Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
Obama and Romney continue providing regular entertainment – including dueling singing candidate ads – for the media, who then have another “story,” if not substantive news, to deliver. Record breaking fundraising continues, with corporations as people and anonymous contributions at the center.
Another staple also returns: The right, the duty, the push to vote. In a “keep it simple” framing, that’s usually accompanied by the assertion that the only legitimate candidates are Democratic and Republican.
I’m convinced that additional options are imperative. Reading Matt Stoller’s column yesterday at Naked Capitalism was a “music to my ears” moment, unlike listening to Romney or Obama. Stoller is one of many who are pointing out the failure of our Two Corporate Party / Governance system. He writes Voting This Year Means Choosing the One Who Beats You:
Every election cycle, Americans are greeted with a bevy of condescending lectures from well-heeled political elites about the importance of voting. It’s your duty. People died for right to vote. And so forth. This year, a far more compelling message about democracy is coming from miners in Spain, who, beset by austerity measures imposed by both political parties, are shooting at riot police with homemade rockets and slingshots.
The Spanish miners are threatened with “endemic poverty and powerlessness. … they may have a vote, but they have no voice.” Jerome Roos at Roar Magazine has a poignant piece about these miners, “‘Yo soy minero’: the miners light the way of the struggle.”
The moving scenes lived out in every village through which the miners have passed on their march toward Madrid, the welcome, the words of encouragement, the assistance received, the solidarity extended throughout the entire country … , and finally the reception in the capital and the accompaniment in their protest by so many workers, ought to be a turning point … in the construction of collective resistances. The miners have … awakened something that was asleep inside us, they have pushed us.
Being “pushed” to vote is something we’re accustomed to, and that’s fine, but it’s not enough. Being pushed to step outside the system we’re supposed to trust is something else.
Stoller writes about the attitude of “America’s leaders” toward voting. We know their attitude toward doing something like Spain’s miners. We saw it clearly displayed as Occupy sites were shut down and a huge, militarized police presence became the norm. As for voting, Stoller provides the example of “Obama advisor” Peter Orszag, giving Orszag the “award for cynicism in civics.” In June, Orszag argued in a Bloomberg editorial that voting should be mandatory. That came six months after Orszag had a column in the New Republic,
‘Why we need less democracy’, arguing we need ‘depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions’, most likely in order to cut social spending programs on which normal Americans not in the political class rely.
Orszag’s attitude is pervasive among political elites, and has been for years. However, such an authoritarian impulse has never in our lifetimes intersected with recent economic, climactic and political circumstances in this country.
Stoller asks if “an Arab Spring or Spanish miner style resistance” can occur in the U.S. It’s happened before – he mentions 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain – but as he also notes, such rebellions “have been mostly whitewashed out of our history books.” The rise of organized labor was a key factor in that much touted “American dream.” Things have changed.
In 1952, one in three Americans were part of a strike of a thousand people or more. In 1970, with much larger labor force, that number was still one in four. …
In 2009, only one in a thousand Americans participated in a large scale labor action. But as we saw with Occupy Wall Street, there is no reason large scale civic action can’t happen here. And with paramilitary forces breaking up these largely peaceful protests, and new draconian measures imposed on protesters in cities across the country, the lesson American elites seem to want to teach those who seek redress from their government is that peaceful change isn’t possible.
I’m hearing this analysis made more and more: one perhaps growing possibility is that if “peaceful change” is made impossible, something else will happen. Stoller uses the frequently mentioned quote from John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” JFK was talking about Latin America, but I agree with Stoller:
… as inequality increases radically under both Democrats and Republicans in this country, and political rights decline in the Citizens United era, we would do well to listen to this maxim. Though perhaps, as American politicians layer remarkable surveillance technologies, expand the importance of one’s credit rating, encourage media consolidation, allow unlimited corporate cash in politics, and expand militarized policing on top of a giant prison complex, it’s clear that the organizers of the country understand this all too well.
Turning America into a giant prison where the prisoners are forced to vote for the one who beats them may prevent normal people from having the ability to make economic decisions themselves.
The Elites and their Electeds are aware of the potential for some form of rebellion, and are taking steps to keep the crowds on the streets as small and contained as possible. One tool in keeping the masses quiet is convincing We the Electorate that all we have to do is vote for one of the two choices they provide, and the Electeds will take care of everything else. Well, they do of course, but for their, not our, benefit.