Sunday, 10 November 2013

To Vote or Not to Vote, Part 2: Voting for a Better World (without Voting...)

In my last post, I talked about voting in political elections- what it accomplishes and what it does not. In this post, I’d like to take the next logical step and offer alternatives to voting.

You won’t spend long as an anarchist before someone  asks you the question, ‘Well, what would YOU do?’ Sometimes, the question is justified. Radicals can be great complainers. When you truly believe that a system or organisation is so fundamentally flawed as to be effectively beyond repair- as most anarchists do about the present political system- people rightly want to know what you’d replace it with. Other times, the question is just a snarky way of trying to shut us up or prove once and for all that we’re bereft of any positive, constructive ideas. It becomes annoying when I begin to discern that I’m being asked- in a few concise sentences- to describe how I’d re-order the entire economic, political and social structure of a nation of over 300 million. That just seems a wee bit unfair.

The question, as well as the demand for schematics for how radicals would do things differently, in some ways attempts to make anarchism fit into other political archetypes that it doesn’t really have any interest in fitting into. It is Republicans and Democrats- or Tories and Labour or Fianna Fail and Fine Gael;  the political structures in all our countries- who put together plans for government and are ready to display how their policy would differ from their rival’s. The differences between all of them and the anarchists are that they are all preparing for power; anarchists aren’t interested in gaining power but in diffusing it, spreading it out, letting it grow where it didn’t grow before.

French anarchist and philosopher Jacques Ellul envisioned anarchism not as overthrowing the government but as- as much as is possible, anyway- ignoring it, keeping it in its place and resisting it when it oversteps its bounds. Such a conception sees revolutionary change not as a linear process, but as a parallel one. The revolution is lived outside of the current system as a witness against it and as resistance to it. It is not an apathetic ‘opting out’ but a conscious, radical opting for something else.

American anarchist Ammon Hennacy described the anarchism of the radical Christian as embodied in the person who ‘turns the other cheek, overturns the tables of the moneychangers, and does not need a cop to tell him how to behave…(Such a person) ‘achieves that ideal daily by a One-Man Revolution with which he faces a decadent, confused, and dying world.’

This is the revolution embodied in the person of Jesus, who saw no need to either participate in or to overthrow the Roman imperial system in order to sow the seeds of its eventual destruction: his vision of the Kingdom of God- love, peace, justice and the equality of all. The Kingdom of God was lived out in the midst of empire, oppressive power and violent and marginalising structures. By doing so, the empire and its values are exposed for what they really are- dehumanising, exploitative and violent.

It’s probably worth saying that the empire is never going to benignly allow this to happen. The revolution can be co-opted- as in the process by which Christianity was eventually made an integral part of the empire’s vision of oppressive power and violent and marginalising structures. The vision of the kingdom of love,peace, justice and equality for all has, with depressing regularity, been used to kill, exploit and marginalise. It’s not surprising. Catholic Worker activist Ciaron O’Reilly once described it to me thus: ‘It took them 10 years to ruin hip hip; it took them 20 years to ruin punk. They’ve had 2000 years to ruin Christianity...’

But out on the edges, often out of sight and on the margins, the radical message is always there, changing lives, making a difference and cheerfully undermining the powers that be.

What does that practically look like? What can you be doing on election day- or ANY day- instead of voting? Here’s some of my ideas.They can all be done if you decide to vote or not. But I’d argue that these actions will immediately make a larger and more sustained impact on your life and the lives of those around you than the tick on the ballot sheet.

- Join a food co-op. Co-ops provide yummy, locally-produced, inexpensive food to the community at low cost. And it’s a fun way to meet people!

- Donate blood. 94% of people don’t. And it saves lives.

- If you’re a parent, volunteer at your child’s school. Find out what they’re learning- and how they’re learning it.

- Volunteer at a homeless shelter, food pantry or soup kitchen. As governments continue to slash welfare for the poor in order to provide welfare for the wealthy, these places will need more and more help. You might be very surprised with who you meet...

