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(en) US, Minneapolis, Direct Democracy vs. Electoral Politics, an Anarchist look at Voting - The Great American Hoax

From North Star Anarchist Colective <mnacollective@yahoo.com>
Date Mon, 17 Jan 2005 22:57:06 +0100 (CET)


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It is inevitable. As an Anarchist you will always
encounter people who will want to engage you in debate
on the topic of voting. It may be a co-worker, or
perhaps a friend, a fellow activist, or a stranger on
the street. Most Anarchists know that they do not
believe in the capitalist system, or in the electoral
process. We believe that the system is built to have
the illusion of freedom while keeping a boot firmly on
the throat of the lower- and working-classes, and
particularly, people of color in the US and worldwide.

Contrary to popular belief, Anarchists do vote. In
fact we probably do it far more often than most
Americans. Voting is central to the belief in Direct
Democracy, which is one of the base principals of
Anarchism. Direct Democracy is the idea of direct
control over decision-making and policy by the people
these policies affect.

That said, it is not Anarchist principal to embrace
the capitalist / electoral system in the US. It is
understood that as residents we have to accept that
this is the current political system in power, and
that for the time being we must find our way to
survive within it. We do this while simultaneously
trying to erode that very system, and working toward a
brighter future. Participation in State or Federal
elections does nothing to achieve this.

Anarchists use voting as a tool, not as a means to
gain political power, as is the case with current
electoral systems in the US and worldwide. This so
blatantly laid in front of us, with no shame, in these
election seasons. Anarchism uses voting along with
discussion, to move forward politically and helps make
decisions. When Anarchists pass the point of what we
have to do to get by under this current system, into
the realm of what we are told we can do to “change”
the system, we are not gaining anything. In fact, we
lose. Lose our integrity.

Historically, and in countless modern examples,
Direct Action has succeeded where American Politics
and activist participation in them have failed. The
pamphlet Beyond Voting by Chris Crass is an in-depth,
well-thought out essay around the politics of radicals
and voting. Unfortunately, it has used anarchist and
anarchism throughout, where activist and activism
would have been more appropriate. It aspires to
convince Anarchists and other radicals that they can
vote in the heart of the beast and still retain, or
better yet improve, their revolutionary goals. It
goes so far as to suggest that Anarchists should
become politicians, and run for office. I hope to
offer another perspective.


The Anarchist Vote?


I am not here to tell you what you can or cannot do
as an Anarchist. I do however, hope to make people
think seriously about what they stand for, what that
means to them, and if voting will advance that
position.

Anarchists are often pigeonholed as wild youth that
are bent on “smashing the state”, often by other
activists and Anarchists, as well as the rest of
today’s society. This remains one of the main stigmas
facing Anarchists even within their own movements.
Beyond Voting explains how voting is a tactic that
Anarchists must realize is a tool to become “a
meaningful challenge” to the powers that be.

In this essay, Chris Crass goes on to say that, “I
know that thousands of Anarchists around the country
vote”, and that an analysis of this “is still largely
absent from what is considered Anarchist theory”, and
footnotes several Love and Rage articles. What’s
interesting is that Love and Rage did have an opinion
of voting;
“We deny that improvements are made through
elections, neither through the Democratic Party nor
through a new progressive or labor party.”


It should be obvious to everyone worldwide that the
presidential elections in the United States are a
farce, our suspicions validated in the 2000 Bush/Gore
election. The sheer amount of illegal activity and
political maneuvering that was revealed shocked
average Americans as well as radicals across this
nation. Democrats acted shocked as well, but made
little effort to hold anyone responsible.

The electoral system is a problematic, and corrupt
one. It is not a representation of the consensus of
the people; it is more a playground for corporate
interest, lobbyists, and the desires of the super
rich. As was shown to the world in 2000, our
electoral systems are fallible, manipulate able, and
ultimately never in the hands of the people.

This is of course an example of political corruption
on the highest of levels, and this type of thing
doesn’t really manifest itself in the small scale,
local elections, does it? Sadly, the reality of the
system is that all progressive gains can be, and most
often are, overturned or at the least watered-down to
a point of near insignificance.

