I’ve never opposed voting on moral principle. Of course, I oppose government on moral principle, but, Patriotically Correct mythology to one side, the notion that casting a vote has any meaningful relationship to controlling the apparatus of government is one of the more ridiculous lies that
representative democracies — that is, elective oligarchies — such as the United States government love to promote.
Defensive voting is not immoral; it’s a strategy. But strategies may be foolish. And if the last few election cycles have proved anything, they’ve proved that this is a strategy with no pay-off. No matter how many times you change out the party in power, the interests of power remain the same, and even when you win, you lose.
So I am boycotting the election today. I hope that you will too. I will not vote for any candidate for political office, Democrat, Republican, or other, no matter what promises they make, and no matter what party they come from. I do not support them as candidates, and I do not support the oligarchical political machine they represent. If the last few election cycles prove anything, they prove that power-plays beat promises every time. It’s not just a few radicals who have noticed that something is deeply wrong; it’s not just a handful of malcontents who know that we need a radically different direction, away from the insane and destructive Beltway consensus — away from this government’s wars, this government’s bail-outs, this government’s secret surveillance, corporate health-insurance cartels, PATRIOT Acts, runaway police powers, catastrophic economic policeis, shameless fear-mongering and constant, unremitting power-grabs. But people have HOPEd and parties have CHANGEd and if it all accomplished anything at all, it was only to prove that we’re never going to get anything but more of the same as long as we maintain a false hope in electoral politics. If what you want is social progress, there is no shortcut around principled agitation, grassroots social movements, community organizing, civil disobedience and direct action. There is no low-calorie political substitute for D.I.Y. social transformation. Elections and party politicking are no way to make a revolution. They’re not even a way to make small change.
No matter who you vote for, the winner is always the government.
For those of you who have been around here for a while, you may be interested to know that I recorded a brief interview this afternoon on agorism and electoral politics with Mark Edge from FreeTalkLive. The interview will be attached to the end of the podcast, which I’m told will be available late tonight. Due to time constraints on the interview, there’s a fair amount that I got the chance to mention but didn’t allow myself the time to follow up on; if there’s anything that you want to hash out at greater length, please do drop it in the comments and let’s talk.
Update 2009-10-09. [An MP3 of the 2009-10-07 show, with my interview included, is now available for download](http://media.libsyn.com/media/ftl/FTL2009-10-07.mp3).)
For those of you who found out about me, or about agorism, or about this website, through the interview, or the show notes, welcome! Let me take a moment to introduce myself. I’m Charles Johnson, also known as
Rad Geek. I’m an individualist anarchist, originally from Alabama, now living and working in Las Vegas. I am a member of the Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left, maintainer of several anti-statist web projects, and an occasional writer for The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty. If you’re new to the blog, or to agorism and individualist anarchism as a set of ideas, here’s some things which might give you some idea of where I’m coming from, and what I care about.
For an extended treatment of agorism, counter-economics, and what it’s all about — including its positive aspects, above and beyond its critique of electoral politics, you may want to check out this interview I recorded with Jason Talley of the Motorhome Diaries back in May:
For an in-depth discussion of counter-economics and direct action, and of the inherent limitations of electoral politics, see:
- GT 2008-01-26: In which I fail to be reassured
- GT 2009-02-07: Counter-economic optimism
- GT 2008-11-14: So you are in favor of personal money holes?
Among agorists, I’m a bit unusual in the extent to which I stress counter-economic that are either already-existing projects of, or else inspired by the historical examples of, and tied to goals traditionally associated with, the anti-authoritarian Left — including, notably, anti-statist radical labor unions, grey-market mutual aid networks like Food Not Bombs or LETS and other localized trading networks, black-market mutual aid networks like the Jane abortion network, existing feminist projects like the battered women’s shelter and rape crisis center movement, and existing social anarchist projects like CopWatch and the Anarchist Black Cross Federation. For some discussions of why, see:
- GT 2008-06-16: ALL I need to know about the Revolution is what I heard in Vegas
- GT 2009-05-19: Rad Geek Speaks: Motorhome Diaries interviews me on agorism and counter-economics (see the extended discussion beneath the video interview)
- GT 2004-05-01: Free the Unions (and all political prisoners)!
- GT 2009-06-12: In a freed market, who will stop markets from running riot and doing crazy things? And who will stop the rich and powerful from running roughshod over everyone else?