- Write a letter to a prisoner of conscience. Very few people do and, having spoken to a few people who have served time in prison for their political beliefs, for war resistance or for reasons of conscience, communication and solidarity from the outside world are invaluable to those in the grip of the prison system. They’re inside for us; we’re outside for them.

- Ask your clergyperson if there’s anything you could do in your place of worship that would be a help to them. Then help them off the floor, seat them comfortably, get them a cold drink, and assure them you’re serious.

- Take an elderly neighbor shopping. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them around the house or the garden. Then help them off the floor, seat them comfortably, get them a cold drink, and assure them you’re serious.

- Go down to your local community centre and ask the coordinator if there’s any way you could productively donate your time. Then help them off the floor… Alright, you get the idea. But seriously, by subverting the idea of labour capital- the capitalist notion that human value is measured in how much labour can be gotten out of a person for the smallest amount of pay- volunteering your time for the common good is one of the most revolutionary of actions.  

- If you’re a small business owner, do something to promote your business. Commit to running your business ethically and equitably. Re-invest your profits into the local community.

- Look around your town or local area and figure out who is being marginalised or exploited and do your best to figure out why. Go meet them. Listen to what they have to say. Speak and act with them and on their behalf.   

- Play with a child. Volunteer at a children’s playgroup, nursery school or kindergarten.

- Plant a tree.

- Recycle, recycle, recycle. Earth depends on it.

- Join a Community garden, or simply plant a garden. Share your produce.

- Attend a meeting of your local town or city council or your local school board. Ask questions.

- Attend a meeting of your local Policing Partnership Board. Ask questions- LOTS of questions.

- Educate yourself. Buy a book that explores a serious issue and delve in. If you can, buy it from a local, independent bookseller. Having worked for an independent bookseller in the age of huge corporate booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, I can assure you that you have NO idea how pleased they’ll be to see you.

- Again, educate yourself. Sign up for a further-learning course or, if you have the time, the desire and the ability, do a degree. Use what you learn to help your local community.

- Join a public action group dedicated to an issue about which you care passionately. If there isn’t one, start one.

- Attend public demonstrations and protests. The powers-that-be either want us atomised and disorganised, sitting home feeling like a difference cannot be made, or co-opted into the political structures that they control. Taking to the streets lets more and more people see that people care about what they care about- and encourages them to get involved. And it’s a good way to meet people and find out what’s happening.   

- Head out to the shop and buy some fairly-traded coffee or tea. Make yourself a cup, sit back and enjoy. I mean, voters are going to accuse you of being lazy anyway…

Some will inevitably look at this list and think, ‘That’s IT!? That’s all? That all just seems like, well, common sense and good neighbourliness...’ They might feel disappointed that there is not more barricade storming, hoisting of flags over commandeered buildings or delivering speeches over seized airwaves. They are like the rich young official in the Gospel of St. Mark 10, who came to Jesus seeking the key to perfection and, when it was given to him- divest yourself  of the desire to acquire and own property, give what you have to the poor, find yourself in your underprivileged neighbours, follow the way of Jesus-   the biblical text says he ‘went away sad’. Many people drift away from the radical revolution in the same manner. When they realize that the radical Gospel revolution is about daily, ongoing empowerment and community-building- finding Jesus in each other, finding ourselves in each other, being Jesus for each other, viewing each other as one body, one community one people- they go away sad. It’s just not chic enough, edgy enough, glamourous enough… you know, RADICAL enough…

But we shouldn’t  allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion that social transformation is only to be found in the the spectacular and the monumental. At bottom, anarchism and radical Christianity are about empowering people, bringing people closer together, building community… and resisting those things that are tearing our communities apart- war, brutality, poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, disillusionment. It’s no accident that when a society starts drifting toward authoritarianism, the first thing to go is free association, free assembly and free movement. They just don’t want us in each other’s lives.

Who knows? You might get so involved in changing the world, election day might just come and go without you noticing it.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment