… But real change requires action beyond electoral politics

By Peter Valelly and Stefan Aune

This article is not about apathy. Too often, skepticism about voting or the decision not to vote is seen as a withdrawal from political process, a failure to live up to one’s civic duty, or an expression of complete disinterest in the world’s problems. What’s implied in that viewpoint is that voting is the primary way to effect political change, the paramount political action. In fact, voting is in itself a form of apathy, a resignation to the idea that the system works and is unchangeable.

This article is also not about encouraging you to stay home on Election Day, it’s about encouraging and empowering people to take back control of their lives and communities. The idea that your vote is the only political tool you have explicitly serves those whose interests lie in maintaining an unequal society. Voting doesn’t threaten to change the fundamental injustices that benefit the ruling class at the expense of the majority.

By constructing an environment in which your vote is your “voice” people are stripped of the majority of their political power. If voting is your voice then your voice is rigidly controlled and serves the interest of those who have all of the power in our system. Taking back our political power can mean everything from organizing community co-ops, to placing your body in front of the trucks that ship depleted uranium to Iraq, to taking away the State’s monopoly on violence and refusing to let systems of domination be maintained and perpetuated. The point is that the value and importance placed on voting keeps people from realizing their own interests and those of their communities, and instead keeps us serving the interests of power, capital and domination.

When your capacity to vote becomes the currency of your potential for political action-which, again, is how we are encouraged to think of it-your identity is dissolved into the rhetoric of those who you are voting for and who control the language and ideas of mainstream political discourse.

The Obama campaign has realized this, and acted on it par excellence by launching the most contemporary, capitalistic, and corporatized campaign ever seen. When official campaign t-shirts alternately brandish artistic renderings of a candidate’s face or pop-culture references (see: “Barack to the Future”), you would think that the corporate logic of mainstream electoral politics would be obvious to everyone. But amidst the Barack fervor, even those who explicitly acknowledge that politics is nothing but spectacle and performance seem hesitant to acknowledge that their own act of voting makes them a player in the preposterous charade of the election.

But for all of the faith we might place in them, politicians cannot be held accountable for our failure to act directly against the problems we see in the world.

On Election Day, millions of people will flock to polling places around the country, go to work or school, go home, and watch for the next four years as superficial changes mask the static systems of domination and oppression which so many of us purport to oppose. But many of these people, including countless Macalester students, are passionate about seeing real change in the world.

If you count yourself among these people, take back your voice and start acting, fighting, creating, organizing and building. We can create communities that benefit everyone and oppress no one without the help of the leaders, political parties and bosses urging you to get out and vote.

Peter Valelly’10 and Stefan Aune ’11 can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.