From the Editor's Desk
I've often called myself an anarchist, yet I have voted in just about every election since I was old enough. Here are some of my reasons: Out of respect for the work of the suffragists who struggled so long and hard to win women's right to vote, [and] the civil rights workers who gave their lives in Voters' Rights struggles. Because you don't gather power by throwing away the power you do have, even when it doesn't seem like enough. Because more than thirty years of political activism have taught me that the lesser of two evils can still be a hell of a lot better than the worser of two evils.
-- Starhawk, excerpted from Why I plan to Vote This November, October, 1998
At Peacework's Pat Farren Lecture on September 10, 2008, Frances Moore Lappé gave an inspiring talk, filled with examples of grassroots activists living democracy, interrupting cycles of violence, creating dialogues across difference, and creating alternatives to politics and economics as usual. There was only a brief mention of electoral politics.
When it came time for the question and answer session, though, almost all the questions involved how activists could defeat the US presidential candidate deemed the worser of two evils by most in the audience. I heard the fear, but I was concerned at many levels.
This presidential election has many of us in a tizzy. NPR did a story about people addicted to checking presidential poll data and electoral blogs. Despite my skepticism about electoral politics as a source of fundamental social change, I have to admit I could relate. I'm trepidatious about who will win the presidential election, and I fear for the very future of fundamental civil liberties.
However, I didn't want us to lapse into assuming that everyone in the audience favored the same candidate. I know we, in fact, didn't. No questioner mentioned alternative candidates such as Cynthia McKinney running as the candidate of the Green Party, Brian Moore with the Socialist Party USA, or Ralph Nader. There was no mention of the perennial Nobody for President campaign (because Nobody should have that much power). I know many of us are fearful that in winner-take-all electoral systems like ours the best is the enemy of the good (or of the less-bad). Yet, we need at least to consider the ideas put forth by third parties because they have often been the seedbed of ideas for visionary social change which later win the day (often when the ideas are coopted by corporate parties).
I'm also worried that we are in the middle of an election that could easily result in the demobilization of popular movements. If McCain wins, I'm afraid that many progressives and peace advocates will be demoralized. If Obama wins, I'm afraid that many activists who are now concerned about the direction this country is going will retire from the scene, believing that a new administration will solve these problems. I remember similar dynamics occurring after Reagan's victory in 1984 and Clinton's 1992 election.
I believe that whoever wins a majority of electoral votes will need to be pushed by invigorated social movements to make even small steps away from the politics of militarism, and from the economics of capitalist exploitation. Leadership for truly fundamental social change must come from below, it can't be legislated from above. As William Lloyd Garrison argued for most of his life, our job is to agitate and organize so that we change public opinion to such an extent that politicians of all stripes will come to us.
As Starhawk mentioned above, voting is powerful, but it is only one form of power. In her book Truth or Dare, she urges us all to develop our own leadership skills; to build organizations which are not leaderless, but leaderful.
Organizing takes leadership -- from all of us. No matter what happens this November, we can't afford despair. We can't afford complacency.
We have a world to transform.
-- Sam Diener, Co-Editor