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Third World Chicanery and First World Quiescence
Published on Friday, November 26, 2004 by
Third World Chicanery and First World Quiescence
by Ananya Mukherjee Reed

The week before the NYC protests, I wrote a piece for Common Dreams where I said that having no right to vote in the US elections, I felt I was being held hostage by middle America. Many readers from different parts of the world wrote to me in agreement. Today, that feeling has deepened, although I realise that about half of US citizens with the right to vote are also held hostage by their own government and by their fellow citizens.

It is now no secret that this electoral process was one of the most undemocratic and unfair in recent history. With widespread voter suppression and intimidation, if not downright fraud, there is little reason to accept it as legitimate. As instances of pervasive and systemic electoral irregularities have surfaced, I have often heard it being described as third world chicanery. Perhaps, yes. Who can deny that third world governments are corrupt and power-loving and have little interest in serving their electorate? But on the reverse side of that chicanery and brutality of third world elites are entrenched stories of continuous resistance wages by the disenfranchised masses of the third world. Thus, to many in the third world, the story of US elections appears as not only as one of third world chicanery, but also of first world quiescence. Why are there no largescale public protests against this election, even when there are excellent grassroots efforts which are attempting to challenge it? This is a question that many of us outside the US are asking, and answering all too often, in my view, too simplistically. This is the US, what do you expect, goes the typical refrain.

Yes, but: it is not true that there is no appetite for political action. I have heard, over and over again, the Ohio testimonies. It is absolutely unbelievable what American citizens had to endure in order to cast a vote. I have read every column by Palast, Fitrakis and Wasserman who have compiled amazing evidence about how the vote was stolen. I watched Dave Pentecost’s election day video. That kind voter disenfranchisement and downright intimidation is hard to believe. Why is election day in the US is not a holiday? Why must people risk wage losses to cast a vote? In Brazil it is mandatory to cast a vote. Venezuela is of course the most exemplary contemporary democracy, where the electoral machinery is fully able to reflect its people’s voice, just as democracies are meant to. By stark contrast, in the US the two main electoral actors seem to be the corporate media and computer manufacturers, both of which are clearly partisan entities.

The problems with this corrupt, privatized and highly defective electoral machinery came to light once in 2000, and again in 2004. Why is there no visible public protest? I tried to delineate an answer to perhaps this most puzzling, pressing and critical political question. I asked several ordinary US citizens; as well, I have scanned the now famous blogosphere (in which, if I could, I would spend my every waking moment). Here are some of the answers I have gotten so far. My intention is not to fault anyone, but rather to understand and to appeal.

Answer 1. “Nothing will happen. The issue is not the stolen election but American hegemony”. While I agree with much of this analysis, I can not help but feel that we will sink deeper and deeper into our sea of wonderful analysis while the rogue regimes will consolidate themselves by completely unethical means. Public corruption of this scale, implemented with the help of democratic institutions cannot be contested only with analysis; public outrage which focuses on the complete violation of those democratic institutions must be a major ammunition in this struggle. I have a very affirming story from India. Comprised mainly of peasants and rural workers and based in the village of Dev Dungri in Rajasthan, India, the MKSS, a grassroots organization, has pioneered the right to information movement in India. It is one of the best examples in the world of a grassroots movement that has been successful in demanding increased transparency and accountability in government. It is perhaps most renowned for its creative conduct of public hearings, which served as the platforms through which MKSS members and constituents first exposed corruption. Have they fundamentally altered the structural reality of neo-liberalism? Probably not. Have they successfully challenged power? Yes: and with no resources other than collective action and some remarkable leadership.

Answer 2. “Where is the leadership? I feel totally rejected by the DNC leadership. They have done nothing to help me have a voice in this process”. Of course if Kerry and Edwards asked everyone to join a national day of protest, we would surely have seen people out in large numbers. But there are others. I heard Susan Truitt, co-founder of CASE Ohio, Citizens’ Alliance for Secure Elections, announce that there is a rally in Ohio on December 4th. They are urging everyone to demand a revote and mourn for the death of American democracy.

Answer 3. “I have to work; I have small kids and aging parents. I have to work double shifts since my spouse was laid off”. This is the one they are counting one. The daily grind. Yet, there is reason to believe, if there was some leadership from people who are in a relatively better position to take on this fight, others would join despite their difficulty. This is why people stood in line for 14 hours to vote.

Answer 4. “Civil disobedience and peaceful protest….hmmm”: I have heard several people mention civil disobedience, although there is much skepticism. Can it work? I don’t know. Ask Medha Patkar of the Narmada movement, a mass protest that has been going on since 1985 with some very visible results.

Answer 5. “What we need is a revival of the anti-war movement”. For sure. But challenging the legitimacy of the war can no longer be separated from challenging the very legitimacy of the government which is waging the war. These two causes must now merge into one pervasive movement. As I write this piece, news is coming in as to how they are trying to block the Ohio recount, for which ordinary American citizens have raised $113,000 in a matter of days. While it is important that lawyers try to fight the legal battle, it is critical that the rest of us do everything to support those efforts, most importantly, to visibly voice our outrage.

While many Iraqis and many Americans mourn the death of their loved ones, it is but inevitable that the rest of America join them to mourn the death of their democracy. And when they do, would the global community join them? I do not know. I heard today that the Canadian government has joined the US government in rejecting the election results in the Ukraine. Perhaps the ordinary Canadians can join ordinary Americans in rejecting the election results in the US?

Ananya Mukherjee Reed teaches political science at York University in Toronto. She can be reached at


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