Even if we overlook all of our presidential electoral
systems failings, we are then left with two
non-choices. On a more local scale, candidates,
propositions, and bills that might be on the ballot
could much more directly effect a community then the
minor differences between two sides of the same coin
vying for the white house. These local issues are
where many radicals find their dilemma. I don’t
believe in voting, but this issue is too important and
too close to home. I believe the answer is fairly
straightforward; if the issue is important to you,
then organize around it. Make sure your efforts live
up to the feeling in your heart. Then, if your
personal political views are important to you, do not
vote. Instead, hope that your efforts were enough to
sway the community to make the better choice. Just
because you are not personally going to cast a ballot,
does not mean that you can’t organize against a bill
that reduces rights of women, restricts immigrant
rights, workers rights, or would otherwise marginalize
any community.

We do not need to sacrifice our politics. We are far
more powerful than a vote, and we have proven this
time and again throughout history and today. More
often then not, public outcry in the form of rallies,
poster campaigns, riots, or strikes, have had a far
more dramatic effect on the shape of the world then
our votes ever would, and that’s assuming, of course,
someone counts them.

The most common argument against Anarchist
non-participation in elections is the idea that: “If
you don’t vote, then have no right to criticize what
the government does”.

If you do not vote and do not work to create change,
then this statement is true. If you choose not to
participate in, nor justify the existence of a
capitalist agenda, while simultaneously working toward
a vision of a world that is better on all fronts for
everyone, then I believe we will come out ahead. We
all know that you cannot beat the house at its own
game, that knowledge is what brought most of us to
find Anarchism in the first place. It is why we take
matters into our own hands, why we take to the
streets, why we fight for a way of life we may never
even see in our lifetimes.

Anarchists in Community Movements.

Anarchists in the US tend to be young, white and
middle-class. Often we are criticized for not being
accommodating to people of color, or not reaching out
to communities of color. Taken at face value this is
true. We are for the most part, a bunch of white kids
with parents and other resources at our disposal, and
little to lose from sticking our necks out.
That would seem to make us the perfect front line in
a street level struggle.

Ideally, we could build a movement that was made up
of all people. People of color, women, queer, and
transgendered / genderqueer people. We should always
struggle to overcome our own sexism, racism, and
homophobia to create spaces, scenes and movements that
accommodate all people, and provide community and
safety. We are all aware that there have been far too
many cases of situations where police single out,
arrest and brutalize people of color, queer, or trans
and other demonstrators. It is my belief that
because I am unjustly granted privileges in life
simply because of my skin color or gender, then the
least I can do is abuse them as much as possible. If
I am arrested at an action, I think “better me then
someone that might not have the resources or time to
hold out in court until these charges get dropped”.

It is not surprising that communities that are being
attacked from all sides by capitalism, be it police
repression, racist landlords and rental policies, or
crime and drug influences in the neighborhoods they
live in, are not jumping at the chance to place
themselves in harms way by choice. It’s also somewhat
insulting to assume that we, as white Anarchists are
the only one organizing in our communities, and that
communities of color were just wait for us to come
along and help them. I see these as the main reasons
our movement is so white. A good case-in-point would
be Anti-Racist Action, which, although not an
Anarchist organization, has the same problem. As can
be drawn from it’s name, ARA is straightforward with
it politics, and would seemingly be something that
communities of color would be interested in being
involved in. Yet, despite its efforts, ARA remains a
mostly white organization. Without doubt, ARA,
Anarchist and other social movements should always be
working to keep our scene open and available to women,
people of color, and all others. But we should not be
surprised if it takes and amazing amount of struggle
against this system, and huge sacrifices on our side,
before we are taken seriously by these communities.
We are, as of yet, unproven.

When Anarchists find themselves involved in community
movements, and looking to legitimize our movement to
community members who may have never heard of
Anarchism, or if they have, are likely to have a
negative opinion of it from the media, it doesn’t make
a good argument for Anarchism as a viable system if we
are not true to our own core beliefs, such as
participation in this government and it‘s functions.

