root causes. The assertion is that politicians are engaged in murder, theft, and counterfeiting, and thus voting is an act of complicity. The next steps in this line of "reasoning" are often that 1) anti-social acts are the true and only goal of government, and 2) this evil government requires your vote to maintain its legitimacy, be ensured of success, and maintain the illusion of freedom of choice. Unfortunately, there is a particle of truth to all of these, especially the latter.

I don't agree with this line of reasoning. I'll start my thoughts on this subject by first saying that there's a difference between a politician, who is mainly interested in the next election, and a statesman, who is mainly interested in future generations. I also believe that the only true mandate of a democratic government is to protect the commons, which includes the physical and the social. Now, admittedly we're currently a long way from that. We neither nurture statesmen nor protect the commons. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So, let's look a bit below the surface to see why we're in our current sorry state. Let's connect some dots and see where we're headed and why we're in this handbasket.

The majority of politicians on the national level, regardless of party, are little more than tools of the status quo--which can be best summarized as the Industrial Growth Society and its practice of economic cannibalism. While local politicians are generally better at retaining some of their core humanity, they still believe in the inherent correctness of the status quo and seek to either protect it at any cost (the Right), or they believe there's nothing to be done about it other than maybe trying to minimize the damage, at least here and there, once in a while (the Left).

We the People unquestioningly accept this mythology and tend to buy into one end of the ideology or the other. We continue to proudly elect maniacs belonging to the monopoly of the duopoly (the two wings of the Corporate War Party) who promise either to control whichever minority group is being used today for scapegoating on every problem imaginable (the Right), or to throw slightly larger scraps over the wall to the peasants (the Left). As long as they can keep us fighting each other, their power remains assured. And, as long as we continue asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about their answers.

A growing segment of the population has shaken off this aspect of the consensus trance, but still allow themselves to be controlled by thinking that government built on dominator hierarchies that rule through force and fear is inherent to the very concept of government. (Cultural anthropology, for one, provides evidence to the contrary.) There is also widespread acceptance of the belief that anyone putting forth an alternative vision (or even a major reform of the status quo) is unelectable. (I mean, Fox News and CNN both say so, which must mean its true.)

But, because non-mainstream voices (those not vetted by the status quo) are allowed to be heard during the primaries, with the more radical voices safely relegated to third(non-serious)-parties, we are assured that democracy is being served, and we can safely go back to our Cheetos and "reality" TV and just forget about the oil running out and the planet warming up and our parents overdosing on prescription drugs. Oh yeah, and that damn border.

So, we withdraw from the democratic process itself. We don't vote because we're told if voting could change anything they'd make it illegal. (Jim Hightower, I think, or Emma Goldman, G.B. Shaw, Eugene Debs... ) We join the 50% of the eligible electorate who don't vote by believing the only ethical choice left is to withdraw our complicity from the electoral aspect of the culture of death--as long as it isn't killing us, anyway. Or at least only indirectly through processed food substitutes and contaminated water, polluted air and toxic soil. We believe that if we don't vote, we're somehow not responsible--and besides, it won't make any difference anyway. We don't want to believe what has been said since the days of Plato--that silence is complicity--so we just don't think about it.

Paul Ray, co-author of "Cultural Creatives," re-analyzed the thirteen years worth of data the book was based on from a political perspective and came to the conclusion that out of that potential 50% voter segment, only about 10% can actually be classified as alienated, ignorant, and/or apathetic. This 10% is actually the mushy middle the Clinton "strategists" went after, and were all excited when they got 1% of them to the polls. This means the other 40% are the largest potential voting bloc in the country, because the other half--the current bloc of active voters--are pretty evenly split (12-15% each) among Democrats, Republicans, and Big Business conservatives who have either liberal or conservative social values (and this is actually a false dichotomy, but that's another discussion).

So, the point I want to make is the importance of your vote, especially considering the rather small percentages of voters who provide the "mandate" for policies--about 20% in any given election--and much of that is not a vote for, but rather a vote against the other side. But let me add a caveat: For your vote to be meaningful we must work together to encourage and support candidates who are worth voting for; who are not only willing but determined to take on the status quo, and even more importantly, who will present pragmatic alternatives that work for people and planet instead of only for the profits of narrow special interests.

We can turn the sorry state of electoral politics on its head by becoming active in the democratic process--because democracy is not a spectator sport. Instead of remaining complicit with our silence, we can become actively engaged in helping remove the legitimacy of the status quo. We can encourage and support statesmen who will actively work towards real change instead of minor reforms. We can become advocates for electoral changes that can better reflect peoples values instead of their fears. We can champion Instant Runoff Voting, make elections day a national holiday, abolish the electoral college, require paper ballots or a paper trail on election machines that use non-proprietary verifiable software, and perform random ballot audits large enough to be meaningful.

As long as we remain satisfied that voting for the lessor of two weevils is the best we can hope for--or even more cynical, that this is the best that an inherently flawed humanity is capable of--we will remain complicit with a system that is about to push life over the edge of a cliff. Incremental changes in this system will not work; you cannot cross a 20 foot chasm with two ten foot leaps.

The way we practice politics and government today is nothing but a story. This means, as inquisitive, innovative and intelligent creatures, we can consciously choose to script a new story. But that's not going to happen if we withdraw from the system; if we shirk our responsibility and our innate ability to create a system that works for us and the planet we depend upon.

It is possible to vote and not simply have the government get re-elected. The more people who find the courage to do this, the sooner we'll start the transition into a sustainable--that is, life supportive--future. I, and many others, believe a political platform built on a foundation of relocalization--a practical, affordable process to build a sustainable future--where production of food, energy and appropriate technologies occurs much closer to the point of consumption is a rational first step. By weaving in a steady-state local living economy, and getting back within ecological and economic carrying capacity limits we can set off on a different path from the broken status quo that is destroying the biosphere and fueling the 6th Great Extinction.

Something I think the "potential 40%" of additional voters have in common is that they can see through the veil and they're tired of being lied to with false promises and crass fear manipulation. They're being joined by growing numbers of traditionally partisan voters fleeing the major parties and registering independent--the people I refer to in my campaign for AZ State Senate as those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

What all these voters need is someone to vote for who will do things differently--someone not beholden to--or enchanted by--the status quo and who's presenting a platform that both resonates with shared values and provides a systemic alternative that doesn't require empire and its exploitive accoutrements in order to improve quality of life. A relocalization platform provides this without requiring the destruction of our one and only life support system. We can't continue ignoring the inconvenient truth that there will be no justice, equity or an economy (free-market or otherwise) on a dead planet. And this is exactly what the status quo of Industrialism is delivering for no other reason than to increase profit and consolidate power in the hands of a self-proclaimed elite.

If you'd like more details of how these concepts fit into the political arena, and how they can be applied to grave issues of concern to a majority of people, please browse through my campaign website, especially the issues pages as well as for an expanded definition of relocalization. This platform is freely available to anyone else who is willing to embrace it. Consider it "open source." We have the opportunity to get this ball rolling; to provide leadership with a positive example the rest of the world is hungering for and can begin implementing themselves.

1 comment:

  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. It would no longer matter who won a state. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    The current winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states ensures that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. The National Popular Vote bill does not try to abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President (for example, ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote), including current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action, without federal constitutional amendments.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota -- 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 30 state legislative chambers, in 20 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.