If Voting Mattered, It Would Be Illegal. Really?
Emma Goldman’s often quoted point ‘if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal’ is popular among anarchists and others on the left disdainful of electoral politics.
But it’s worth thinking about a little . First, it has a white blindspot. When Emma said it, voting WAS illegal throughout the US South for large numbers of the most oppressed. Second, today in North Carolina, the Tea Party is again making it illegal for students at Black colleges to vote, not to mention the various voter ID scams the right is pushing across the country.
So what do we make of Emma’s statement in this light? Mind you, I’m not one to think we get to socialism BY ELECTIONS. But I do think, in this country, we must proceed THROUGH them to a considerable degree.
Organized voters in an organization THEY control is one element of power, as are most forms of organization our most critical means of empowerment. That’s why I often note that when it comes to power, organization-building trumps ‘movement-building’, not that you don’t need both.
Besides, we often need to vote for things less than socialism. Sometimes it’s for a positive, but limited good, such as the time I helped get ‘Out Now’ from Iraq on the Illinois ballot in 2006. It won in Cook County alone by over 800,000 votes, 81 percent of the total, and was a boost for the antiwar movement Other times it’s simply to block a greater danger. We have a terrible Tea Party governor here in PA, and we have a good chance to defeat him in 2014 with a centrist Democrat, Tom Wolf, who will do us less harm, and perhaps a few decent things as well.
I understand that the ‘system is rigged’ and largely corrupt. No matter. It’s the one we have and it’s where the battles are fought. We always face a deep choice regarding politics in this sphere. We can be among the objects of history. Or we can be among the makers of history. I choose the latter, but to do it well, you need to do more than vote, You need to build organization that will make a system that isn’t rigged, and in the future, will offer us a range of positive goods from which to choose.
So start with Step One. Register some new voters and get them to the polls in November. Defeat every Republican you can. Step Two, taking on backward Democrats, will come soon enough, and if you do Step One properly, you’ll have an organization to do Step Two WITH.