Saturday, September 8, 2012

Voting for Fear

This season, I have been thinking a lot about the problems of voting. I tried to stay out of the bipartisan hack jobs of national representative politics this year, but that effort was entirely unsuccessful. I have been glued to my beloved NPR for my usual 2+ hours a day, watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert mercilessly, reading many magazines, feeling deep disillusion and annoyance. However, as an engaged citizen throughout our electoral process, I feel that I've come to a better understanding of why anarchists are largely white and male.

Most anarchist thought condemns voting for politicians as a useless activity that simply legitimizes the existing power structure. And the acclaimed Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul condemns voting as a morally repugnant assent to a most unChristian system of exploitation and abuse. On the whole, I agree with this concept. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are sold out to corporate interests, both encourage a militarized society, both work to spread American empire abroad. Obama, with all his hope and change, has done a variety of dreadful things. Romney is despicable for many reasons, most prominently his casual classism. By voting at all, do I legitimate this system, these people?

I'm not going to dignify Romney with a discussion of why no one who makes less than Raking It In should vote for him. But people have asked me specifically why I would consider not voting for Obama, and those reasons are compelling and deserve some restatement.

My first pure fury with Obama came from his contempt for teachers, who voted for him IN DROVES. In 2010, he voiced approval for a school board that fired all the teachers in a Rhode Island district because the students had bad test scores. He threw educators under the bus. His education plans for public K-12 schools include charters and other privatization efforts; indeed, Romney's terrible plans are not so very different from Obama's. The current President has defended college education a lot more vigorously than his opponents; but that's no excuse for not valuing teachers and ignoring poverty's role in preventing kids from learning.

Then there's the fact that Obama has an extra-judicial kill list, people that his administration has concluded are such a threat that the government can assassinate them wherever they are found without benefit of trial or due process.

Obama stood by and watched during the police brutality that closed down the Occupy protests. He could have defended our freedom of assembly and our freedom of speech; he could have decried arresting journalists and macing peaceful protestors. He could have not let the Department of Homeland Security coordinate police attacks. But he didn't do any of those things. Did his staffers try to use Occupy to generate votes for him? Yes, yes, they did that.

Under Obama, the surveillance state has pervaded more and more of our culture; the drug war has intensified; deportations have increased; the crimes of the Bush administration and Wall Street have gone unpunished; bailouts have been delivered to corporations and banks rather than to struggling human beings.

This whole campaign revolves around fear--both parties promise that, no matter how bad we are, you don't fear us as much as the opposition, do you? On all the previous questions, undoubtably Romney would make still more oppressive choices than Obama has. Romney found the only words that did, in fact, turn me back into an Obama supporter, and those words were Paul Ryan. Romney and Ryan are running on the fear of a multi-racial future, a fear that the government might distribute some wealth and privilege into the hands of non-white people and non-Christian people. Obama is running on the fear that the government will take away all rights from women and non-whites.

Because, really, this is all either of them have. Both are predicated on the idea that the State grants or removes rights and wealth; neither acknowledges the collective nature of property and resources; neither is running on solutions to problems. I happen to think that both are accurate about the nature of their opposition--Romney/Ryan really do want to take all rights away from the non-white, the non-male, the non-wealthy, the non-straight, and Obama really does want to grant certain capitalist rights to all those groups.

And yet the real story is in the omissions here. Neither party gives a rat's ass about the imprisioned--after all, felons can't vote, so why on earth would you pay any attention to their plight? Neither party seriously addresses ending the slow violence of poverty, hunger, and homelessness (although I do believe that Ryan's plans would increase all of those, and Obama would merely try to "manage" them). No one is defending labor rights or unions; no one is seriously addressing income inequality, or the irreal questions of money and debt. The illusions of capitalism and its continuous growth, its unreasonable demands on the environment, the moral and emotional poverty of consumerism--none of these are discussed or answered. Possibly because these are not problems that electioneering can address.

As to the third parties and alternative candidates: I think Ron Paul is a nut job and a discriminatory SOB who would encourage runaway control by corporations, but after listening to one of his speeches I did understand why some young people with political convictions similar to mine support him. Ending all the wars and foreign occupation, and decriminalizing drugs, would both do a heaven of a lot of good, probably more direct and immediate good than any of the ideas that either of the major candidate has presented. And Jill Stein of the Green Party is awesome, more awesome than a presidential candidate deserves to be (and my husband has a great strategy plan for maximizing votes for Stein while not endangering a defeat for Romney--Dems in swing states, vote for Obama, Dems who are not in swing states, vote for Stein--a solid plan all around).

But to return to the original issues, that I can see now why most anarchists are white and male--I think the coercive power of the State screws all of us, and more specifically capitalism as enacted through false democracy screws all of us, man, woman, differently gendered, young, old, working, non-working, white, non-white, straight, gay, bi, questioning, celebrity, marginalized, etc. This is not to say that white men are evil or that their privilege prevents them from struggling. Those privileges don't eliminate the economic suffering amd the degradations of wage labor and capitalist society. But this election will have no effect on the structural issues that affect all of us--and so I don't think that many white men's lives will change as a result of this election. We can but choose between racist, sexist capitalism and less racist, less sexist capitalism. The universal indignities will not change.

However, if I were to say that my life as a woman will be unaffected by this election, that would be a lie. On a very basic level, it is an assault on the consciousness of women to have our national leaders refer to rape as just another method of conception. Under the Ryan regime, I see having to form illegal underground supply chains for birth control--for any right over our bodies at all. I see more women cast out of politics for daring to acknowledge that vaginas exist in women, not in the abstract. I see our ability to insist on equal pay with men eroding; I see the minimal rights that all of us in less-privileged groups have convinced the State to give us disappearing. No candidates will address most of our problems, but at least when Obama speaks about women, I don't get so demoralized I want to die.

I will vote for Obama, but only as an act of self defense. Not an act of empowerment, not an act of hope or belief that he or the Democrats in general will change anything. Not the belief that he will stand up for most of my rights. Not even a belief that voting is moral. But simple fear of the opposition that is our motor right now. This is a tragedy. It is all of our tragedy, and we should all insist together that this is the last time that our basic rights will be bargained for an endorsement of empire and war and corporate control.