This is the quadrennial moment when I’m lectured to by friends and self-appointed champions of the American way that I am a lout because I refuse to vote in presidential elections. Not in this current one nor any in the past.
Some of my lecturers dismiss me as an addled purist with a tad too much idealism for this fallen world of compromises. Others say that if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain about the outcome. Still others — and now it gets mean — tell me that I’m a despicable ingrate who dishonors all those brave souls who risked their lives toiling for voting rights.
I wish I could vote. I’m told it produces a patriotic tingle, a feeling of joy that I am fortunate enough to live in a land where the little people have a say. When arguing against voting I know that I’m going up against semi-sacred bromides: We have a civic duty to make our voices heard, voting is a privilege. And the ever apocalyptic: This is the most crucial election ever. I’m aware that I might as well be making a case that motherhood is evil and apple pie is poisonous.
Three kryptonite reasons, however, keep me from lining up at the polling booth.
1) No matter who wins the presidency, the gears of the American war machine will continue to be energetically oiled from the White House. As a pacifist, I can’t in conscience vote. Presidents are sworn in by vowing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, a flawed document that sanctions violence. Article I, Section 8 and Article II, Section 2 spell out that the president “shall be commander in chief” and the work of Congress is to declare wars and raise money for the military. Voting means assenting to military violence — of late the killing of uncountable civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to the loss of life to American soldiers either by enemy fire or suicides — as a way to solve or manage conflicts. Modern presidents are more bombers-in-chief than commanders-in-chief, and with Obama, the Nobel Peace laureate, the drone bomber-in-chief. Voting assures that the United States will remain the world’s most martial nation, waging wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan that can’t be won, explained or afforded. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 judgment holds: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government.” And, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
2) The three presidential debates were rigged. Why were only Barack Obama and Mitt Romney allowed onstage, as if we have only a two-party political system? The rigging means that the Libertarians’ Gary Johnson, the Greens’ Jill Stein, the Socialists’ Stewart Alexander and the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode have no ideas worth hearing. It means that the evasions, lies and posturings of Obama and Romney go unchallenged by third party voices. Would the country be worse off if we had heard Jill Stein denouncing Obama and Romney for rarely mentioning the growing homeless population or the need to reform the nation’s prisons. Would it be worse off if Gary Johnson took on the sleepwaking Obama in the first debate for his failure to close Guantanamo? Would it be worse off if Stewart Alexander cornered Romney for calling 47 percent of Americans parasites?
3) The Electoral College might have worked in the late 18th century but it doesn’t now. We’re told that voters in some nine states — from Florida to Nevada — will decide the outcome. It could even be decided by the tally in one county in Ohio. Four presidents have been elected because they won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. People who vote are perpetuating a backward system that has little to do with honest elections. Those of us who won’t vote are refusing to be suckered into believing that presidential elections — highly bankrolled orchestrations driven by two candidates who over-promise and under-deliver — are democracy at work. In the October 20, 1956, issue of The Nation, W.E.B. DuBois wrote:
I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and will be elected despite all I can do or say.
Rather than pulling levers or filling bubbles once every four years, I prefer to vote everyday: by deciding where to spend my time and my money, by deciding what I can do to increase peace and decrease violence, by casting my daily ballot to get personally involved in efforts to make a difference. Little that happens on Election Day can alter my or anyone else’s moral obligation to do that.
The military is currently putting the breaks on the drive to war in Iran, says a former colonel and diplomat, but concerned citizens need to step up.
Two Iraqi peace activists discuss their commitment to peace and undoing the violence wrought by the last two U.S. wars in their country.
Waging Nonviolence is a leading publication on social movements around the world, and we’re looking to expand our coverage and work with new writers.