Voting Is Bad for You and the Planet

Should Americans vote for Rocky Anderson, Virgil Goode, Gary Johnson, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or Jill Stein in the presidential election on Tuesday? If we are concerned about the ongoing (and multi-faceted) environmental catastrophe, or US wars around its global empire, or even jobs and healthcare, there must be someone who will genuinely represent the interests of US citizens once they are in the White House. Surely.

I have not voted since the late 1970s although I live in a ‘democracy’ too. In Australia, voting is compulsory. So my conscientious refusal to vote has resulted in my imprisonment on four occasions so far. Why don’t I vote? Because, for me, voting is an act of disempowerment. There is no candidate that understands or represents my primary worldview well enough for me to ignore the less-important details. But, more fundamentally, even if a candidate did share my worldview and I trusted them to act on it if they were elected, they would be working within a set of national structures and processes that are, in themselves, both antithetical to my worldview and under the control of the national elite. Hence, even my preferred candidate, if elected, must be thwarted on any significant progressive initiative.

My conscience tells me not to participate in the delusion that this ‘democracy’ can deliver preferred outcomes for constituencies that I love: all living beings on Earth and the planet itself. And I deceive myself if I believe that there is a ‘lesser evil’ whom it is better to elect to avoid the worst outcomes. The fundamental problem is structural and the most conscientious and visionary candidate cannot defeat the structural impediments to the implementation of their conscience/vision. And lesser individuals would not even try. So what do I do instead?

I accept that, for now, some bad things are going to continue to happen. Tens of thousands of African, Asian, and Central/South American children are going to be starved to death. Many people will be killed in wars of the elite’s making. Our environment will continue to feedback the results of our assaults on it over the past 250 years as Superstorm Sandy has just graphically illustrated.

But I also take action, all day, every day, on several fronts, to struggle for the world that I want. I even do this during the time that I would otherwise spend going to the polling booth. And I am strategic. We are under enormous threat and the time to deal with it effectively is shortening rapidly. So I don’t waste my time on what I know cannot make a significant difference in the direction I prefer.

So how do we strategically resist the efforts of national elites who perpetrate violence against us and those we care about, both directly and structurally, using the President as their ‘democratic face’? How do we replace elite-controlled structures with ones that meet the needs of all human beings as well as the planet and other species? And how do we do all of this within a timeframe in which the Earth’s ecological limits are not fundamentally breached?

To do all of these things, we need an integrated strategy that tackles the fundamental cause of violence while tackling all of its symptoms simultaneously. This strategy has four primary elements. First, and most importantly, we must review our child-raising practices to exclude all types of violence (including those I have labelled ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’) so that we no longer create perpetrators of violence – including elites and their agents — in the first place.1 Let us create people of conscience, people of courage, people who care.

Second, we must non-cooperate, in a strategic manner, with elite-controlled structures and processes while simultaneously creating alternative, local structures that allow us to self-reliantly meet our own needs in an ecologically sustainable manner. Anita McKone and I have mapped out a fifteen-year strategy for doing this in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth.’

Third, we must keep planning and implementing sophisticated campaigns of nonviolent resistance to prevent wars, end economic exploitation and save threatened ecosystems, as well as strategies of nonviolent defense to liberate Palestinians, Tibetans, and other oppressed populations in those circumstances in which elite violence must be directly confronted.2

And fourth, we must courageously pay the price of violent elite repression when we resist nonviolently, knowing that many of us are going to be imprisoned (sometimes as ‘psychiatric’ patients), some of us will be tortured and a great many of us will be killed.

In summary, if we are to effectively resist elite control and violence in our lives and take concrete steps to end it, we must abandon the delusion that mainstream political processes can help us do this. Instead, we must take responsibility for ending elite violence while working to create a world in which damaged individuals are unlikely to be created and, if they are created, they cannot wreak havoc on the rest of us. If you would like to consider publicly committing yourself to helping to make this nonviolent vision a reality, you can read (and, if you wish, sign) ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World.’

  1. See ‘Why Violence?.’ []
  2. See Robert J. Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996 and Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973. []

Robert Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach, State University of New York Press, 1996. He can be reached at: flametree@riseup.net Read other articles by Robert, or visit Robert's website.