Much controversy erupted earlier this week around a blog proposing that people don’t vote as a form of protest. Since it received prominent placement on FDL and generated over 200 comments, I assume that most firedogs are already aware of it.
The comment thread included some really excellent discussion on censorship and suggestions about comment moderation. I feel that those issues were thoroughly vetted in the comment thread, so I’ll skip them. I want to concentrate here on issues that received a lot less attention in the comment thread.
First, to not vote as a form of progressive protest is a terrible idea. It will advance someone else’s agenda.
Second, using a progressive web site to advocate not voting can be a voter suppression tool. Progressives staying away from the polls in large numbers is a Republican’s wet dream. If you really believe that low voter turnout threatens right-wingers (that they fear the electoral process will lose legitimacy if turnout drops below a certain threshold), then ask yourself these questions: Why did Republicans work so relentlessly to destroy ACORN? And why are Republicans enacting voter ID laws?
The author of the article claimed that by casting a vote for any candidate, you are lending an air of legitimacy to a corrupt and broken electoral process. I vehemently disagree. If I vote for Jill Stein, that means I am voting for Jill Stein– not for Wall Street or the corporation that owns the voting machines or the military-industrial complex.
Third, I think some fuzzy thinking entered into the comment thread. Things that are not the same were being equated. An excellent comment was made about the near success of a protest write-in campaign for a Senate seat in Colorado. As the comment thread progressed, I felt that this write-in protest was being treated as if it were synonymous with a don’t vote protest. It is not the same! A write-in campaign is an excellent way of lodging a protest against a corrupted political process and autocratic actions of the DNC. It sends a clear message. What message does not voting send?
Fourth, in politics or protest, make sure the message you send is crystal clear. Discerning the wishes of nonvoters is like reading tea leaves. If you fail to vote, you are leaving your wishes open to interpretation. The Democratic party has been thoroughly corrupted by corporate money. If large numbers of Democrats stay away from the polls, will the DNC read low turnout as disgruntled progressives or disgruntled blue dogs? The DNC will follow the money. They will lean even further to the right to increase their corporate contributions.
Fifth, more on the issue of equating dissimilar things. A boycott works when some type of monetary exchange has been taking place. Think of United Farm Workers and the boycott of grapes and Gallo, or the boycott of South African products before the fall of apartheid. More recently, threatened boycotts of Glenn Beck’s sponsors were also effective. An economic boycott is not the same as not voting. No payment is made to get into the voting booth. A failure to vote deprives no one of money. Let’s say, for example, the fictitious Acme Corporation sells candy bars and advertises (or I should say advertised, past tense, since the threatened boycott was successful) on Glenn Beck. The Acme Corp. also donates huge sums of money to ALEC and right wing House and Senate campaigns. If you are a progressive and you email the Acme Corp. that you will no longer buy their candy bars, they feel threatened. If you are a progressive and you announce your intention to not vote as some form of progressive protest, the CEO of Acme is giddy.
Sixth, sometimes when we are at a low point, feeling betrayed by Obama, and tired, frustrated, and discouraged–it’s easy to fall prey to manipulation. To convince ourselves that we are lodging some form of protest when we are really just giving up. Let’s face it, voting and getting out the vote is a lot of hard work. I’ll bet everyone here has volunteered on at least one campaign. It’s not easy coming face to face with a stranger’s hostility, because you’re interrupting dinner. And wouldn’t it be nice if there was some other way, like just boycotting elections? But you know the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
And finally, back to my first point– as we move closer to election day, don’t be surprised if you see more and more blogs and comments encouraging you to not vote as some form of progressive protest. Be wary, troll alert here. (I need to clarify; I no longer think that the posters of this week’s piece were trolls. But if a flood of don’t vote pieces hits FDL and other progressive web sites as we approach election, most of it will probably be from trolls.) Ask yourself, if you stay away from the polls, who benefits? Probably not you or any of the causes you believe in. You may think there’s not much difference between Obama and Romney. But if large numbers of progressives fail to vote, then what about races for folks like Alan Grayson, and local and state initiatives affecting progressive causes?
And if you feel that elections are rigged to favor the two-party system, then why not cast your vote for Jill Stein? It would have a twofold affect. First, it would send a message to the DNC that their base will continue to erode unless they become more bold and progressive. Second, it would help to build support for a third party.
But what is the most likely outcome of not voting? Some may see themselves as participating in a nonviolent revolution when they stay away from the polls and envision a seismic shift in American society. As for me, I see the Koch bothers’ mansions on election night. I picture them opening champagne.