Election Madness: There is an alternative to electoral politics
By Michael McGehee at Jan 03, 2012
The hardest part about enduring election cycles as someone who sees them as rather unimportant and distracting from real issues and solutions is constantly having to answer, "What is the alternative?" It is frustrating beyond belief that it is not blatantly visible. But that's life. Something could be right in front of you and you cannot even see it.
Bloggers and pundits pontificating about whether we should vote for Obama or not, or whether we should support Ron Paul because he is the only candidate taking a firm stand against the empire, war, and Wall Street, is a major distraction. As Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine said in their song "Down Rodeo": "The structure is set; ya neva change it with a ballot pull."
Many probably don't realize that their complaints about the power of Wall Street were preceded with a prediction by James Madison as he reflected on the state of things in 1791: "The stock-jobbers will become the pretorian band of the Government, at once its tool and its tyrant; bribed by its largesses, and overawing it by clamours and combinations."
While busy ethnically cleansing the indigenous people from their land, President Andrew Jackson found time to expose the class war raging around him by acknowledging that, “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.” And in his fairwell address he dedicated a lot of time to making statements about how "The banks . . . save themselves, and the mischievous consequences of their imprudence or cupidity are visited upon the public. Nor does the evil stop here."
President Jackson went on to talk about how, "Many powerful interests are continually at work," and have "succeeded" at getting government to shape policies that were "bearing most oppressively on the agricultural and laboring classes of society."
The planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer all know that their success depends upon their own industry and economy and that they must not expect to become suddenly rich by the fruits of their toil. Yet these classes of society form the great body of the people of the United States; they are the bone and sinew of the country; men who love liberty and desire nothing but equal rights and equal laws and who, moreover, hold the great mass of our national wealth, although it is distributed in moderate amounts among the millions of freemen who possess it. But, with overwhelming numbers and wealth on their side, they are in constant danger of losing their fair influence in the government, and with difficulty maintain their just rights against the incessant efforts daily made to encroach upon them.Of course, the working class no longer "hold the great mass of our national wealth." The bottom 50% account for 2% of the nations wealth, and the bottom 40% have 0.3%. Whereas the top 20% enjoy 84% of our wealth, the top 1% account for a third.
The mischief springs from the power which the moneyed interest derives from a paper currency which they are able to control; from the multitude of corporations with exclusive privileges which they have succeeded in obtaining in the different states and which are employed altogether for their benefit; and unless you become more watchful in your states and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges, you will, in the end, find that the most important powers of government have been given or bartered away, and the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.
Going further still, the former president remarked that, “The men who profit by the abuses and desire to perpetuate them will continue to besiege the halls of legislation in the general government as well as in the states and will seek, by every artifice, to mislead and deceive the public servants,” and that, “So many interests are united to resist all reform on this subject that you must not hope the conflict will be a short one nor success easy.” President Jackson also said that in his “parting counsels,” he wanted to warn that, “Knowing that the path of freedom is continually beset by enemies who often assume the disguise of friends.” According to Jackson, we “have no longer any cause to fear danger from abroad.” Rather, the enemy we face “is from within.”
In another presidents fairwell address, President Eisenhower said those words that everyone remembers where upon Ike warned of the "unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
What are we to make of these words today as others drone on and on about the upcoming presidential election? One very rational conclusion is that the "unelected dictatorship of money" (as Ed Herman and Dave Peterson call it) is systemic to our form of government. It has long since been "destructive" to our supposedly "inalienable rights" that the Declaration of Indepence talks about: "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." James Madison himself had said in 1787 when the Union was still in the craddle that, "Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body," and again in 1787 he said, "If elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure." When government is looked at as a tool "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority" then it is no wonder that the rich become "the pretorian band of the Government" and so "powerful" that they can "bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes."
And whereas "it is the Right of the People" in response to these "destructive" ends of our "inalienable rights" to "alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness" it is a completely fair question to ask: after more than two hundred and twenty years of men like Madison, Jackson and Eisenhower basically warning of the same problem, what are the chances that voting will make a difference? Why should we believe that with one more election things will change?
As I have said before, I am not taking an absolutist stand against voting. What I am saying is that voting is the least of our struggles. Conscious of the problems we face, our own history and how we have overcome obstacles in the past it should be clear that what is needed is not voting, so much as organizing.
But that's not the popular trend. What is the prevailing norm is an over-emphasizing of the importance of voting while under-emphasizing the importance of movement building and direct action. If electoral politics is the most important tool for the working class to use, as so many liberal leftists delusionally believe, one has got to look to our own history to analyze the efficacy of voting and ask: Did voting end slavery? Did women vote for the right to vote? Were workers granted labor rights because they voted for it? From the abolition of slavery to women's suffrage to labor rights to the New Deal to civil rights to environmental rights and beyond it was not the act of voting that accounts for the significant change, but rather the organizing of social movements preceded by years, often decades, of the development of a cultural shift. The idea that voting is so important is absolute nonsense. Electoral politics is the least important tool for the working class. Again, it has been the organizing of social movements, outside of the electoral process, that has been the "most important tool." And it is the lack of understanding this and the hyping of electoral politics as being the height of not only civic duty but efficacy for change that explains quite a bit about out current predicament.
