This Parliament has risen, never to sit again in its current configuration. It’s entirely possible that Stephen Harper has had his last day in the House of Commons, with a string of polls showing the NDP surging into the lead nationally. And it’s the first day of summer, and it’s a beautiful day. Life is good, right?
And here I am sitting here, inside, agonizing over what to do on election day this fall.
See here’s the thing. I’ve got a dilemma. I fancy myself to be a radical (on which more later). And one of the ways that radicalness manifests itself is in me steadfastly refusing to vote. Figuring the electoral system to be a rigged game run by the wealthy elite to distract the masses from who controls the true levers of power, abetted by a captured media which reenforces the whole scheme by granting coverage and legitimacy only to those parties and platforms which exist within a spectrum acceptable to the capitalist class, rendering the possibility of transformative change through electoral politics effectively impossible, I have typically opted for “none of the above” in the past.
I’ve not voted, and I’ve spoiled my ballot, and once I voted for an actual party called the None of the Above Party. Last fall, terrified by the possibility of “Ford More Years”, I held my nose and voted for Olivia Chow as the least bad electable option in Toronto’s municipal election, for all the good that did, and let me tell you, it did nothing to encourage me to vote again. (My partner couldn’t stomach the notion and bailed at literally the last minute, leaving a confused elections official holding an unmarked ballot.)
But this year I’m thinking about voting.
And not, I hasten to add, because I’ve been convinced that it’s a worthwhile exercise. My doubts are still pretty severe. Nor am I thinking of voting because there’s a candidate or party which has captured my imagination and whose platform I wholeheartedly endorse.
No, I would once again be doing the voting-against thing.
Which isn’t usually a very compelling reason to vote, to be fair. But the party and the politician I’d be voting against are, historically speaking, among the worst we’ve ever had to contend with. As much as it’s a comforting thing for radicals to imagine that all politicians are the same, Stephen Harper is proof positive that they aren’t. There is such a thing as a lesser evil.
But it’s frustrating to contemplate all the effort and energy and money and media coverage that’s going to go into what’s ultimately a pretty meaningless exercise during the coming election campaign.
I’m speaking from a radical point of view here. By radical I mean that I aim for change at a fundamental level – as in the Latin origins of the term, meaning “at the root”. Radicalism is the contrary of small-l liberalism, which seeks to change society for the better through reform of existing systems. Radicalism rejects existing systems as being rooted in (variously) imperialism or patriarchy or white supremacy or plutocracy or some combination of all of these.
For someone coming to politics from such a viewpoint, there’s nobody to vote for. There is no party which champions, for instance, an immediate transition away from fossil fuels, or an end to the colonization and exploitation of indigenous peoples and territories, or an end to military imperialism in the Middle East, or the dismantling of the burgeoning surveillance state, or the total decriminalization of all drugs, or the dismantling of the fundamentally broken prison system, or the total eradication of homelessness and poverty, or even the greater involvement of the citizens of this country in decisions which impact their lives. All of these things, I need to emphasize, are achievable and affordable goals. But they aren’t part of our political discussion. They aren’t considered as serious possibilities.
And there’s a reason for that. None of those changes would benefit the political and economic elite of our society. People who advocate these policies don’t generally get taken very seriously by People Who Matter.
And voting for this party or that party isn’t going to achieve any of these goals. If any of them are achieved, it will be through tireless activism and advocacy, through mass movements, through civil disobedience on a large scale. These pressing goals are only achievable outside of electoral politics.
Which raises the obvious question: If we can’t achieve the changes we as a society need through changing the party in government, then does it really matter who wins the election this fall?
Over the next several Sundays, I want to dig into these questions: Is voting meaningful? If not, can it be? Is it worthwhile for radicals such as myself to vote for the least bad option, or is it better to refuse to engage with the process? Could voting become meaningful, and if so, how?
Next week, I want to look at some typical defences of voting – reasons to vote that I’ve heard time and again when I tell people that I typically spoil my ballot. I’m interested to hear what your thoughts are on this matter. Do you vote? If so, why? What does voting mean to you? I’m not closed-minded on this subject – if you think you can persuade me that I’m wrong, take a swing at it!
As of now, though, I’m leaning towards spoiling my ballot again.