Nani Ferreira-Mathews is a Jewish-American author, journalist, musician, and activist of indigenous Hawaiian descent. She was an organizer during the most radical days of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City. Originally from Georgia, she now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of Birthright? Travelogue of an American Radical in Israel/Palestine.
I don’t vote. Shame me wildly and publicly.
It’s midterm election time. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you are fast asleep at the wheel of the sinking ship that is US society. There is a gubernatorial race in Maryland and there are more signs plastered around Baltimore City that read “Vote Democrat” than there are for the actual candidates for Governor. Once again, the Democrats are begging for party-pride on what’s been deemed another “vital midterm election.” It’s politics as usual, but in the age of Trump, more and more radical voices are joining in.
As this year’s midterm election approaches, even anarchists are heading to the polls, and many are doing so thanks to the logic of harm-reduction voting, which is the latest rebranding of “lesser-evil voting.” Seperate from electoral concerns, the harm-reduction philosophy has roots in the social justice movement for the rights of drug users. One of the movement’s main principles is the understanding that while drug-use is dangerous, it is inevitable, and that there are some ways of using drugs that are safer than others. Needle exchanges are an example of harm-reduction in practice. In line with this principle, some voters are choosing to enact their limited power in a an oppressive system by voting for the candidates they hope are least likely to fuck up the world.
I think most people would agree without much of a fight that so-called “representative democracy” in the US is a filthy oligarchy owned and operated by corporate/political interest lobbyists who somewhere at some point, paid for or manipulated your squeaky-clean candidate.
Actually, there might be some fighting from Bernie Sanders fans on this, but hear me out. On April 27, 2017, he and every senator signed a letter to the UN demanding an end to anti-Israel bias at the United Nations. That letter was sponsored by AIPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and demanded that the United Nations eliminate any committee that had any affiliation with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent Palestinian-led peace movement started in 2005 with the goal of ending international support of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
Yeah, even your boy Bernie caved to the lobby, selling out some of the most vulnerable and besieged communities on Earth in order to appease Israel, a nuclear power and apartheid state. And this week, Cory Booker (another member of the supposedly “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party) callously used the shooting and mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue as justification for his supporting the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. According to Modoweiss, Booker is “the first politician to use the killings of 11 Jews to take a racist position against Palestinian rights.”
I know what you’re thinking, “But the state of affairs now is more bleak than ever. I mean in Trump’s America he just signs executive orders all willy-nilly even if it’s unconstitutional.”
What about Barack Obama? Ya’ll loved him too, right?
In 2011, when American citizen Anwar al Awlaki was killed by a drone attack in Yemen that was authorized by then-president Obama, the question of “due process” and constitutional law became obfuscated. Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general, defended the drone attack that killed an American citizen, stating that citizens had a constitutional right to “due process” but that didn’t always mean trial by judge or jury. The precedent for executive power to kill US citizens without a trial was set by Obama and now rests the hands of our current president.
Moreover, Barack Obama dropped hundreds of thousands of bombs onto seven different countries (including two African nations) during his eight years as commander-in-chief of the US military. Like his predecessor Bush, an accurate death toll of Obama’s overseas military action has never been tallied. As far as I can see, Democratic voters have never considered holding their party accountable for these atrocities. And now they dare to ask for our support in the name of “harm reduction.”
When my peers repeat to me the now-popular mantra, “voting is harm-reduction,” I’m forced to ask: Harm-reduction for whom and where? If our idea of harm-reduction is endorsing endless war and mass-murder abroad for the benefit of more secure civil liberties or benefits at home, count me out. I didn’t buy into that argument when G.W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and I don’t buy it now. I believe it even less when I see Democratic politicians attacking the Korean peace process to gain anti-Trump brownie points.
In 1913 Mother Earth, a newspaper edited and operated by the anarchist-feminist Emma Goldman, published a short piece titled “Why Anarchists Don’t Vote,” written by French writer Elisee Reclus:
Everything that can be said about the suffrage may be summed up in a sentence.
To vote is to give up your own power.
To elect a master or many, for a long or short time, is to resign one’s liberty.
Call it an absolute monarch, a constitutional king, or a simple M.P., the candidate that you raise to the throne, to the seat, or to the easy chair, he will always be your master. They are persons that you put “above” the law, since they have the power of making the laws, and because it is their mission to see that they are obeyed.
To vote is befitting of idiots.
Over 100 years have passed since that publication and the pressure to mold our belief system to the squares of a ballot-box are stronger than ever. Shame and guilt are the primary tactics of voter mobilization by the Democratic Party today.
Despite the contradictions of harm-reduction voting, I can see some merits. While you won’t find me trying to change the system from the inside of a voting booth, some harm-reduction voters would argue that this method is the best-case scenario in our current political climate, and some comrades say that they only cast votes for measures and not for any actual candidates.
However, it’s important to remember that voting is in itself classist, racist, prejudice, and manipulated by those in power. Take the current voter registration drama in my home state of Georgia, for example. Brian Kemp, Georgia secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, helped to pass legislation last year that could delay voter registrations and purge voters from the rolls. This October, over 50,000 voter registrations for Georgia were found to be on hold in Kemp’s office, according to the Associated Press, and 70 percent of those on-hold were Black Americans. The state of Georgia has deleted or revoked thousands of voter registrations over the past year for a variety of reasons, the most popular excuse being voter inactivity in most recent elections. While the practice of voter purging has been criticized as a voter suppression tactic, it was decided by the Supreme Court in June of this year that the practice does not violate any federal statutes. That’s four months before the boogeyman Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. This nation isn’t experiencing a sudden increase of manipulation from political offices of voter manipulation and suppression, it’s existed long before this midterm election and will continue after the celebrations and defeats of the day.
One other practical reason that I abstain from voting is that once I register to vote in the state of Maryland, I would become eligible for jury duty. The great opportunity to hand down a sentence to someone who was racially profiled by the vicious Baltimore Police Department (which operates in a city governed by Democrats, by the way) is currently not on my bucket-list. But secondly, and more fundamentally, I refuse to validate the power of this system. As a citizen of this wicked country, I’m obliged to many things that I would rather not be, like holding a passport that defines the borders I am owned by in order to travel, or to file my taxes, giving money from my modest wages to the US imperialist war machine. These are small simple powers that I must continuously relinquish to authority in order to comfortably exist, but one I still refuse to give them, is my direct validation of their power. I refuse you my vote. You do not have my permission. Maybe one day I’ll take on a harm-reduction voting strategy, but rest assured, I will never tell anyone if I did and I will never post online a picture of myself wearing an “I Voted” sticker, saying how proud I am to have relinquished my control today.