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Why I Don't Vote

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I don’t vote. I have never taken part in an election and I never will. To many, the idea that someone who actually cares about what is happening in the world would refuse to vote seems incredible. The common sense of the democratic state tells us that voting is the way that we can change things and that those who don’t vote are apathetic. It has even been said that those who do not vote shouldn’t complain.

Why I don't vote

Vagabond Theorist

I don’t vote. I have never taken part in an election and I never will. To many, the idea that someone who actually cares about what is happening in the world would refuse to vote seems incredible. The common sense of the democratic state tells us that voting is the way that we can change things and that those who don’t vote are apathetic. It has even been said that those who do not vote shouldn’t complain.

But common sense often hides a great many unquestioned assumptions. This is certainly true with regard to the commonplaces about democracy and voting. I hope that by explaining why I don’t vote, I will expose some of these assumptions and raise a few questions.

If my refusal to vote sprang from apathy, obviously I wouldn’t take the time to write this. In fact my refusal to vote stems from a desire to live in a certain way, a way that requires a radical change in the social structure of our lives and the world. As far as possible, I try to confront the world in which we live in terms of these desires, acting toward their realization.

Put briefly, I want to live in a world in which I can be the creator of my life, acting in free association with others with whom I feel some kinship and whose presence I enjoy in order to make our lives together on our own terms. The existing social order consists of a global network of institutions that stands in the way of the realization of this desire. This network includes economic institutions, not just the corporations as such, but also the entire system of economic exchange, private and state property, and wage labor – the institutions of capitalism. It also includes government, law, the police, the military and the social bureaucracy – the institutions of the state. These institutions define the conditions of our social life, forcing us into roles that uphold and reproduce the institutional order. My desire to create my life on my own terms places me in rebellion against these institutions. If I find others with a similar desire and we join together in collective struggle for its realization, that is potentially revolutionary.

In order for the ruling institutions to exist at all, they have to take away our capacity to create our lives for ourselves. They do so precisely by directing our energy into activity that reproduces the institutions, and selling some of the product of this activity back to us. This theft of our life’s energy means that the social order and those who hold power in it are objectively our enemies, because they have made themselves our masters. This is why class struggle is an inevitable part of this social order. But subjectively, we become the enemies of this society when we decide to take our lives back as our own and begin to act on our decision.

Having made this decision, what would voting mean to me? First of all, let’s consider the kinds of choices that appear on the ballot. All of these choices can be reduced to two questions: 1) who do we want to rule us? and 2) with what rules do we want to be ruled? These questions themselves already assume that we should not or cannot be the creators of our own lives, that we should give our ability to decide and act over to others who will determine the conditions of our lives (or uphold those long since determined by the global social order) on the basis of pre-existing rules. But a ballot doesn’t even present these two questions in an open way that allows the voter to choose freely. This would be impossible since election officials couldn’t possibly manage to go through a series of essays in which people described what they wanted even within the limited framework of these questions. So instead we are given a few candidates to choose between for the various elected offices – individuals who want to exercise power over other people, whether for “the common good” or out of crass self-interest –and ballot measures on which to vote yes or no. The candidates and ballot measures are presented to us by professional politicians, people who have the time and money to determine the questions that they are willing to let us vote on. None of this will ever call the ruling order into question, since the electoral process itself assumes the necessity of this order.

So voting is nothing more than choosing which of the masters among the few on the ballot that the voter would prefer to be ruled by and deciding which of the potential rules presented on the ballot for managing this master/slave relationship s/he would like to see them use. Since the democratic process is based on majority rule (with a few notable exceptions, such as the use of the electoral college to choose the president), one’s individual “choices” will not, in fact, determine what sort of servitude s/he will experience. Instead, the “choices” of the majority (as determined by election officials) will determine this for everyone.

In short, voting is not taking action, nor is it taking responsibility for one’s life. It is the very opposite of this. When people vote, they are saying that they accept the idea that others should determine the conditions of their life and their world. They are saying that others should determine the limits of the choices that they make, preferably simplifying these choices into mere either/or decisions, quickly dealt with by a simple momentary gesture. They are saying that they would leave the responsibility of taking decisive action to others. In other words, those who vote are saying that they are content to leave their lives in the hands of others, to refuse the responsibility of creating the life they desire, to avoid the task of finding ways to directly make decisions and take action with others of their choosing that could lead to a real transformation of social reality. So every voter would do well to ask themselves if this is what they mean to say.

I want to make my life my own. I want to find others with whom to create ways to freely act together to directly determine the conditions of our lives on our own terms, without rulers or institutional structures defining our activity. In other words, I want to live in a world without masters or slaves. Therefore, I do not vote. Such desires could never fit in a ballot box. Instead I do my best to create my life in revolt against the ruling order. I talk with others around me about our lives and about what is happening in the world in order to find a few accomplices in the crime called freedom. And I act, alone when necessary and with others when possible, towards the realization of the life and world I desire and against the ruling order and the misery it imposes on life everywhere.

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Why I Don't Vote | 14 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Why I Vote
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 02 2010 @ 06:40 PM CDT

I agree with much of the writer's philosophical conclusions.  However, I do vote for that which I wish to see manifest on earth.  For example, I vote for same sex marriage (although I'm straight).  I vote for the legalization of marijuana (although I don't smoke weed).  I vote for Green Party candidates with an Earth First! background who represent "equal rights for all species".  And I vote for anybody I like.  I once voted for Peter Missing of the Missing Foundation band for prez, and Joanie Fritz (business mgr. of The Living Theatre) for vice prez.  I informed them of my support, and they sent thank you messages.  Voting is just another tool in the toolbox.  KEEP MONKEYWRENCHING

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Why I Vote
Authored by: Al Ligator on Tuesday, November 02 2010 @ 08:14 PM CDT

But not in the toolbox of those who do not desire bureaucracy, but instead want to experiment with & actualize our own individual & collective power.

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It\'s Not the Situation, It\'s Your Reaction to the Situation
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, November 03 2010 @ 12:47 AM CDT

Government and bureaucracies are a part of contemporary life on earth.  I'd rather react to this fact by participating in such a way as to make use of them to further the intentions of radical environmentalism and general peace & justice goals.  I understand that there is an inherent problem with associating with entities which are the cause of so much of the problem in the first place.  However, it's too much of an outside chance to rely on alternative culture and direct action alone.  I am for trying to get governments and bureaucracies to serve a higher purpose and simultaneously participate in a radical ecological agenda, even if this appears to be philosophically impure.  Whatever the outcome, as the Earth First! bumper sticker says: NATURE BATS LAST

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It\\\'s Not the Situation, It\\\'s Your Reaction to the Situation
Authored by: RekxDX72 on Wednesday, November 03 2010 @ 06:39 PM CDT

"I am for trying to get governments and bureaucracies to serve a higher purpose..."

You'll be trying forever, without success. The entire apparatus of GovCorp is organized to do a few different things, among them protect wealth and power, and give away just enough of that wealth to the "unpeople" to keep them from revolting. All acts of this machine serve these purposes, from war to media control to food stamps and Medicare. Social welfare programs, while doing some good directly, have the ulterior purpose of maintaining the current system through social control; i.e. keeping people from becoming radicalized. The public education system is part of this as well.

Your goals are admirable, and your commitment is evident, but voting accomplishes absolutely nothing. Don't get mad, organize.

If ever I become entirely respectable I shall be quite sure that I have outlived myself. -Eugene V. Debs < IWW.org >
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Why I Don\'t Vote
Authored by: gatanegra on Thursday, November 04 2010 @ 07:14 AM CDT

Come on, don't tell me that if you could vote on a measure that would either abolish or keep a certain government program like, free birth control for those with low incomes, that you wouldn't vote to keep it?

This attitude shows a blatant disregard for the reality of people's lives.

If I knew the revolution would happen tonight, then my views might be different. Unfortunately, I can't count on that.

As anarchists, we can go to the polls knowing too well the limitations of voting in this society. Yes, direct action/smash the state/eliminate bosses/equality, but sometimes this little act gives more than it takes.

Unless we're masochists, I guess.

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Why I Don\\\'t Vote
Authored by: Admin on Thursday, November 04 2010 @ 04:34 PM CDT

That's like arguing that atheists should go to church because "it only takes a few minutes" and you have a chance to make a difference because the church runs social programs.

Why go to church when you don't believe in their ideas and you can either organize your own social program or do things to challenge the system that causes poverty?

Anarchists are so few in numbers that if they voted, it wouldn't make a difference. Nobody from either of the main parties is actively courting the anarchist vote. So we might as well stick with our principles on not voting.


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Why I Don\\\\\\\'t Vote
Authored by: gatanegra on Friday, November 05 2010 @ 04:40 AM CDT

I am not sure how many anarchists there are or are not.

There are some things that anarchists simply do not (and cannot at the moment) provide widespread access to, birth control and doctors for example. As most people are not anarchists, but even if they are, I believe they will be counting on those resources. When those things are at stake, or laws that further criminalize the poor/commuities of color are being put to vote, then I don't see why anarchists wouldn't mail-in a ballot.

Life is already tough for many of us. Being reformist won't get us anywhere, but voting to make life a bit easier won't hurt anyone. It will inspire no one to take up or not take up libertarian ideas.

