Daily Kos GOTV: Why Arguments Against Voting Fail
By David Swanson
One of the advantages of getting a master's degree in philosophy is not so much the mastery of anything but the experience of being encouraged to think things through while simultaneously being taught all sorts of nonsense that falls apart when you think it through. One day I was taught that there's no point in voting.
This was pretty basic science-envy from a discipline embarrassed to be found in the humanities. It was considered a mathematical point: your one vote could never decide an election, so there was no value to casting your one vote. Those who thought this through a little bit accepted that there might not be a value to your vote, but saw that there could be a value to all the actions you took before and after voting, including the example you set by going to the polling place and acting exactly as if you were going to vote. These actions could encourage more voting and more voting for your preferred candidates and initiatives. That encouragement could spread and become all-decisive.
But those who thought a little harder were forced to split with the scientistic rationality that started the whole discussion. If you were to behave exactly as if you were voting, then you would have to either actually vote exactly as you said you would, or you would have to become an excellent liar. And there is a value, of course, in not turning everyone into sociopathic deceivers, smart enough to put on appearances but too smart to actually follow through and take part in an activity and a duty shared with all and sundry.
Outside of academia I've heard a lot more reasons why voting makes no sense, amounting in essence to the notion that "it just encourages them." Now, I think activism apart from elections is even more important than elections and even more neglected. I think voting for the lesser evil can sometimes be a mistake. I think monitoring elections and conducting honest exit polls with which to check election tampering is just as important as casting your vote in our high-tech faith-based elections. I'm convinced that our election system is on its last legs, drowning in corporate money and propaganda, staggering into thuggery and fascism. But none of that presents a reason not to vote. In fact, failing to vote aggravates all such problems.
Sure, it makes no sense to vote just because people died for the right, if the right has become meaningless. Of course it's offensive to deify one candidate and demonize the other, picking sides as if you were joining a religion rather than choosing an elected representative. But there's a danger, just as in philosophy school, of being too smart for your own good. You don't have to hide the flaws in the candidate you choose to support. But you do have to support someone, and I'll tell you why.
a.. Because your activism, including in reforming the system, will be more powerful if you have voted.
b.. Because your monitoring of the fairness of the election must begin with voting in it.
c.. Because if the smart people do not vote, you know who that leaves to do the voting.
d.. Because only close elections can be plausibly stolen.
e.. Because there are enough good and decent people who fail to vote to swing every election in the best possible direction if even a fraction of them would turn out.
f.. Because there is a real value in not allowing things to get any worse than they have.
g.. Because elected officials will never believe you will vote them out if you don't vote.
h.. Because progress will not come from greater crisis but from greater space to maneuver in.
i.. Because if you think the Democrats made too many excuses when they had complete power and kept the filibuster rule in place by choice, you really don't want to see how things go when they don't have power.
j.. Because there's a Republican running for Congress in North Carolina who openly admits no regrets about shooting two innocent and unarmed people dead at point-blank range.
k.. Because our political events are turning violent and supporters of that violence are candidates for office.
l.. Because it's simply not true that "first they came for . . . " each group and no one spoke up; on the contrary, FIRST they were elected.
m.. Because whatever you think is more important than voting (I can think of 1,000 things) you'll have more success getting people to work on those things if you can honestly tell them that you voted.
n.. Because offering neighbors a ride to the polls can enrich your life.
o.. Because it's much more fun to complain about things together than it is at home alone.
p.. Because if you get five friends to vote and they get five friends to vote and so on, we will all be able to enjoy the immense satisfaction and hilarity of watching all the TV talking heads explain how all their predictions were wrong.
David Swanson is author of the forthcoming book "War Is A Lie," http://warisalie.org You can watch his election commentary on Tuesday on Free Speech TV.
David Swanson is the author of "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union"