The Unbearable Emptiness of Voting

[This essay of mine was originally published at The Hampton Institute.]

Election season makes me feel like the kid who doesn’t have a stuffed animal on “bring your teddy bear to school” day. Everyone else has a favorite who they can tell good stories about and cuddle with, but I don’t so I feel left out. But then I remember that there are good reasons to resist getting pulled down by the undertow of elections.

Like cute stuffed animals, politicians make people feel good while having a marginal effect on positive social change. The main differences between stuffed animals and politicians are that 1) stuffed animals are actually cuddly, and 2) people don’t invest vast amounts of political hope and agency in stuffed animals. I recognize that arguing against what many people hold dear makes me kind of a grump, but I at least aspire to be one who is not stuck in idle criticism but is offering alternative ideas. The particular variety of grumpiness that I espouse is one grounded in grassroots social movements that focus on direct action independent of party politics.

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Democracy as the Grounding Value of Radical Grassroots Politics

(Featured image: “File:Murmure d’étourneaux.jpg” by Anne Jea. is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The US isn’t a democracy, but it plays one on TV. When election year comes around, a lot of video cameras point at politicians making speeches about how they’re gonna fight for you and your grandma. A paradise is promised and all you have to do is vote for them as a show of your belief in democracy and freedom. Then after the election is over, politicians go back to playing golf with CEOs.

In a world like ours, one with so many horrors and so much duplicity, it’s not hard to see why some people tire of hearing about democracy. But is there any other way to dream of a better world and move toward it than to get with others and decide collectively what is needed and how to get it?

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