Friday, September 28, 2012
Anarchism's Little Flaw
Jeffrey Stout, Blessed Are The Organized (2010)
Choosing to not vote is a political and moral choice that strikes me as selfish. Consider the millions of people living in this country who want to vote but can't. Consider the millions around the world whose governments either don't allow them to vote or are so corrupt that it doesn't matter if they do vote. It's appropriate for us to be cautious voters, not expecting those we vote for to be messiahs -- no politician is perfect -- but let's acknowledge that not voting is essentially passive support for those in power.
Anarchism is getting sexy in a political culture rife with spin and power games. We live in a two-party system that has given us a Presidential race of the lowest common denominator. As Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi wrote a few days ago:
With 300 million possible entrants in the race, how did we end up with two guys who would both refuse to bring a single case against a Wall Street bank during a period of epic corruption? How did we end up with two guys who refuse to repeal the carried-interest tax break? How did we end with two guys who supported a vast program of bailouts with virtually no conditions attached to them?
We are a people obsessed with saviors and superheroes, but there has been a gaping void since Martin Luther King was shot down in Memphis almost half a century ago. With the demise of democracy (Stout, the Princeton political science professor questions if we ever had one at all!) and a rising corporatocracy in its wake, the anarchists of Adbusters and the Occupy movement have oxygenated our political discourse by focusing on the vital issue: the 99% getting manhandled by the 1%.
Anarchism has 3 key principles:
1. Revolt against bureaucratic conformity
2. Rejection of party politics
3. Dedication to the creation of a whole new culture
All three of these are deeply attractive. Conformity is an overwhelmingly dehumanized force in media-saturated consumer capitalism. Party politics is also a media manufactured horse race coaxing citizens into rooting for one of two teams, neither of which really represents the interests of everyday people. This leaves one option: shun the socio-economic-political "system" and create an alternative politics formed around virtues like empathy, justice and the restoration of dignity to all God's children.
All people of faith and conscience should follow the anarchist lead in boycotting and protesting the undignified and violent ways of corporate America. At the very least, we ought to transfer our money to community banks (and credit unions), eat a lot less meat (or just become a vegetarian/vegan), shop at farmer's markets, barter with neighbors and boycott entirely malls and big-box retailers. We desperately need citizens dedicated to a lifestyle of dignity and discipline and purists that form anarchist movements like Occupy to give us creative and strategic models to follow daily.
In addition, my Christian anarchist friends have a much more historically compelling portrait of the Jesus of the Gospels than anybody writing from the Religious Right. Jesus was unapologetically political. And unafraid all the way to his death on a Roman cross (where all political dissidents were tortured in public). Virtually all of his actions were confronting traditions and mores used by elites to keep the 99% in line: eating and healing on the Sabbath, associating with tax collectors and sinners, forgiving the diseased and unclean, overturning the tables of the bankers in the Temple. Instead of voting, the Occupy crowd states rightly, Jesus boycotted and protested and exposed injustice all over Palestine.
However, although I have deep respect and appreciation for my anarchist brothers and sisters, I am not convinced that complete withdrawal from electoral politics is the best strategy to bring healing and redemption to our broken world. Particularly, it seems to me that removing our voice and our vote only baptizes the status quo. This is terrible news for the 99%, let alone for the 1/2 of America near or below the poverty line, undocumented immigrants, sexual minorities, women and the billions suffering in the 3rd world.
Worst of all, declining to vote and dialogue and campaign, out of understandable angst and frustration with the fraudulent form of government we naively call "democracy," just gives into to the wishes of the cannabalizing 1%. Their millions of dollars poured into campaign contributions and lobbying activities are intended to successfully sway the ignorant masses while crippling the rest of us with apathy and cynicism.
And what about Jesus? He didn't vote...because he couldn't. We live in a purported democracy, ideally a system that gives dignity to all God's children, regardless of gender, ethnicity, income-level or sexual orientation. A vote cast, at its base level, is a symbolic proclamation that the divine right of kings and caesars is slowly being transformed into a mass movement of the masses.
No doubt about it: we ought to put time, energy and resources into changing our current system, pressuring our political leaders to put an end to undemocratic concepts like the electoral college (Should Ohio, Virginia and Florida really get to decide the Presidential election for the rest of us?), the Senate filibuster (legislation, like health care reform, could be a lot more robust with a simple majority), unregulated & unlimited campaign contributions (Why does casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson have far more power in electoral politics than me?), the revolving door (retired political leaders consistently go to work for industries and lobbies they benefited while in office) and much more.
Sure, Obama & Romney are participating in a broken system and far too many of their positions are exactly the same. But there are differences and they matter. Here's my promise to all my friends of faith and conscience: on November 6, I'll be voting for Obama on behalf of my undocumented students and my gay/lesbian friends and the millions who stand in line for free health insurance at stadiums every weekend all over the nation...and the rest of the year I'll commit myself to movements pushing and prodding him towards even more humanizing and dignifying policies. Those of us who care about justice know that Obama could have done more for immigrants, sexual minorities and the poor. But he did something. And that's a big difference from what his opponent will do if he wins.