Labor activist and anarchist, Tom Wetzl put it best:
In regard to electoral politics, I think we already know enough to know that it creates the wrong dynamics, tends to focus on leaders, tends to bureaucratize movements, discourages direct collective action. Look at the way the union bureaucrats in Wisconsin were able to push advacing actions such as strikes off the table by pushing people into electoral politics, via the recall.Hell, just look at Obama. Tens of millions of people organized and voted for him believing he was the Messiah. Obama came in and quickly began meeting with health insurance executives to plan reform that he openly admitted was a gift to the industry at the expense of the American people: "As I said when I met with the insurance executives, it’s not meant to punish insurance companies . . . . Once this reform is fully implemented a few years from now, America’s private insurance companies have the opportunity to prosper from the opportunity to compete for tens of millions of new customers." He also went on to later say that, "When it comes to healthcare, we need to be consulting with the insurance industry to make sure they know how things are gonna work," but what happened when proponents of singlepayer (something he claimed to have supported before becoming president) tried to meet with him? They were denied and sometimes arrested for simply trying to deliver a letter.
But it is only thru participation and collective action that the working class can develop its own social power. And only through developing mass organizations that the oppressed & exploited control directly. And thru this development of direct working class social power, people can overcome fatalism and develop relevant skills and so on.
Even on financial reform we see something different where President Obama has said, "I think that it is entirely legitimate that in the banking sector, it’s very important for us to write these rules in collaboration with interested parties so that they can start knowin’ how things are gonna work." Again, as with health care reform, the only "interested parties" are the banking sectors. The idea of collaborating with consumer advocacy groups doesn't even compute.
On the issue of deficit reduction President Obama showed that he didn't understand the problem. Our debt and deficit is not the problem, per se. Our problem is decades of tax cuts to the rich (especially those from the previous administration), our wars, and the recession. And rather than repealing those tax cuts and ending the wars and reducing the bloated military budget and taking the economy seriously by reining in the banks and creating a serious federal program to get Americans back to work and so much more what we saw was an escalation of military spending, extension of the tax cuts, a considerably weak jobs bill proposal, and a commission targeting social programs (i.e. Social Security, Medicare, etc).
Following the illegal assassination of Osama bin Laden, Obama told the American people something that really illustrates how justice is not blind but is very conscious of class and power: "Obviously, we're going into the sovereign territory of another country and landing helicopters and conducting a military operation. And so if it turns out that it's a wealthy, you know, prince from Dubai who's in this compound, and, you know, we've spent Special Forces in—we've got problems.” If carrying out an illegal military action in "the sovereign territory of another country" we've only "got problems" if the target "turns out that it's a wealthy, you know, prince from Dubai," or something like that.
President Obama has escalated drone attacks and has even joked about sending them to attack the Jonas Brothers.
The President has widened the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan with disastrous results, and which has increased the support of the Taliban! Before taking office the Taliban controlled about half of the territory of Afghanistan. As of October 2011 they control more than ninety percent. And now after it has become clear that we have lost the war and must negotiate our way out via some sort of settlement with the Taliban, Vice President Joe Biden is trying to change the narrative:
Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:Of course Biden doesn't acknowledge that al Qaeda doesn't really operate in Afghanistan anymore and that the years of fighting, which is ongoing, is with the Taliban. He also doesn't acknowledge that from the very beginning the Taliban attempted to negotiate with the previous Bush administration but those offers were rejected.
One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.
Even in Iraq, which Obama gets undue praise for ending the war, there are some revealing things not often discussed. Back in June of 2009 it was President Obama who pressured the Iraqi government not to hold a referendum calling for early withdrawal. The U.S. didn't want to leave until it was sure its interests were assured. That the U.S. is leaving is not symbolic of righting a wrong, but the confidence in policymakers that we have achieved our goals, which is not something to praise. Yet President Obama, who has given millions of liberals the impression that he opposed the war, recently told American soldiers:
This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making. And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible. ... Years from now, your legacy will endure. In the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country. In the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and grandchildren. ... So God bless you all, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America. ... You have earned your place in history because you sacrificed so much for people you have never met.The murder, maiming, ethnic cleansing, and torture of millions of people at the hands of the American government and over a twenty year period is celebrated by President Obama as "an extraordinary achievement." Again, this is the supposed peace candidate of 2008 who branded himself as "hope" and "change."
Israel has continued to receive the economic, political and military support of the U.S. government as their borders expand, the occupation continues and the region becomes more and more threatening. While the U.S. singles out Iran as a threat with the dubious claims of supporting terrorism and having a nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration has said nothing about Israel's nuclear program or probable ties to terrorist operations in Gaza, Lebanon, Iran and elsewhere.
The embargo on Cuba has continued despite world leaders voting every year to end it. The latest vote was 186-2.
Then there was the coup in Honduras, the sabotaging of climate talks, the aggression in Libya, sending troops to Uganda to take sides in a civil war, and more. Recently Obama signed a bill that would allow the indefinite detention of American citizens. So long constitutional rights.
Honestly, given the options of a nationwide social movement with clearly defined ideas about what is wrong and what should be done (even as tepid and reformist as ending the wars, taxing the rich, housing the homeless, reigning in the banks, a serious jobs bill, removing the cap on Social Security, Medicare for All, a carbon-free energy program—basically everything short of a total revolution replacing Representative Democracy and Capitalism with some participatory society or anarchist commune), and the tactics of direct action and civil disobedience to see that it becomes a reality, and voting for either Barack Obama and Ron Paul, what do you think would more likely lead to real and lasting change? If you choose the former then doesn't it make sense that your focus should be on creating such a movement, and less on the circus show called Election 2012?
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