No one is saying you have to call your senators and try to get meetings with them and spend your efforts; this is simply about a vote.

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Why I Don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t Vote
Authored by: lettersjournal on Friday, November 05 2010 @ 04:12 PM CDT

If one believes, as you do, that the state can act in the interests of the working class (and that some strategies for managing the economy are preferable to others), one should be calling senators, running for office, registering people to vote, and participating fully in the political process.

One should not, however, confuse this belief and the actions that follow from it with a radical critique of society.

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Why I Don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t Vote
Authored by: veranasi on Saturday, November 06 2010 @ 01:10 AM CDT

"There are some things that anarchists simply do not (and cannot at the moment) provide widespread access to, birth control and doctors for example."


I think you are confusing access with politics. There is no political belief that provides access to anything. Anarchists, Democrats, or Republicans are participants in a social construct. Anarchism, democracy and republicanism are ways to maneuver that construct. It was once said that anarchists would not be able to provide airplanes. In Spain, they did. Goods and services are not invented and proliferated by political doctrine.

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Why I Don\\\'t Vote
Authored by: Al Ligator on Thursday, November 04 2010 @ 06:44 PM CDT

The whole notion of anarchism, that, at least I try to get across - is not an extreme form of leftism.

But a different fucking way of going about things.

To not continue to bother with reforms via voting. We need to build OUR power, not the career of some bureaucrat. In fact, if we do not fight the IDEA of bureaucracy, we won't get anywhere. I'm tired of people falling for whatever well-funded group comes along that has the answers, and tries to change things "just a little bit", because that gets us nowhere.

If we don't make a rupture with this way of life, we will get nowhere.

And by pushing for reforms, we refrain for pushing for - everything. In fact, that is what has killed so many beautiful ruptures, the idea of reform. Taking a volatile situation and placing everything back to normal. That is what we don't need.

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Why I Don\\\\\\\'t Vote
Authored by: gatanegra on Friday, November 05 2010 @ 04:54 AM CDT

I guess the immediate needs and pain of people concern me. We both know that anarchists cannot at present provide many of the things that the state/capital have control over. What do we say to people who are in need of services today? "Oh, organize horizontally, don't vote to keep those services, and possibly, depending on the result you had no say in, suffer through like a good anarchist?" Why is it liberal to say, "Organize horizontally but vote to keep those services that make your life a little easier"? I think being against reform (not reformism) expresses blatant disregard for the real needs of people.

Isn't that what we want in a libertarian society, anyway? The availability of resources?

We can also extend this to other laws, like those that increase criminalization of poor/people of color. No one is saying you have to campaign, just that voting may help people. It's not like they're getting the anarchist Word whether we vote or not, although of course, we should be organizing for that.

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Why I Don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t Vote
Authored by: lettersjournal on Friday, November 05 2010 @ 04:15 PM CDT

If you really believe that voting helps people, you should be campaigning for politicians and ballot initiatives instead of wasting your time with anarchism.

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Why I Don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t Vote
Authored by: Sean Combs on Friday, November 05 2010 @ 05:15 PM CDT

gatanegra, If I follow your argument correctly, you're saying that campaigning for issues, thereby personally, publically legitimizing the state as the appropriate mechanism for instituting reforms is the problem, but voting probably doesn't hurt anyone if you're voting on ballot initiatives to fund social services? If this is the case, I don't think that you should gtfo, forthwith, and cease to identify as an anarchist for your heresy, but I do disagree with you.

I don't think I'm alone in viewing social services, clean water, access to medicine and the other improvements to the material conditions of some sections of the working class, in the global north, as concessions from the ruling class, not the product of the good hearts of liberal statists. Concessions won by the organized, revolutionary movements, not by voting for ballot initiatives. While those concessions can translate into significant improvements in peoples' lives, how they are won matters. Similarly, how they are defended matters. Obviously, capital would like to see the elimination of even these minor hindrances to the 'free market,' but I suspect that using the masters' tools (voting) to defend them might prove to be a greater harm, in the long term.

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Why I Don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t Vote
Authored by: Al Ligator on Friday, November 05 2010 @ 08:57 PM CDT

Basically, it's a fucking joke.

Can I vote my friends out of jail?

Can I vote to keep the authorities off my back?

Can I vote to make rent this month?

Fuck, I need power in my life, and I have no fucking desire whatsoever to further some scumfucks career. I fucking want to organize with my friends to take power AWAY from these fucking parasites. I intend on making them as irelevant as possible when it comes to discussing about how we can get power in our lives.

People actually think this is not only A way to get some power, but THE way. It's fucking rediculous.

And until WE become a force worth reckoning with, people will always fall back on politicians instead of each other.

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