To cite one of the major examples of Anarchists
involved in a community mobilization used in Beyond
Voting, let’s examine the fight for housing in the
Mission District of San Francisco during the dot com
boom of the late 1990’s. This was a multifaceted
effort by activists from many different communities,
cultures, ages, and political affiliations. It was
exactly the type of coalition Anarchists had been
dreaming of, and it was well documented in the movie
BOOM! The Sound of Eviction. I’ve lived in the
Mission District, and although I moved to California
after the dot com bubble had burst, you could still
see the telltale effects that it had had on the
neighborhood. What sticks out to me most about the
film, is that while many people focused on getting
officials elected into office to wait and hope to see
if they followed through on their promises to the
community, one family took matters into their own
hands. With their landlord threatening to have them
evicted to make way for the money the dot com’s and
gentrification would bring, they were at the edge and
about to be pushed over while legal and electoral
processes plodded along. This family decided not to
go out without a fight. They gathered up as many
friends, family members, and supporters as they could,
and marched from their home to the landlords business.
They jammed his store full of loud, desperate and
angry people who would do whatever necessary to halt
this eviction. And it worked. It is a beautiful
example of direct action at work.

The film shows so many people who lost their homes,
many during the course of the election and filming
process, that one has to wonder why this direct action
tactic wasn’t used more often. Why was everyone,
including the Anarchists, so dependent on the
electoral process to save the neighborhood?
In the end, the coalition of Anarchists and
activists, organizing in the mostly Latino/a
neighborhood, did manage to successfully elect a white
male into office.

The Mission Yuppie Eradication Project was a poster
campaign that successfully intimidated the influx of
dot com industry, by threatening to destroy property.
It was also a major reason the struggle for housing in
the Mission was widely covered in the media outside of
the Bay Area.
One person who was arrested and accused of being
Nestor Maknho, the person behind the project, is Kevin
Keating. He is not an Anarchist. When asked about
electoral politics, he had this to say; “Electoral
politics is no use whatsoever to working class and
poor people and it never has [been]... You can never
vote the system out. [It’s] not just a waste of time,
but a mystification about the nature of capitalist
society. One good thing about the US among all the
negative ways that they lead the rest of the
industrial world; rate of police violence against
civilians, use of the death penalty, number of
children growing up in poverty… One positive way that
the US leads the rest of the world is the rate of
abstention from electoral politics. Even if all those
people aren’t actively fighting for a society worthy
of people living in it, they at least don’t have any
illusions about voting.”

When I lived in the Mission it seemed to me that the
number one thing deterring further white invasion from
hip areas of the neighborhood, to the areas that were
still relatively untouched by gentrification, were the
street gangs. Where I lived on 24th Street, it was
the Nortenos. Say what you want about gangs, but at
their most basic they are youth-oriented,
community-based, direct action groups that are not
afraid to make their presence felt. How is it that to
this day they continue to succeed where an Anarchist
and community led coalition slowly failed and
eventually disappeared? What can be learned?
Beyond Voting: Understanding Anarchism.


In Beyond Voting, some of the harshest criticism of
Anarchists’ involvement in community based organizing,
is from non-Anarchist, white activists who seem to be
expressing views based upon frustration from
experiencing Anarchists not hoping on the popular
bandwagon.


One such Bay Area activist is quoted; “I agree with a
lot of what I understand Anarchism to be, but I don’t
trust Anarchists. Every time powerful forces come
after oppressed communities with all of these
propositions, all the Anarchists I talk with say they
don’t believe in legitimizing the power of the state
because they won’t get their hands dirty in electoral
politics.
“Don’t you understand that the state has real power
over peoples lives? This is not a game that you get
to choose to play in or not. While you might have the
privilege to stand there ‘more radical than thou’,
most of us are fighting for our lives. Being ‘above
it all’ is not a choice. Then you complain when the
police arrest you at a civil disobedience and call on
me for solidarity?”

Her passion can be felt through these paragraphs, and
they are a very real critique of Anarchism. It is
also, unfortunately for Anarchists, one that is heard
echoed by many across this nation. The problems that
I see in this critique start almost immediately, the
statement that,“I agree with a lot of what I
understand Anarchism to be”, is a very encouraging
beginning -- as Anarchists tend to have trouble being
painted in a positive light -- but that sentiment is
followed up with, “but I don’t trust Anarchists.”
Where did we go wrong? Why is it that this is such a
common thread in activist / progressive / left scenes?

The reason we are given for the distrust in the
statement above is that, “all the Anarchists I talk
with say they don’t believe in legitimizing the power
of the state because they won’t get their hands dirty
in electoral politics”. It is here that we find our
first major conflict; the speaker does not trust
Anarchists because they are following their stated
political beliefs. I fail to understand why you would
not trust someone who follows though on what they say
they will do. It is no secret that Anarchism places
no value in a capitalist system, or government. Why
then would so many people be taken aback that when
push-comes-to-shove most Anarchists, true to their
principals, do not choose to participate in electoral
politics?

