Friday, February 22, 2008
Here we are nine months out from the election, and already the debate over the two remaining viable candidates has gone red hot. Whether it's the megabuzz generated by yesterday's New York Times story detailing McCain's financial, ideological, and physical relationship with a communications mogul's robobimbo lobbyist, or the intensifying rapture of Obamamaniacs enthralled by the platitudes, generalities, and bromides of his speech yesterday in Youngstown, Ohio, the level of excitement has reached an intensity that would appear impossible to maintain to the end of the electoral cycle.
Which is why we need a wiser head, like Howard Zinn's for instance, to remind us that the election really isn't as important as we might like to think.
In an op-ed piece in the March Progressive magazine, Zinn asserts that the election fever which currently has the country talking about little else "seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students."
Wake up folks. Barack Obama will probably be the next president, but he's not Jesus Christ. And he will never do what needs to be done, which is beat the money changers out of the temple (i.e., run the lobbyists out of D.C. at the point of a shotgun). Unless we force him to do it, that is.
Sure, I'll vote for him, and so will Howard, who says "I'm not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at (sic) certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death."
Much more important than voting is activism. Getting rid of one's car and not replacing it is a much more politically significant act than voting. And when your local Republican statehouse rep votes to cut food stamp benefits, if you're truly dedicated to actual change (as opposed to just the word) you'll be able to write a letter to that rep saying, "Yesterday I bought $100 worth of canned goods and produce and delivered it to Food Now. What have you done for hungry people lately, you mean-spirited bastard?"
"Let's remember," Zinn says, "that even when there is a 'better' candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore."
And he concludes, "Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens."