I’ve been sitting around trying to feel guilty about my decision not to vote. Somehow I’m not succeeding. I’ve been through the usual arguments—parried as much by friends as antagonists—and they’re just not holding water. “Which is more apathetic,” I reply to one standard tune, “to think one has done one’s duty as a citizen by voting every four years then going away, or maintaining pressure for justice and peace--marching, petitioning, boycotting, and financially supporting progressive causes?”
Some say I am disenfranchising myself, obviating a blood-earned right. And I answer, “There is systemic disenfranchisement which I cannot ignore and can only excuse at my peril.” If I complain that we have been “electing” virtual dictators with 25% of the popular vote, that some 75% of eligible voters either opposed or did not choose to vote for the current incumbent and his 2000 opponent, I’m apt to be greeted by apoplectic stares. My arguments fall on TV-waxed ears that no longer hear anything beyond the periphery of the easy comeback or shot-put rejoinder. Time for some “studied” responses. Here goes:
Technology. The 2000 election was a sham. No substantial changes were initiated to ensure that the 2004 election would not also be a sham. Butterfly ballots replaced with Diebold electronic voting machines which leave no paper trails are the American version of the vanishing ink used in the recent sham elections in Afghanistan.
Epistemology. How do we know what we think we know? Americans get most of their information from a nakedly biased broadcast media with a penchant for planting stories and burying refutations. A Kerry-leaning friend writes to tell me he feels compelled to vote against someone rather than vote for someone. Debate is a dying or deceased art in America; into the informational vacuum step the spinning dervishes of punditry and misdirection. If I vote, I lend legitimacy to a process based upon fraudulent deception.
Methodology. I’m asked to believe that the rough and tumble of our so-called primary system will yield the best candidate. Whether the system relies upon smoke-filled rooms (1789-1960) or voter-tested sound-bytes (from the New Frontier onward), we wind up with a guy—always a guy, a white guy—vetted to appeal to the electorate’s Lowest Common Denominator. A Nader, a Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson, even a Ross Perot—anyone marrying a hint of passion to his intellect—is suspect, plays poorly on medium cool, while the smirky, stand-up-comic’s routine of George W. resonates with the Amen chorus of the misinformed. Dean’s victory whoop, played over and over like the falling towers of the World Trade Center, grates on the nerves, angers and abuses. My guy, Nader, one of the sharpest minds in the country, whose positions have been consistently pro-consumer, pro-citizen throughout his long career, is spun for a hopeless idealist in a bad suit. The Republicratic Debate Commission excludes Nader or any non-Republicrat, then expects me to nod glazily and tally scoring points. But I do not nod. I listen and I hear practiced rhetoric about tactics, little about strategy and vision. George Bush, Sr. confessed a problem with “this vision thing,” a condition plaguing all our “major” candidates since—Clinton, Bush, Kerry; Gore, a little less, and look what happened to him!
Theology. In place of vision, I hear theology. After 9/11 it was chic to say that Islam was a respectable religion hijacked by fundamentalists. Maybe so, but what about the hijacking of Christianity and Judaism by our own fundamentalists? Haven’t the extreme positions of these mutual apocalyticists sullied political discourse in this country and in much of the world? The retreat of modernism and empiricism towards fundamentalism and orthodoxy may be the inevitable consequence of world wars, Cold War, nuclear bombs, global poverty and genocide; but can no wanna-be leader alert us to the dangers of such monistic thinking? In this “land of the free, home of the brave,” in which the principles of separation of church and state were drilled into my pre-pubescent head, must I now defer to the inanities of Bible-thumpers and Prelapsarian fatalists who spurn the very concept of choice—except as it is yay or nay, with us or agin us, black or white, my way or the highway? As Bartleby the Scrivener said, firmly and forthrightly, “I prefer not to.”
Etiology. What’s the origin of our system’s influenza? Back at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a very octogenarian Ben Franklin, perhaps the best American mind of that time, told his compatriots that the embossed sun he saw in the carving of a chair was a rising, not a setting, sun. No doubt the old fox was holding out hope that the gutsy, wildly-mixed republic of religious fanatics, empire-dreamers, and, yes, Paineian idealists would not succumb to the temptations of power that had corrupted the numerous republican experiments of the Old World. But Franklin’s equivocation, his hesitation to judge the sun as rising rather than setting, also signaled a pregnant warning. The constitution the Convention approved was fatally flawed; it was so flawed that within fourscore and seven years the republic would wrench itself in a war that a plethora of weapons of mass destruction would make the worst war up to that time. It was a constitution that arrogated Blacks to a status of 3/5 human—and that only to enhance the power of the Southern white elite. It was a constitution that was fundamentally conservative and anti-democratic in its establishment of an electoral college designed to concentrate power in the hands of the privileged and propertied elite. This constitution has served the expansionist designs of the American Empire; our quadrennial circus of rubber-stamping voters—not infrequently bribed and invariably manipulated--has provided legitimacy to governments that committed genocide against our native tribal peoples (while simultaneously corralling them into concentration camps, i.e., “reservations”), then took our WMD’s abroad to practice their nefarious genocidal crafts on Asians, Latin Americans and others. I will happily vote to replace our winner-take-all, zero-sum game of Electoral College politics with direct representation of the people. Replace this 200-year old plumbing system with something that flushes the sewage cleanly and smoothly before it begins to stink to heaven!
Reflexology. This one comes from my acupuncturist, who has a chart in his office showing how the body’s various organs and nerves are connected to the soles of the feet. A little pressure on my right big toe may do my left eye wondrous good—or something of that sort. When my wife and I engage in mutual foot massages, our whole bodies feel better, so perhaps there’s something to it. What I’m suggesting is this: the Vioxx that my medical school doctor prescribed has been linked to kidney failure. The old systems of thought, the sacred-cow practices and shibboleths of the ancien regime are up for grabs in this new millennium, but we’ve been strangling ourselves and others with antiquated and denigrated infrastructures and worldviews. The best the Republicrats can offer is faith in the same-o same-o voting methodologies that have delivered us to what the apocalypticists among them describe as either a very-long-and-torturous World War IV or Armageddon. Those who believe that we can, to a degree, be masters of our fate, that we have a responsibility to ourselves and our children’s children to direct our energies to creating a fairer, more just, balanced, and peaceful world, have too often been blindsided by the criticism that those who do not vote within this egregiously structured system have no right to dissent. Bullshit! Our American forbears elected not to vote in the British imperial system back in 1776; my immigrant forbears voted with their feet when they chose to come to America some 90 years ago; they and countless others voted with the sweat of their brows and the fruition of their intellects to realize their visions of a better world here and abroad. The Labor Movement, Woman’s Movement, Civil Rights Movement--all have used the levers of extra-electoralism to apply pressure where it might do the most good for the general health of the system. Continuous application of the right pressure is apt to be far superior to the quadrennial lemming-like herding of ourselves and others to cast votes that are not counted and/or do not count, except to salve the consciences of the exploited as they persuade themselves they have done all that citizenship in a Global Corporate Empire requires of them!
Gary Corseri edited the MANIFESTATIONS anthology. His articles, fiction and poems have appeared at/in DissidentVoice, CounterPunch, CommonDreams, AxisofLogic, the New York Times, Village Voice, Redbook and elsewhere. He has published two novels and two collections of poetry; PBS Atlanta has broadcast his dramatic work.
Other articles by Gary Corseri
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