“Don’t you understand that the state has real power
over peoples lives?” We do. We also understand that
under no circumstance is the state going to give up
one ounce of that power without a fight. Did women
vote for the right to vote? Did Nat Turner vote to be
a free man, if only for a moment? Voting played no
role in the Roe v. Wade decision, though votes will
likely overturn those rights. The comments about
’above it all’ and ’holier than thou’, are more or
less hypocritical in this rant, but I do know, and
agree that we are all fighting for our lives.
The vote is an obsolete tool in that fight.

I can only hope that through information sharing,
debate, and, of course, direct action, examples can be
made that will reverse the trend of both activist
distrust of Anarchists, and Anarchists that feel the
need to bow to this pressure and go against principal
to try to gain legitimacy.

To counter this point, in Beyond Voting, Chris Crass
says, “I believe that our politics of non-engagement
in so many crucial struggles involving the state,
electoral politics among them, have in the end done
more to de-legitimize Anarchists than to de-legitimize
the power of the state.” This statement illustrates
clearly a lack of faith in the community around you to
see that there are other options than those presented
by the government. The best way to show others these
options is to use them ourselves.

The Lesser Evil is Not a Choice.

During our recent US Presidential elections the
american population, and youth in particular, were
bombarded from every imaginable angle with pro-voting
propaganda. Musicians, Hollywood stars, Puff Daddy,
Paris-Hilton, Eminem, MTV, and countless others were
all trying their damnedest to get us out to the polls.
One notable exception, Prince, released a new album
in 2004, containing the line, “Ain’t no sense in
voting, same song with a different name”, and harsh
critiques of the current system in almost every song .


Underground punk rock acts were able to get in on the
Pro-voting act too. Against Me! a political punk rock
band from Florida has said plenty of important things
in their music, including the track, “Baby, I’m an
Anarchist”. They were also part of the punkvoter.org
tour. With lyrics criticizing having “faith in
elephant and the jackass”, they took time between
songs to encourage us to vote.

This, no doubt, stemmed from a desire to see Bush
unseated from a position of power in the US, and
Against Me! and other punk bands were not alone in
that sentiment. The worldwide anti-war movement was
coalescing progressives and more radical groups.
People everywhere were upset and starting to mobilize
in record numbers across the country, and the world.
What the elections did was successfully interrupt and
shift the focus of the movement. Instead of being
against the brash imperialism of the United States,
the vision was narrowed to being against Bush. The
anti-war movement was all but forgotten, as organizing
for Kerry became the focal point of almost all
progressive groups.

The problem was, and still is, that everyone managed
to turn a blind eye to all of Kerry’s faults under the
overwhelming pressure to remove Bush, no matter what.
Kerry didn’t want to end the war. Kerry wasn’t for
same-sex marriage. All he was was not Bush.
That is not enough.

The quotes in Beyond Voting echo this, with the slant
of placing the plight of the poor on white activist,
instead of the policies of the Government; “White
activists need to be politically savvy enough to
understand how those little, narrow nuances, that
separate the candidates are not so little and narrow
to everyone.”
White activists should most definitely be aware of
the privilege they have, and that no matter how hard
they try, they will never actually understand what it
is to live in america as a person of color.

I do not know how exactly that translates to the need
to vote. I might start with trying to help provide
some of the things that the Government tries to keep
away from these communities. Instead of wasting our
time and resources canvassing neighborhoods for a
presidential campaign, we could canvas with
information about real women’s health options, and
which services were really backed by religious groups
with their own agendas in mind. That is only one
example of they things that could have been done, and
most likely were being done until the elections and
the voting push hit. We need to understand these
nuances and the effect they have on communities.
That brings us to the real and major differences
between the candidates on abortion rights.

Many believe that Roe v. Wade will be overturned
under Bush’s second term. This is a very real
possibility. It would effectively undo the last 30
years of gains in reproductive rights. While all of
this is fact, many people let the elections and
pro-Kerry rhetoric veil their eyes from the truth that
in most areas of the country women currently do not
have access to health care and abortion services.
Although things will not improve under Bush, in the
end, things are already bad for many women in rural
and poor areas, and have been. Kerry had no plan to
change this, so what would be the basis for radicals
or Anarchists to vote for him on this issue. Women’s
reproductive rights have never been at the place they
should be, under Democrats or Republicans. Under this
system.

