October 26, 2004 - One week before election day MIM and RAIL organized a "Don't Vote, Organize" educational event in Berkeley, California. The featured speaker was Kiilu Nyasha, former Black Panther Party member and author of several important anti-Amerikan elections articles. This event challenged the prevailing organizing trend among people considering themselves progressive, who are focused right now on getting out the vote to beat George Bush.
The flyer for this event focused on the 6 billion disenfranchised voters who live under Amerikan imperialist rule but don't get a say in the election. It also pointed out that some of the hardest workers in the United $tates don't get to vote because they are imprisoned or denied citizenship rights.
Publicity for the event was a challenge. Our press release was not printed or announced in the media that we usually count on for publicity. We can only assume this occurred because many people didn't like the "Don't Vote" slogan. A RAIL activist at a progressive prisons event was asked to leave because he was handing out flyers for the elections event and the organizers disagreed with the "Don't Vote" message. This is an embarrassing underestimation of the people attending the prisons event by the organizers who apparently think their audience is not smart enough to make up their own minds about revolutionary politics.
On the streets handing out flyers and putting posters up, we met many people who disagreed with our message. When we challenged these people, most offered weak arguments for voting, such as it's a "democratic right," without thinking about who is allowed democracy in the world today. When we tried to engage these people in debate, many would storm off uninterested in hearing what we had to say, a good example of many Amerikans' interest in real political debate.
One persyn responded to our e-mail announcement of this event writing: "No matter how disappointed you are with the choices you are given, encouraging people not to vote is unforgivable. And you must realize that to abstain is the best way to limit your choices in the future." MIM looks to history for an answer to this argument: history has taught us that radical organizations like the Black Panther Party disrupted the status quo more than voters did by taking to the streets and organizing. Their voices were heard far louder from the streets than they could have been choosing between imperialist candidates in the ballot box.
On the positive side, there was some favorable response on the streets, including at least a few people saying things like: "I didn't know there was anyone else like me out there." In the end, the event was well attended and the participants were very involved and willing to have their ideas about the value of voting challenged.
A RAIL speaker at the event summed up our message on elections by noting that most people in this country benefit from imperialism, which is why they'll vote for an imperialist. Democracy is the majority rule of those allowed to vote. For instance, if there were a vote relevant to indigenous land rights, the First Nations would be depending on large sectors of the settler society to vote in their interest. It also means that most oppressed nations (Iraqis for instance) don't even get the facade of being able to vote for the next amerikan president who will make life and death decisions for their nation. The comrade also pointed out that voting is not insured, and neither is democracy. If conditions changed and the majority of amerikans did oppose imperialism, imperialists would take back the voting rights for citizens of the united $tates.
After introductory comments from RAIL, Kiilu Nyasha spoke for a few minutes outlining her arguments about the failure of electoral organizing in Amerika and then opened up the event for the audience to challenge her. Kiilu noted that voting is a traditional tactic for activists but that is has failed to bring any progress towards the kind of system she is fighting for. She focused on an argument developed in her essay "No Politics as Usual, Part I" attacking the "Anyone But Bush" line that many Amerikans are using to support voting for the "lesser of two evils." Kiilu did a good job of pointing out that Kerry and Bush are practically one and the same, from the amount of money they've spent on their campaigns to their support of the invasions of Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq and Palestine.
MIM has much unity with Kiilu in the battle against imperialist elections (and many other revolutionary struggles). But one area where we disagree was brought out in her argument that if elections worked in the majority's favor in the U.$., voting wouldn't happen. In this case, and elsewhere, Kiilu referred to the majority of Amerikans as disenfranchised and un-represented by the government. While MIM puts responsibility for the status quo on the shoulders of the imperialists we also see the role played by the petty bourgeoisie (the majority of Amerikan citizens) who imperialism is benefiting and who do their part to support the system. Kiilu helped us to illustrate this point by stating that we are all benefiting from the exploitation of the world's people. She went on to call for a global minimum wage, a demand that MIM has also been putting out for years.
The audience provided sharp and insightful questions to challenge Kiilu and MIM. Below are paraphrased questions and answers.
Q: Why must we pick organizing or voting?
Kiilu: We must collectively stop voting for evil. We must stop selling it to the rest of the world, stop endorsing it. The People need to organize revolutionary globalization (global minimum wage, etc.). Amerikans are living on the misery of the world. We should be demanding global minimum wage because outsourcing is already happening and has been happening. In addition, the electoral college stops the people from having a vote. The Framers set it up that way. They wanted to give smaller states more power, knowing that the population would change. It was a guarantee against people having real power. One persyn does not equal one vote.
MIM: And even if it did, it wouldn't be democracy due to the Amerikan empire. For a representative democracy, all people controlled by Amerika would have to be able to vote (un-coerced by military or economic dominance), including all undocumented immigrants, prisoners and Third World people living under Amerika's occupation.
Q: How do we change things?
Kiilu: Strike and boycott elections. Don't endorse war mongerers. Don't endorse the evil empire and gross disparities in wealth. The bottom line is that I can say with a clear conscience that I didn't put any of these dogs in office.
Q: What about the fear of losing the toehold on wimmin's rights or gay rights?
Kiilu: Only 20 states have equal rights for wimmin and nothing has been ratified to the Constitution. We're not demanding what we need. We don't have health care, we have no proportional representation. We need to demand universal health care, universal education like in Cuba, affordable on-site childcare, housing, energy. All utilities should be 'People's utilities'.
