Jodi Dean, whose work I respect a lot, won’t vote in the upcoming U.S. elections. The election, she argues, “won’t do anything but secure a false sense of connectedness from those who do vote to the oligarchy that continues to exploit us.” Mark Lance is agreeing with her that voting is the opiate of the masses, but thinks voting can still be useful.
I can’t vote, since I only live and work here; I’m not a citizen. (There are a few places in the U.S. where I could vote locally, though not federally, but the progressive bastion of Burlington, Vermont, isn’t one of them.) But if I could, I would. Here’s why.
If I thought we could get some of this [“schools where kids can learn, roads where we can drive, programs that can provide for the less well off”] by voting, I’d vote. I’ve given voting quite a few chances, though, and, get this, things are only getting worse. The more we vote, the worse it gets. Now this could be a correlation rather than causation. But if voting is what has gotten the criminals into office and given them the chance to plunder and exploit, then why should we think that voting will do something different?
Doing nothing would be better–especially if it became a mass strike.
Standing around would be better–especially if it became a rally or a march.
Jodi’s right that voting isn’t (usually) as good as marching, mass strikes, and all kinds of other ways to conduct politics. But criminals are no likelier to get into power by Jodi’s vote than they are by her staying home. They get into office in all kinds of ways: by preventing people from voting (happens all the time), by forcing people to vote (worked in the USSR), by encouraging cynicism so that people think their vote is worthless (then the criminals don’t even need a majority; Hitler, for instance, didn’t), by ignoring voting and just taking power directly (easier to do when people don’t vote), etc. It’s easy not to exercise one’s political options, especially if we convince ourselves that it’s useless to try. But that just gives the game away.
Voting is the last step in a long process: figuring out the priorities, talking to people, organizing, communicating, making sure the right people are running for office (or running yourself), supporting them so that they feel connected and indebted to you (and not to the oligarchs who’ll turn them into their criminal accomplices), talking to people you disagree with, etc. Maybe I should underline the last point, since it’s so out-of-synch with politics in the digital era. Talking, and listening, to people you disagree with.
If you haven’t been doing all of that, then you can blame yourself when there’s no one to vote for. If you have been doing that and then they still turn around and do the wrong thing, then you haven’t done enough yet. The system will continue chugging along on its own until it’s changed. Voting alone won’t change it (far from it), but giving other people more votes by your absence won’t change anything. You can rally all you want, but if political representatives feel no need to listen to you, they won’t. You can stage mass strikes, but if no one shows up, it won’t be mass, and it won’t strike anything. It’ll be, well, no different from (in Jodi’s words) standing around and doing nothing.
The most interesting political development that’s emerged in the U.S. in the last few years — interesting in a Lacanian kind of way (because it’s so bizarre and thrown the commentariat into such a tizzy) — is the Tea Party movement. Betcha they’ll vote.