Take it from an old Lefty. Young or old, we are all political prisoners of our age. By this I mean our political consciousness is shaped by the weight of our years, and also by the experiences of our particular generation - its struggles, fears, aspirations, and assumptions.
Thus we respond differently to events, owing partly to our age and to the baggage of history we carry. I came to political consciousness during the Sixties. So, for example, the bill authorizing President George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq immediately brought to my mind the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, based on fraudulent intelligence, which authorized then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to expand the war in Vietnam. But for some older voters, that same resolution evoked World War II and Pearl Harbor. And for younger voters it may have carried no resonance at all.
Exactly how deep these generational fault-lines run was brought home to me powerfully at a recent “Democracy Uprising” rally held along the route taken by the group of fifty or so mostly young people who were marching the 250 miles from Boston to New York to protest the Democratic and Republican conventions and sing the praises of grassroots activism.
Local activists in the town of Willimantic, Connecticut had set up a temporary stage, gotten poets to read, and had a good band playing to greet the marchers - testimony to the ability of this gritty little mill-town to muster support for progressive causes.
I was taken aback, however, by those marchers who identified themselves as anarchists. When I asked a woman of about twenty whether she intended to vote in the Presidential election, she said “Probably not.” She saw no real difference between the two political parties.
Another anarchist, who said his name was Francisco diSantis, declared that the nation-state is intrinsically corrupt and evil. “By voting in national elections,” he said, “you are condoning a corrupt system.” Human beings function better in smaller groups, like this group of marchers, he observed. “Look at this,” he said, gesturing to the hundred or so people who had turned out for the rally. “We made this happen!”
“Well yes,” I said, “But others made it happen too, and most of us believe we can do things like this and also vote.” Voting, I pointed out, is only one part of civic life. A starting-point, but an important one.
Suddenly it occurred to me I was talking across a generational divide. My own assumptions, shared by many my age whose political passions were forged on the anvil of Vietnam, had blinded me to the possibility that young idealistic people like these - whose political memories went back perhaps only as far as the tainted 2000 Presidential election - might choose not to vote.
So this is what I want to say to young voters, whose idealism I share.
First, I couldn’t agree more: the nation-state is intrinsically corrupt. And the larger and more powerful the nation, the more imperial its reach, the more its machinations run contrary to democracy. The Athenians and Romans learned as much, and we are learning it first-hand in this country.
And yes, I’m disappointed that John Kerry isn’t more intent on getting us out of Iraq. I was appalled recently to hear him say he would have taken the nation to war even knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction. The truth is, I have never encountered a candidate for higher office whom I could fully endorse. But that doesn’t stop me from supporting Kerry at least conditionally. And my support doesn’t stop my personal struggle to get American troops out of Iraq, and to address the root causes of war.
To assume that the process of two-party politics is hopeless, and to therefore abandon electoral politics, is to feed the corruption. You may boycott the election, but it will be at the expense of other people. If politics is the “art of the possible,” then anarchism applied to national politics is simply wishful thinking. You may be sincere, but please understand it is an elitist position.
To those voters who feel too pure to cast a ballot in this hugely important election, I ask you to consider what four more years of George W. Bush will mean. Four more years of foreign policy driven by Halliburton. Four more years of foot-dragging on AIDS help in Africa (promised by Bush, but never delivered). Four more years of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Four more years of gutted environmental regulations and attacks on civil liberties. Four more years of the most cynical and corrupt administration in modern history.
You may be able to afford the price of your anarchism. But the rest of us cannot. Some will lose their health care, some their liberty, some their lives.
Get out and protest this idiotic war in Iraq, but get out and vote!
David Morse’s essays about Iraq have appeared in CommonDreams.org, Counterpunch, Salon and other online journals, as well as print magazines.