An anarchist argument for voting (for Nader)

Gar Lipow lipowg at
Mon Nov 6 21:04:45 PST 2000

Voting Without Illusion By Dan Georgakas

Every time there is a major election, some of my closest political friends decide not to vote. The most obvious reason they give, of course, is that there are no candidates worth voting for. When pressed about voting for a minority party, they argue that as those candidates haven't a chance, voting only reaffirms the present corrupt system. They believe it is more radical not to vote and they believe the growing number of Americans who do not vote is a sign the present system is in crisis. When looked at closely, these arguments are too smart by a half.

The low voter turnout in America is indeed a sign of crisis, but not the kind of crisis my anarchist buddies posit. In political contexts in which mass-based extra-parliamentary forces exist that have made not-voting part of a larger political strategy, declining to vote can indeed mean something. Whether or not that is a sound tactic is another issue, but it indicates a certain kind of political sophistication and commitment. Non-voting in the United States generally reflects the opposite. The non-voter has not even reached a level of political sophistication in which voting is understood as a political tool, however weak and fragile. Rather than rejecting parliamentary consciousness, such persons have yet to achieve it. One may argue that subconsciously they are rejecting the system, but that doesn't mean much if there is no other political activity on their part.

In so far as voting reaffirms the present system, there is truth to that, but the worst part of the capitalist system is not the hard-won right to vote existing in some nations. We spent the greater part of the l950s and l960s in the effort to secure voting rights for African Americans. If voting is meaningless, then that entire movement must be judged as a meaningless misdirection of political energy, if not actually disruptive to genuine change. Would anyone care to argue that those who rule America are delighted when there is massive voting by African Americans?

Perhaps because I am the child of immigrants, I have an emotional attachment to voting as well. My mother's side of the family fled from Anatolia where the most basic rights of the Enlightment have yet to be won and where voting was not an option in 1922. All Fourth of July hokum aside, one reason they came to the new world was to have some voice in controlling their daily lives. They cherished exercising a right so long denied them. From l967-l974, after the US-sponsored junta imposed a dictatorship of right-wing colonels, we fought to re-establish that right in Greece proper.

Having said all that, I totally sympathize with the sense of futility each election generates. Nonetheless, it makes sense to vote and even campaign for Ralph Nader. To be sure, at best, we are helping to establish a Green Party that may prove as treacherous as other Green parties have been. To be sure, Nader's program is hardly revolutionary. Just as surely, however, a relatively large vote for Nader will be understood as a demand for universal health care, for control of monopolies, for protecting the environment, for human rights, for, well, you fill in the rest of the blanks. That's not too bad a message to send with just a little effort. Again, does anyone doubt that a 10% vote for Nader would not affect governance of this nation? A 15% vote might even panic what we used to call "the establishment."

Bottom line, as the capitalists like to say: look for this anarchist in the voting booth on election day. He votes without illusion. But this time he will vote with a sense that a vote for Ralph Nader makes control a bit harder for those who rule us.

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