Also in Beyond Voting, the creative suggestion is
made to offer to “vote for” people who cannot vote.
That is, for Anarchists to seek out prisoners,
undocumented workers, felons, or others whom the state
will not allow to vote, and offer to use “our vote” as
though it were “theirs”. This is an ambitious idea,
and I have to wonder, if you were to make such an
offer for example, for the recent 2004 Bush / Kerry
elections, and the prisoner/felon/worker you offer to
“vote for” asks you to vote for Bush, would you?
Would you honor your word? Would you vote against
everything you personally feel is right? Or are you
just using this marginalized person as an excuse, a
means to justify, voting?
Beyond Voting wraps up with a strong anti-Bush push,
urging “younger people to defeat Bush”, with sentiment
like, “I’m confident that we can use the anti-Bush
campaign to build our movement”.
Alternately and unfortunately, I am confident that
the anti-Bush movement has successfully used radicals
like Chris Crass and others from our movement to build
theirs, effectively taking all momentum from projects
nationwide that Anarchists had been involved in.
Things like clinic defense, police brutality work, and
fighting the advance of religious fundamentalism. How
did the Anarchists get duped by the government into
believing that working with the system was the answer?


In the end the election was not a chance to change
the world, realistically it was a contest about how to
rule the empire. Votes do nothing to move us away
from this empire. The voice of the people was again
marginalized. It is time to accept that electoral
politics are not where our class power resides. Four
years from now will we allow “Anyone But Bush”, (or
anyone else), again be the banner under which we
rally? Or will we try to realize the world that we
see in our hearts? The world that we should be
fighting for at all times, in every aspect of our
lives? I cannot see the progress to be gained for the
movement, or the working and poor people of this
country, by electing anyone to office. I cannot
accept that I, or anyone else that abstained from
this, or any other election, did the people a
disservice by not voting.
Because, unlike any politician, I believe in the
people.

-------------------
Footnotes:

1 Beyond Voting: Anarchist organizing, electoral
politics, and developing strategy for liberation, By
Chris Crass, is Clamor communique #42. It is the
focus of this essay. See
www.clamormagazine.org/communiques

2 From A New World in Our Hearts, (p. 98), a Love and
Rage anthology, that seeks to chronicle the groups
years as a Revolutionary Anarchist Federation in the
US. Though compiled with a bias toward one side of the
federations split, it is still a worthwhile resource.

3 Police profiling is not a new practice, but this was
fiercely and brutally demonstrated at the FTAA
protests in Miami, 2004. See www.illegalvoices.org for
more information.

. This sentiment is explained further (and better
than I could ever do), in the article Class & Race:
Burning Questions, Unpopular Answers, by
Fruittidrutti, in The Northeastern Anarchist, Issue 6,
Fall 2003.
www.nefac.net.

5 Anti-Racist Action was formed in the early 1990’s in
Minneapolis, and grew to an international network that
organizes against racism, sexism, homophobia and
christian fundamentalism. See www.arampls.com

6 Information about, and copies of this documentary
are available at www.whisperedmedia.org

7 Visit www.infoshop.org/myep/love_index.html for
further information about Mr. Keating and the MYEP.

8 From, Prince Musicology, 2004. Quoted lyrics are in
“Dear Mr. Man”. This is probably the most politically
charged album to be released this year. Prince makes
us proud to be Minnesotans

9 Visit www.punkvoter.org for further information.

Contact Information:

Northstar Anarchist Collective:
c/o Arise!
2441 Lyndale Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Email: mnacollective@yahoo.com

Federation of Revolutionary Anarchist
Collectives-Great Lakes Region:
www.frac.ws
P.O. Box 4502 East Lansing, MI 48826
Email: frac@mutualaid.org


---------------------------------
By, Dispencer, who is a member or the Northstar
Anarchist Collective in Minneapolis, and has been in
Anti-Racist Action since 1998. Accepted as formal opinion
of the collective.

(a response to Beyond Voting, by Chris Crass - Clamor
Communique 42)


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