I was talking to my brother on the telephone about how I might cast my vote, when he explained, “You can’t vote, you’re an anarchist.” When I started to object, he began lecturing me on how participating in elections was completely incompatible with the principles of Anarchism. As I began complaining about his shallow stereotypes, he revealed that he was only quoting me from perhaps a decade ago.
Yes, it’s true. I voted for Mr. Mondale in 1984, after Dr. Helen Caldicott explained on her lecture circuit that Reagan’s election would make accidental nuclear war a mathematical certainty because Reagan would deploy medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe. After the election, I learned that Mondale also supported the medium-range missiles.
Disillusioned, I didn’t vote again until 1997. In that year, there was a ballot initiative in California authorizing people to kill a lot of mountain lions. Although I don’t know any personally, I love cougars and rushed to the polls to offer my opinion on the issue. Since then I have not been strict on voting or not voting.
Ye Olde Anarchiste Party Lyne
As a whole, self-proclaimed anarchists claim, regardless of each individual’s personal capacity for compromise, to be much more averse to voting than the average person. But anarchists vote in the same numbers as everyone else, 30 to 40 per cent each time. Although there is a difference: normal people abstain out of despair, believing their vote won’t change anything, while anarchists vote out of despair, believing their grassroots social organizing isn’t changing anything.
I remember in 1992, Profane Existence proudly announced they were organizing a boycott of the presidential election because the candidates were virtually the same. Imagine if all, say, 10,000 copies of Profane Existence were read by twenty people and all of them obeyed the boycott (and 40% of them would have otherwise voted). Some eighty thousand people would have abstained, added their voices to the other seventy million eligible voters who didn’t bother. Wow.
I’m at least a little amazed at how so many anarchists who are doctrinaire about how voting is irrelevant put so much energy into condemning electoral participation. Might as well canvass a precinct. Late August this year, among the “million” protesters against the Republican National Convention, will be at least twenty thousand hard-core anarchists, gathered around Madison Square Garden to draw attention to the notion that the real power lies elsewhere. Some of the same people who say that voting is consenting to be governed, pay income tax but refuse food stamps on principle. What-ev.
The Bush Mystique
From Noam Chomsky on down, people feel it in their bones, that this election is a little different. The presidential election is one factor among many, but all-in-all two futures are in competition. Whether two billion humans die off mid-century, or five billion. Whether half a million species are extinguished, or two million. Whether I Steve works a shit job while cultivating an anarchist idealist self-image on the side, or actually has to really struggle to eat.
Before you say I’m totally cynical, I’d like to add that I believe anarchist revolution is possible. But it’s much easier to brutally overthrow a Green government, so we should aim to elect one in the medium future. In the meantime Kerry is a Republicrat. This was painfully clear when the Republican McCain was openly considered as a running mate. But Bush is not a Republicrat. He and his forty million followers are Trans-Republican Sub-Humans (TRaSH). Mutants that devour petroleum and lard, eating the planet, as both they and their cars become larger and larger.
It’s a fuck of a lot like Spain in 1936, when, disillusioned with the results of their abstinence in the previous election, the Anarchists voted for the Republicans (liberals) who won, triggering a fascist military coup. This was a time when Emma Goldman herself took the case to the Western “democracies,” arguing that the bourgeoisie states she had battled her whole life were way better than the looming Cthulu of trans-national fascism.
Now it would be unfair to equate Bush-era Republicans with mid-20th fascists. The Republicans have none of the imagination, urge to self-sacrifice, or spiritual depth that the traditional fascists had. But the comparison is still important; in compromising with liberals and authoritarian Socialists, the anarchists in Spain were swallowed by the former’s incompetence, bureaucracy, and treachery and the country was lost. How can we in America 2004 chart a different course?
A Short To-Do List
Anarchists, despite extreme cynicism about electoral politics, have always cast votes idealistically. What’s with the anarchists voting for Nader? A candidate who can’t win who epitomizes the ideal of an honorable candidate? We need to be like any other constituency; buy corrupt candidates who will serve our short-term conveniences, while we pursue our long-term solutions in grassroots bottom-up organizing. We should sponsor candidates who will pardon our locked-up friends, and have a contingency plan for if they betray us.
We can do this sort of organizing much better on the small scale. Fundamentalist wingnuts built their political base in the 80s by taking over school boards. A fringe group like anarchists can do the same. Imagine anarchist ideas introduced at the elementary school level on a massive scale. It’s not completely feasible to do something like this on a presidential scale uniting all the anarchists, where we all trade our votes for some agreed upon conditions. But perhaps we can unite around a few simple principles:
Vote against war: Selective apathy.
If a Republican president starts a big war, vote for the Democrat. If a Democrat starts a big war, don’t vote. Four hundred thousand anti-authoritarians saying, a big war might help sustain capitalism but it might cost you your job and your “legacy.”
Win or stay out: If voting could change the system it would be illegal. But manipulating the electorate can create change and often is illegal. Remember Prop. 21, the initiative to put California children in prison? No one was exited about sponsoring it, except they needed a “tough-on-crime” idea, and the voters weren’t psyched on it, except for being generally in favor of tough-on-crime initiatives. Easy target. Marxist sectarian groups took the issue to teenagers (who can’t vote, kinda like campaigning to owls for forest preservation), and declared victory when despite the initiative’s passage some youth joined their organizations. Anarchists did nothing except tailgate the Marxist campaigns so as to be generally against it. Couldn’t someone have bought a few TV ads, lamented the San Francisco Bay Guardian?
Support private guns: Despite the racist NRA propaganda, gun control is primarily intended to disarm people of color, developed after the Black Panthers occupied the California state legislature with weapons. 20th century genocide has been accomplished just fine with machetes when guns were unavailable, and we all know that America is hella violent because of endemic psycho-sexual sickness and not access to weapons, and even a non-violent anarchist revolution is easier without a government monopoly on firearms.
But the reason I bring this up is that ten-twenty million people vote TRaSH solely out of fear of being disarmed. As a Sierra Club newsletter lamented, all their environmental candidates lost because of real or perceived gun positions, while the Sierra Club takes no position on guns or hunting. Once we pressure all our progressive and liberal friends and family to accept that guns exist, the TRaSH will have no chance of election, and we can get back to fighting Republicrat sponsored globalization.
And fireworks: the fucking Green Party was sponsoring a municipal resolution to ban fireworks. Protect us, daddy! If you can’t trust me with a bottle-rocket how can you trust me with a vote?
Don’t worry, be happy: If I hear just a little more dirt I might change my mind, but right now I think it will be fun to push the Kerry button. If I get up before 8 PM. It might not matter because of the computerized voting system where it’s all fixed anyway, but it certainly won’t do any harm. And I’ll feel a little more aligned with the hundred million ordinary Americans, voters or not, who have no interest in conquering the world, even if Mr. Kerry isn’t one of them, and less like an elitist anarcho-snob.
Voting is fun. I greet the nice elders who work two days a year, and meet my neighbors. It’s like hitch-hiking, ya never know what random people from what walk of life you’ll run into. Though if it turns your stomach, don’t bother; it’s not worth it and it’s not important. Don’t hate me for my casual, thoughtless decision, and we’ll continue working together on our collective households, cooperative workplaces, and direct action affinity groups.