- GT 2008-06-12: Inciting people to rise against the government and reporting falsehoods about people being killed
- GT 2005-03-23: El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
- GT 2007-10-25: Radical healthcare reform (why free-market healthcare doesn’t mean corporate-provided healthcare)
- GT 2009-01-22: Roe v. Wade Day#36 (on Jane)
- GT 2008-10-03: Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin (on some general philosophical issues having to do with the connections between leftist community organizing and libertarian commitments to consensual society).
If you’re curious, I discuss my views on why I think that some more familiar forms of libertarian political strategy — such as voting for Ron Paul, or running nominally libertarian candidates for government office, or trying to lobby the state to act less statist, or trying to vindicate some less-statist reading of the United States Constitution in the courts, or indeed spending any considerable effort on teaming up in an ongoing, open-ended political party with minimal-statists — are at best futile, and often actively destructive of serious politics, at some length in:
- GT 2008-01-25: Take the A-Train discusses why I think that market anarchists should make their primary political alliances with other anarchists, not with Constitutionalists or minimal-statists.
- GT 2008-09-17: The statist
We don’t, GT 2005-09-17: International Ignore the Constitution Day, and GT 2007-12-28: A Higher Law Than the Constitution explain why I’m not a Constitutionalist, and why I think appeals to the paper Constitution are either useless or harmful to the struggle for liberty and the struggle to end war.
- GT 2009-04-04: The State of the Debate, GT 2008-02-25: I am shocked!—shocked!—to find that politics is going on in here! and GT 2008-09-10: The Stupid Campaign Season Distraction discuss problems with electoral politics, as a strategy, that I take to be built in to the structure of partisan elections.
And since the topic of Ron Paul, specifically, came up, and since, out of concern for time, I stated my views but did not spend long on elaborating them — and since, while we’re here, the miserable failure of Ron Paul’s single-digit primary showing is currently the show pony for the awesome potential of libertarian electoralism — it may be worth pointing to some more detailed discussion of what my problems with the Pauliticos are, or were:
- GT 2007-11-29: Res ipsa loquitur and the exchanges in GT 2007-12-04: We put the
Anarchy#2, GT 2007-12-11: Dropping the plumb line, and GT 2008-01-07: Paul Till You Puke probably provide the most thorough overview of my take on electoral Paulitics.
- GT 2008-01-10: Come out, my people, come out… discusses the end of the affair.
- GT 2006-04-05: Resistance is futile and GT 2006-04-09: Freedom Movement Celebrity Deathmatch discuss Ron Paul’s unconscionable assaults on immigration freedom and support for a border police state.
I suppose I could also discuss the even more miserable miserable failure of the Libertarian Party, and particularly of its recent strategy of mercilessly pruning away anything resembling libertarianism from the platform in order to advance the prospects for failed candidacies by ridiculous conservative tools, as in the recent Barr/W.A.R. ticket. But really, I am at the point where I think that kind of thing is really beneath comment. The Pauliticos may be wrong, but they have the benefit of being comprehensible. Not so, at this late date, those who still believe that serious political transformation is going to come about by means of the supporting LP.
From Ray Ybarra:
Someday children will be able to walk into a library and read about a period in history when thousands of migrants died attempting tounlawfullyenter nation-states. The children will be appalled to read in this history book that there was once a time when human mobility across borders was not recognized as a human right. In the final chapter of the book, they will read about how the oppressed and disenfranchised across the globe organized to demand recognition of what was already known in their hearts. The time to write that final chapter is now.
For two years, I tracked anti-immigrant vigilantes through the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border. I met migrants who had blood coming out of their noses and purple masses where their lips used to be. I came upon migrants who were drinking their own urine to postpone death and saw mothers carrying their babies through the scorching, unforgiving terrain. I cannot forget the faces of people who were walking for days simply to find a job. I met mothers whose children died of dehydration and spent countless hours trying to conceive of a solution to the human rights tragedy created by borders. After many discussions with migrants, from rural communities in Mexico, to the border, and in communities across the United States, I kept hearing the same phrase:Tenemos un derecho humano a cruzar fronteras,translated,We have a human right to cross borders.
Challenging the assumption that the rights of countries to regulate migration are superior to our rights as human beings to cross borders is long overdue. Now is the time for migrants and their allies to share their experiences, hopes, and aspirations, and to stop tailoring the discourse to sound appealing to the oppressors.
Past social movements provide examples of individuals asserting their rights despite immoral laws. Rosa Parks knew she possessed the right to sit anywhere on the bus. Before the passage of the 19th Amendment, Susan B. Anthony knew that women possessed the right to vote. Similarly, we must now turn to those who are most profoundly affected by immoral and inhumane immigration policies to lead us by example. Let us bury the notion that migrants are simply economic victims who need activists to be their voices. Every footstep in the desert can be considered an act of civil disobedience by visionaries paving the way for a movement for equality, liberty, and freedom. Migrants across the world cross international boundaries because they know that mobility is a human right. They have already provided the leadership—now it is time to identify followers.
