Next Tuesday, millions of Americans will vote in the 2006 elections. But what do elections represent? Elections are a way to gain political power.
Elections are not the only way to gain political power. Mao Zedong famously wrote, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Other than elections and violence, there is an additional means to power: mass action.
For most situations, I think we can dismiss Mao’s opinion of political power as undemocratic. So that leaves us with mass action or elections.
The Democrats have been trying to convince people that not only should they vote for their party, but also that they should avoid other issues and focus their political involvement in the Democratic Party alone. The idea is that if the Democrats get into office, they will solve all of the problems created by the Republicans.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution is set up in a way that elections do not have the significance that they should. The Constitution creates an electoral system that favors only two parties. We need more choices. In this election, no party is demanding an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The message to people who want the United States to leave Iraq now: Vote Democratic because the party will be more effective at occupying Iraq.
On other major issues, the differences between the Democrats and Republicans are incredibly small. I would even argue there is a larger difference of political opinion within the parties than between the parties.
If elections are going to be an effective representation of the will of the citizens of this country, we need more access for third parties.
So, if elections in the United States are not an effective means to gain political power, we are left with mass action. Mass action is difficult, but has been effective. As a result of the mass action of the abolitionists, Lincoln was forced to free the slaves. The mass action of the Civil Rights era forced LBJ to sign the Civil Rights Act. The environmentalist movement forced the conservative Nixon to create the Environmental Protection Agency.
When people get involved in strong grassroots organizing, they force the government to listen to their issues.
The largest problem with elections is that they take the focus away from grassroots struggle. The Democratic Party has justly been called the “graveyard of social movements.” The Democrats co-opt a movement and bring it into the realm of electoral politics. Of course, this requires compromise on the side of the movement, which leads to its demise. This can be seen in recent history with the collapse of the anti-war movement in the run-up to the 2004 elections. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in opposition to the war, but by fall 2004, these people had been converted into foot soldiers for Kerry. Thus the anti-war movement lost a great deal of strength in order to support a pro-war candidate.
So on Tuesday, go and vote. Preferably vote for a third party. But ultimately remember that political power comes not from your vote, but from your action.
Chris Kok is a senior political science major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]