MIM: We also need to recognize that Bush and Kerry are practically the same on questions like gay marriage. If we want to make progress towards greater equality within the U.$. we would be much more effective fighting from outside the system than voting for one imperialist clone or the other.
Q: How can you say to boycott the vote but get government funding for education?
A: I didn't say get government funding for education. We need to organize our own schools. Children grow up with distortions and we need to organize a new system for our own needs. The slaves did it. Taliban wimmin had underground education. We do have power, we can do it ourselves.
Q: Do you advocate military containment for human rights abusers?
Kiilu: We need to dismantle the military. Set the example, since we have the biggest arsenal. We should be a government for good, set a good example, export help. We could, if we stopped being imperialists.
MIM: Amerika is the biggest humyn rights abuser.
Q: If we don't vote, someone will win. There's still some difference. Don't you think Bush is worse?
Kiilu: Quoting George Jackson: "[...] An electoral choice of ten different fascists is like choosing which way one wishes to die. The holder of so-called high public office is always merely an extension of the hated ruling corporate class. It is to our benefit that this person be openly hostile, despotic, unreasoning. We are not living in a nation where left-wing parties hold eighty out of two hundred seats in a congressional body....This is a huge nation dominated by the most reactionary and violent ruling class in the history of the world, where the majority of the people just simply cannot understand that they are existing on the misery and discomfort of the world." (George Jackson, Blood In My Eye p 71-72)
Whatever we do, policies will stay the same, regardless of who wins. Kerry wants to double special forces in Iraq. I would rather deal with a Southern cracker than a Northern racist.
MIM: Also keep in mind that Kerry pushes for imperialist unity. Bush is rupturing imperialist unity and revolutionaries can take advantage of that. There are reasons why Bush may be better for the international communist struggle.
Q: What about local elections and propositions?
Kiilu: Propositions haven't changed anything. Who is orchestrating our movement? The wealthy. The bottom line is that they set the parameters. Propositions don't demand what the people need. We get caught up in details, yet nothing changes for the People. They don't address problems of the People, they ultimately line the pockets of the rich.
MIM: We don't say never vote. We agree with Kiilu that it is just a strategy, not the goal. But for propositions and more local level elections we need to carefully test each issue and candidate. If there is an anti-imperialist benefit to one that is winnable, and if there is no pro-imperialist detriment, we can mobilize around winnable stuff. For MIM an example of this is Proposition 66 in California which would reduce the number of people behind bars due to the Three Strikes law. It is far from perfect, but will be objective progress for the criminal injustice system if it passes.
In between the question and answer session above, a MIM speaker addressed a few points raised and moved the discussion towards what we should be doing instead of organizing around the vote.
First the speaker pointed out that we think the government in this country does represent the majority of Amerika, primarily white Amerika, because all citizens of this country are benefiting economically from the exploitation of the Third World. This means we have a material interest in imperialism and what the imperialist candidates for president represent. Of course reforms within the system, such as national healthcare and education, are fine to demand, but first we need to demand a global minimum wage and a redistribution of profits back to the Third World people from whom they were stolen.
This point underscores why we don't agree with voting for a Third Party candidate like Ralph Nader. Nader still supports imperialism, he just wants to reform within for those already benefiting. In fact, he's an open capitalist: "The trouble with corporate capitalism in the United States is that there is a lot of capital but very few capitalists." So for those of us who see imperialism (the highest stage of capitalism) as the underlying problem, we can't vote for a candidate who supports it.
There is one remaining option for participation in the elections: MIM could run our own candidate. This would certainly address all of our complaints about the positions the candidates are supporting. But it would be sending people out to fight a losing battle, because there is no chance we could win the presidential election with an anti-imperialist candidate in a system where the president is just a figurehead for the imperialists running the show. Using elections as a platform for education is a good thing, but as we are demonstrating with our "Don't Vote, Organize" campaign, we can do that without telling people to vote. And tactically speaking, we seem to have gotten much more attention with slogans like "Fuck the Vote" and posters saying things like "Amerika Votes, as Always for Terror." Our experience with this campaign has proven that we are speaking for a solid percentage of the population who have no interest in voting.
The MIM speaker went on to describe some suggested activities that people could do instead of voting. Rather than talk about how to spend that hour that was wasted at the polls, the speaker stressed that we are really talking about people needing to do more than just cast a ballot every four years. We need to fight back every day because the imperialists are attacking the world's people every day. We need to challenge ourselves to do big things. Fight the system, don't just walk away. The only just battle is on the side of the People. It won't be won tomorrow. You have to be anti-imperialist. In the belly of the beast, we have a little more freedom and access to resources, we need to use them.
Possible tangible ways to get involved in the anti-imperialist fight include participating in education campaigns by writing for or distributing MIM Notes, putting up flyers, and holding public events. The movement needs artists, writers, and people who can do web work. People can get involved directly in specific campaigns or topic areas like our fight against the criminal injustice system. The speaker described ways to join our work corresponding with prisoners and our campaigns to fight censorship in prisons and to shut down the Security Housing Units. The bottom line is that there are as many ways to get involved as there are ideas we can come up with. What we need are dedicated fighters to join the struggle to bring down imperialism.
One question that came up from a few people was how can we avoid getting discouraged. Especially the white members of the audience wondered aloud whether they should just crawl into a hole and feel guilty. MIM pointed out that the majority of the world's people is actually on our side, and that's why we need to think and act globally. And although we may be benefiting from imperialism by birthright, it is our choice whether or not we use those benefits to help tear down imperialism.