As millions of people around the world prepare for — or are reacting to the outcomes of — 2020 elections, some central questions for activists and organizers are: What is at stake for antiwar and antimilitarist politics? What kinds of violence are associated with elections, and who are often the victims? What prospects are there for advancing a peace agenda? And is any election anywhere free of interference, economically, diplomatically and psychologically, if not militarily?
In Mali, following a disputed election in March, people’s discontent with decades of neocolonial manipulation has led to a widely popular bloodless coup in August in which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was forced to resign by a faction of the military. Military leaders — who have received weapons and training from former colonial overlord France, AFRICOM, and other powers — are saying they wish to hand over power to a transitional civilian government. As antimilitarist internationalists, we wonder if such forcible intervention can in any way empower a transition to legitimate government, and we seek out the advice of Malian activists on what support they need to enable this to happen.
In Belarus, we are watching mass protests in response to the rigged re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, who has maintained power through election tampering, state censorship, and police crackdowns. But for nearly two months, the people of Belarus have come out strongly in support of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and recently held a “people’s inauguration” for her. Part of Tikhanovskaya’s platform is to free all political prisoners. Indeed, her husband who ran against Lukashenko in this election was imprisoned as a means to take him out of the race. Whether it’s jailing political opponents or taking away the voting rights of incarcerated people, carceral systems weaken democracy. What might a world without prisons do for the integrity of democratic systems?
Given the outsize role the United States plays in international politics, attention is sharply focused on the presidential election there where Trumpian politics have emboldened far-right actors in the country. In the midst of this year’s uprising in defense of Black lives, and wide calls to defund and ultimately abolish police, President Trump’s encouragement of far-right ideology has provoked police crackdowns and vigilante violence across the country — including the murder of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin by a 17-year-old far-right extremist.
Neither Trump nor Biden present strong prospects for antiwar and antimilitarist movements in the United States. Instead, we saw at the recent debate how both talked from a militarist perspective, evoking patriotism and the importance of armies, as well as calls from Trump for violent white supremacists to “stand by.” Both are dissatisfying candidates as their platforms only prop up, not resist, the root causes of war: racism, sexism, and all forms of exploitation.
However, Donald Trump’s brazen advances to undermine the election through his dismantling of the U.S. Postal Service and his refusal to transfer power if he loses the election pose a more acute danger to democratic rights in the United States. We have already seen Trump’s disregard for electoral processes reflected in his more aggressive policies toward other countries, like Venezuela. We are left with the question: which candidate can create an organizing landscape in which it will be possible to create the most gains towards building a society that has transcended war and militarism?
Indeed, we must also question the (il)legitimacy and violence implicit in elections held in settler-colonial countries like the United States, where many Indigenous communities live on unceded, occupied land. While some may use “free and fair elections” as the measure of a democracy, there always remains a question of free and fair to whom? Many Indigenous nations have alternative forms of selection, representation and governance that colonial societies have actively worked to destroy and replace with Euro-centric governance styles and systems. This fact raises the question of whether voting in U.S. or Canadian elections is an effective tool for exercising the collective political will of sovereign, Indigenous nations. More broadly, it is always important to ask who is excluded from democratic processes — the incarcerated, religious and social minorities, migrants and refugees, the economically dispossessed, etc. — and what sorts of violence sustains those exclusions?
War Resisters League Editorial Committee
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*We consider everyone to be either directly or indirectly impacted by war and militarism, as there is no one who isn’t touched by or part of the war machine. For example, if someone pays taxes in the United States, they are indirectly impacted by war through income taxes going to fund the Pentagon.
War Resisters is a joint page shared by War Resisters International and War Resisters League highlighting pressing antiwar topics of today. WRI is an internationalist network of antiwar groups struggling to end the root causes of war around the world. War Resisters League is an independent organization based in New York and a proud member of War Resisters International.
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