Posts Tagged ‘vote’

Well, here we are again. We have reached election day. The voting hour is upon us. It’s tick-a-box-and-consider-your-democratic-duty-fulfilled o’clock.

You might have already voted today. Or maybe you’re planning to go squeeze out a sneaky vote later. That’s fine. What you do in the privacy of a small booth with a curtain for a wall in a primary school or a church is your own business. I just don’t want to have this unnatural lifestyle of yours constantly crammed down my throat.

I’ve not changed my mind on this a great deal in the past six months, but the rhetoric over the importance of this democratic right may have become more obnoxious since the last round.

Maybe it’s the centenary that’s got everyone all a-flutter, but I don’t remember the memories of the First World War’s dead being abused so vigorously last time around in order to guilt me into doing what they supposedly died fighting so that I could do.

The average 19-year-old in a trench may or may not have had keeping UKIP out of the European Parliament on his mind, even more pressingly than praying he didn’t get shot by some other kid who was also only there because someone who’d been voted into office had told them to die for their country. But regardless, dragging up his sacrifice in an attempt to drag me to the polls fails as a coherent argument.

A cause isn’t rendered noble, nor a course of action obligatory, simply because some people died for it once. People died for the right to keep slaves. People died to kill thousands of others for the greater glory of God. Western democracy might be a more benign notion than either of those examples, but I maintain my right to my own moral decisions all the same.

Anyone still pushing this line should consider adapting it slightly for the next vegetarian they run into. “Hey, you should eat this hamburger. A cow *died* to bring you this. Its sacrifice will have been in vain if you cast this precious gift aside. You wouldn’t want to disrespect its memory.”

Also infuriating is the claim that it’ll somehow be my fault if I fail to vote and UKIP get in. Particularly when it comes from people who voted Lib Dem in the last general election and are thus equally responsible for the coalition they currently despise. Guys, I’m in that boat too; look how badly I managed to fuck things up when I did vote.

I’m treating this democracy like an angry wasps’ nest. You might be certain you’ve found just the right voting bat to thwack it with so that it’ll make things better and not release any furious insects this time, but I’m not going near it again in case I make it worse.

It’s a mathematically illiterate assertion, for one thing. And it hypes and over-prioritises the act of voting, as our one moment of political influence or social usefulness, to the point of fetishisation.

If the rest of our lives were as unimportant as some people imply whenever voting day comes around – if global politics, and people’s views on trade and immigration and economics, and the rules imposed on us which govern our lives, remained entirely unaffected by all our conversations, our protests, our discussions, our reading, our listening, our efforts to connect and engage with other people, outside of this one moment where you put an X in a box and select your favourite from the sanitised list of options prepared for you – then that would be incredibly fucked up and monumentally depressing.

Fortunately, it’s completely untrue.

If I have a political discussion with a dozen work colleagues, or if I post an infographic which gets retweeted to a few thousand people, and if just one person shifts from thinking “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, but this UKIP guy seems more down to earth” to “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, and that UKIP guy sounds like a bit of a twat as well”, then I have done as much from my computer as I will ever have the power to do at the polls.

If someone with a bit more clout changes two minds, then they’ve already had twice the impact of casting their own vote, by means of direct engagement and public interaction with other people.

There are other ways to get things done. If you’re going to vote, then vote, but stop acting like that’s the most important bit. Fucking talk to some people.

The bullshit idea of “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” also misses the point that I don’t want any of these people holding political power. I don’t want these authoritarian roles to be filled with better people, or for the least worst option to keep us safe from the BNP, I want them not to exist. We’ve had centuries to give this “just vote the right people in” thing a go and we just keep going round in circles.

The NHAP are enough of a shambles that if they had a candidate in my area, I probably would vote for them; they’re a one-issue party on one of the most important issues going, and I can see them doing more good than harm through the political process. Which is part of the reason they’re never going to sweep to power in their current form. (I say “shambles” in an entirely positive way, incidentally, in contrast with the well organised, highly efficient forces for evil they’re sharing space with on the ballot.)

But primarily, I object to the forced assumption that putting a small cluster of individuals, with a statistically implausible quotient of complete pricks, at the top of this particular power structure, with this particular set of checks and once-every-few-years-everyone-gets-a-say system of reshuffling things, is the way that anything should get done.

The part of the whole kerfuffle I consistently find most offensive is the constant insertion of the words “bother to” in between “don’t” and “vote”, when describing the behaviour of the substantial swathe of the population who remain unconvinced of their powers to effect meaningful change. As if the problem were solely located in the apathy at our end, and the predominant responsibility didn’t lie with the parties vying for our concession to their dominance, who repeatedly prove themselves inadequate to the task and fail to persuade a majority of us that they have anything to offer. (Blaming young people for their own disenfranchisement is especially galling. Never mind that you’re being ignored by all the major parties, they’re told; just bother to vote for some policies that won’t help you at all, and better ones will magically appear somehow.)

I’m interested. I’m engaged. I try to be involved. I could always be doing more. I have ideas to share. I spent an hour getting all this off my chest last night, aided by the fact that my wife’s on a night-shift and I’m alone in the house with a cat who prefers staring out the window to getting in my way for a change. I am not an apathetic, disinterested citizen.

But I reject your sole sanctioned method of political engagement, almost as vehemently as I reject the fanaticism with which you insist my part in society is effectively nullified if I don’t fall in line and make my protest known in this one regimented, authorised manner.

Voting is merely one among many, many ways for you to make a minuscule, barely perceptible effect on society’s machinations. Go for it if you like; it’s very unlikely you’ll hurt anyone. But stop fixating. Broaden your mind and try something else as well sometime. Not everyone has to be into your weird shit.

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There’s a lot to be said about Russell Brand‘s piece on political revolution, Robert Webb‘s response about voting Labour, and all the surrounding conversation, argument, and mudslinging which has abounded since.

I don’t have the articulacy or brainpower for most of it, but I’ll try bringing some of the highlights.

Political engagement is massively important. To live in the world as it currently stands, and to care a damn about national healthcare arrangements, or unemployment rates, or benefits fraud, or tax brackets, or education, or energy prices, or homelessness, or whether the council collect your bins often enough – to be paying attention to the goings-on of your fellow humans at all, basically – but to say that you’re “not interested in politics”, is, I think, simply to misunderstand what people are talking about when they talk about “politics”.

Politics has arisen, in part, from humanity’s collective efforts to work together, so that none of us is ever relying solely on what he can achieve alone with a pointy stick against the world. Questions of politics are questions of how we should treat each other in a way that best allows everyone to thrive. It defies human nature not to care about that, in some way.

You should absolutely be engaged with politics, proactively and determinedly and compassionately and with whatever energy you can muster. You should read books, read blogs, write blogs, argue on Twitter, share ideas with others and absorb their own, think about what makes sense, try to figure out what will work. You should attend meetings, go to marches, sign petitions, champion ideas, support collaborative efforts to achieve greatness, make a difference, change the world.

But don’t keep voting for fucking politicians.

Actually, that’s not quite right. You can do that if you want. But what you shouldn’t do is cast your vote, and then dust your hands off, decide that you’ve met your civic duty by being politically engaged when called upon, and kick back for another few years until you’re summoned once more to be relevant for as long as it takes to draw an X in a box.

What you shouldn’t do is act as if “voting in elections” and “being politically engaged” are the same damn thing. If someone whose every spare moment is spent organising rallies around worthwhile causes, but doesn’t want to actively support even the least worst option from the political parties available, is “less engaged” than someone who gets all their news about current affairs from ad breaks on Dave, but dutifully shuffles along to the voting booth whenever they get a card through the door telling them it’s that time of the decade again, and blearily puts a cross by whichever name looks most familiar… then your metric for political engagement is fucked.

What you shouldn’t do is talk about voting as if it were, not just a powerful way for the majority to hold the few to account, but the only possible way for any sort of progress to be made, and the sole definitive factor by which you determine whether a person is engaging with the system and trying to make things better, or apathetically and uselessly slouching around, avoiding all effort, and complaining without even trying to help.

I don’t think you need me to tell you all this, though, because really, you understand it already.

People who vote, and consider voting important, have been loudly in evidence this past week or so – but, in defending the practice, many of them seem to be massively overplaying the role that casting a ballot actually plays in their lives.

If you vote, I’m guessing you actually don’t just sit passively for the years in between elections, as suggested in my rather unfair caricature above. You probably do remain interested in stuff the rest of the time. You likely don’t consider ticking the occasional box to be the full extent of your involvement in democracy. Your political activism may, like mine, mostly consist of some angry retweeting of links to news reports, or complaining online about how terrible other people are – but even these are things you’re doing with your lives, which involve interacting with other people, and which wander well into the realm of “politics”.

Most of you don’t totally switch off and disengage from the political process, throughout the overwhelming majority of the time when you’re not voting for a slightly different set of supreme bastards.

So maybe voting isn’t the be-all and fucking end-all. Maybe there are a lot of ways to potentially make a difference, and there’s really no reason to limit your thinking to within the commonly accepted boundaries of how you’re expected to get involved. And maybe non-voters – those people who can’t bring themselves to even tacitly endorse the least unpalatable option from a limited buffet of shit sandwiches – deserve some benefit of the doubt that they might have other political things going on in their lives too.

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