Right on. My only caveat — the only thing that I’d want to change — is to suggest, instead of
act of civil disobedience, to view independent border crossings as direct action. Immigrants aren’t crossing borders in order to get arrested, or to challenge the morality of government border laws; they are crossing borders in order to find homes and jobs — to get the things they need in their lives, even without the approval of coercive governments — in order to render the destructive violence and stupidity of government border laws simply irrelevant to the lives that they lead. Not because political actors have been challenged to the point that they are no longer willing to go on enforcing unjust border laws, but rather because the actions of the immigrants themselves, and those who stand in solidarity with them, have made them unable to go on enforcing unjust border laws, even if they wanted to.
I’ve never given much of a damn about how many NLRB rulings the Wobbly baristas at Starbucks might be able to win; or about conventional labor politics like the debate among labor bosses and corporate bosses over card-check procedures for NLRB recognition. The reason I haven’t given much of a damn is that those sorts of things aren’t worth it. The NLRB is a rigged game, and a tool of the corporate State; it uses superficial privileges, illusory benefits, and the most rigid sort of regimentation to domesticate the labor movement, and to bury any potential for dynamism or for radical socio-economic change under red tape, paperwork, and politically-controlled rules of engagement. That sort of thing it is, increasingly, demonstrably ineffective; it’s also authoritarian, and ultimately founded on coercion. But, also, that shit is just boring. Why waste your damns on that sort of thing, when there are things like this to give a damn about — solidarity expressed through free market action, and fight-to-win unionism carried out through free association on the shopfloor, without the permission of bosses or bureaucrats:
WORKER DISCONTENT over Starbucks’ pay and conditions set the stage for organizing. In May 2004, workers at a midtown Manhattan Starbucks launched the SWU.
From the beginning, the company went all out to bust the union.We wanted to negotiate with Starbucks over our serious concerns,[Starbucks Workers’ Union organizer Erik] Forman recalled.But rather than sit down at a table with us, the bosses began writing checks to the union-busting consultants of Akin Gump and the PR flacks at Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm. They contracted Edelman to craft a facade ofsocial responsibility.
At first, workers filed for a NLRB election to vote on union recognition. Starbucks responded byusing its political clout to gerrymander the bargaining unit from one pro-union store to every store in midtown and downtown Manhattan,Foreman said.
The workers realized they couldn’t win, so they tried a different tack. Unable to go the traditional route to unionization via an NLRB election, they drew on more radical traditions—fighting back around wages, benefits and working conditions and recruiting baristas to the union without official NLRB recognition. As Forman says:
We’ve decided to go back to the basics of the labor movement. Workers organized unions before 1935, before we had arightto organize…In developing an organizing model that works in the service industry, we’ve gone back to the roots of unionism, opting for a strategy that putsdirect actionat the center. We’ve been able to spread because we’ve done something that business unions would consider unthinkable—we’ve put our organization entirely in the hands of rank-and-file baristas.
Forman said that the SWU emphasizes what it callssolidarity unionism—that is, the idea thatworkers are most powerful where the bosses need us most: on the shop floor. Our power as workers comes from our ability to withhold our labor, or interfere with the production process in other ways.
At the Mall of America last summer, workers confronted management about unbearable temperatures in the store. As Forman described it:
We had been complaining about how hot it was for years, but management refused to buy a fan or install air conditioning because it wastoo expensive.At the same time, our store was pulling in $30,000 a week.
One morning, four of my coworkers walked into the back room of our store and gave the boss an ultimatum:Will you buy the store a fan? Yes or no?He stalled….so my four coworkers walked off the job, got in a car and drove to Target, leaving the boss to cover the floor. He was livid.
About 20 minutes later, my coworkers walked back in with a $14 box fan. They plugged it in, wroteCourtesy of the IWW,drew a small blackSabotage cat[the IWW logo] on it, and enjoyed the breeze.
This left management with a choice. They could either remove the fan, in which case they would look like jerks. Or they could leave it there, as a monument to their own negligence.
To their credit, they did the right thing. Two days later, the district manager arrived with a $150 industrial floor fan. Two weeks later, they began installing air conditioning. This is the power of direct action. One week, $40 is too much to spend to bring the temperature in the store to within OSHA standards. The next week, management is spending $10,000 to keep the workers happy.
Direct action gets the goods.