Over the past year or so it seems that we have had numerous and constant political debates about democrat, republican, green party, and libertarian in regards to our presidential candidacy. The main focuses of these debates recently have been the magnitude of “shit” (I am sorry no more appropriate language can be found at this time) we have got ourselves into between Hillary and Trump. Which shit smells worst, which shit would be easier to swallow, which shit would be more conducive to social progress and liberation of oppressed people. All valid and necessary discussions. Though between the two of them I believe that the choice may be obvious and at the same time irrelevant but that is a different post for a different time.
The other post I have seen floating around has involved a lot more name calling and what I view to be dissensions among organizers and activists about the privilege and narcissism that can be associated with voting third party (mostly green from what I have seen, hey that rhymed, I must be a poet ;-)) versus voting for Hillary. Again this is another conversation that has been had ad nauseum and is better served for another place and another time.
Simultaneously it seems there has also been constant discussions about boycotts. These discussions include their usefulness or their lack thereof. What situations they are appropriate and which they are not. As well as some going so far as to begin attempting to organizing boycotts. Shaun King is actually in the process of putting one together as we speak. You can find more information here.
I bring these topics of discourse up because it seems to me there has been a key discussion missing from all of this back and forth that has merely been glazed over (something like my eyes after watching any political debate these days) and that is the discussion around whether or not we should simply boycott the whole thing.
At this point you have probably already read the title of this article and got over the shock value or you haven’t made it this far and have already written me off as an anarchist cook but for those of you who have indulged me long enough to make it to this point you are probably feeling a lot like how I felt as I wrote this. “Isn’t that a tad bit hypocritical?” My internal response to that … “Yea, kinda.”
It seems as organizers and activists and people who are beginning to see the socio-political-economic systems for what they truly are we have embraced rejecting the system in many ways with the exception of that being voting. I had to do some serious reflecting to try to deduce why. And no voting third party doesn’t count as a voting boycott despite what many have attempted to convince people to believe. It is still a belief that you should vote for the “best” candidate available even if that candidate has no perceived shot of winning you still are voting under the guise that you believe if that candidate does win there is power in that election and somehow the president of the united states has the power to instill or facilitate change within our current democratic structure as is. Now that is where I lose me (yup, I lost myself, I hope you are keeping up better than I am) with this philosophical discourse. With the amount of money and power involved in politics pulling legislation, candidates, and court decisions in their favor; I find it hard to believe that the current political structure is even democratic (Noam Chomsky argues it isn’t here) and also that the power structure would even allow for our country to become a democracy (at the risk of seeming to drink too much of the Chomsky Kool-Aid see him drop the one two punch describing that as well in the same link, “Oh, Yea!”).
So if we do not believe either of the two party candidates are viably fit to serve our interests as oppressed people in this country, we cannot decide whether or not voting third party is beneficial in this election or any for that matter in getting us towards a more democratic society, and we have begun to have some serious discourse around boycotts that brings up the question as to why organizers/activists/oppressed people aware of their systemic oppression (note my struggle in finding an appropriate term identifier) have yet to begin to reject voting and begin to seriously discussing a voting boycott. Back to some reflection.
As organizers/activists we often have a sense of social capital that guides people who may not have the privilege/desire to get as ingrained in radical progressive movement work as we are or we do. So a lot of times we will serve as the “tip of the spear” so to speak. Now we, like all others, are guided by our material conditions. What are the material conditions of organizers/activists of the radical progressive movement that would lend to an almost seemingly deep committal to eliminating any discussion of election boycott?, why I thought you’d never ask.
Organizers are people like everyone else. In that we have to find a way to pay the bills. Oftentimes that means take paid organizing jobs, mostly with workers unions but often times with other progressive groups. These groups mostly are heavily funded by political candidates and political parties. That funding incentives these groups to push forward voter registration drives, political candidate forums, and political endorsements to secure the future influx of their financial interests. For them to reject the voting system or our “democracy” as a whole would be biting the hands that feed them in a sense and as we all know someone has to pay the bills. Organizers are now caught in a catch 22. If they do not believe in voting and do think an election boycott is an idea worth discussing they are exploring this idea often while simultaneously holding get out to vote drives. So in order to have a serious discussion they would have to face the contradiction that their employment puts them in and work against their best interest. For those who know anything about system theory or even how psychological incentives work they are well aware that getting someone to work against the systemic reward system is something that is very difficult to do, especially when it is tied to your ability to eat and pay your rent. Now this happens every election cycle and consumes many organizers time throughout that cycle.
Another psychological theory that influences the lack of discussion on the election boycott is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The Sunk Cost Fallacy makes it so that people begin to reason that further investment is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in the further investment. Now what does that have to do with voting? Absolutely everything. There was so much time, energy, lives, blood, sweat, tears devoted to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It had a charismatic “leader” in Dr. King (and we know how much we love our celebrity, male, charismatic leaders) that convinced us how important voting equality is that we went all in on it through non-violent resistance and legislation that would allow you to use the vote as a source of power and influence over the communities of oppressed people, specifically black people. To have conversations about not using that voting power to vote for an actual candidate that you feel will be most inclined to (thought they probably will not fully commit to) push forward your interests would feel like discrediting all the hard work down by so many people before us and it has been positioned that way many times when someone expresses they will be making a deliberate choice not to vote during this presidential election cycle. This feels so counter-intuitive. We are at a time now when people are seeking to think about things in a revolutionary way and are already discussing, critically I might add, the topic of boycotts. We should make the connection that since we have “earned” the right to voting “equality” we cannot use that vote in a powerful way by denying its validity in the same way we are doing with our money (see the parallel we “earned” the right to make money “equally” therefore we use that money powerfully in denying its use at certain venues or outside of “essentials”).
Now I do not want this writing to be taken as a hard critique on any of the organizations or people included. This is simply an analysis of the conditions and a call to question whether we need to create new conditions to be more conducive towards radical progressive change. We have to take a serious look at the Zapatistas election boycott in Mexico, the “No Land! No House! No Vote!” campaign in South Africa, and other election boycott campaigns to judge their effectiveness and/or lack of effectiveness and if any of those methods used are applicable to our current conditions to further our liberations struggle. I hope that this piece serves as a spark for that conversation that can last through this election cycle and beyond to future elections. Just the thought of people writing in “Black Lives Matter,” “Native Lives Matter,” “Trans Lives Matter,” “Migrant Lives Matter,” “Women’s Lives Matter,” “LGBTQ Lives Matter,” etc.. That is a romantic idea and I surely don’t want to get caught up in the romanticism too much. I just hope that maybe some romanticism can guide some dialogue that can create the foundation for revolutionary theory on this topic as it applies today and embrace the fact that in order to be revolutionary we may very well be or be perceived as kinda hypocritical towards past or current action. Can we put something together quick enough to be effective for this current election? I am not sure but this election could serve as a catalyst for powerful actions around the the non-use of your vote to create strong and long lasting political statements to transform our political system to a true democracy.
NOTE: The election boycott being addressed is that of the presidential election as local politics are completely separate discussion to be had that I am more than happy to have as well. Future posts on this topic are to follow.
Please share your thoughts and feedback!