The Thistle Volume 13, Number 2: Sept./Oct., 2000.

Seize the Democracy

Many of the convention commentators attribute projected low voter turnout in the coming presidential election to the fact that the economy is doing so well and that we are in a time of peace. I have two questions. Is the “economy” meant to refer to the financial situation of only the wealthiest third of US residents? And how can regular bombing raids and a genocidal 10 year siege against the people of Iraq be considered a state of peace?

If you are like me, you find statistics tiresome and tedious. Nevertheless, this field of mathematics teaches us some important lessons. When we hear about the great booming economy, the people of the media can keep a straight face because they are referring to averages in wealth and income. And clearly, the averages have increased quite a bit over the last three decades, with Bill Gates pulling quite a bit of the weight of that average personally. Most of us have thought a lot about that classic of distributions, the bell curve. In this particular case, the average of the curve is also the half way point of the curve. If our wealth distribution were a bell curve, then half of the people would be doing better than average and half would be doing worse. In our grand economy, the wealth distribution is far from the normal bell curve, and it has gotten much more skewed over the last decades. In 1976, the wealthiest 10% of households owned 49% of the wealth with the remaining 51% of the wealth distributed (unevenly) among the remaining 90% of households. In 1998, the wealthiest 10% claimed 71% of the entire nations wealth. The typical US household clearly cannot be tracked by watching the average. So don’t let the corporate media pull that sleight of hand. The median is the half way point. Again, in the bell curve, the median and the average are the same point. In these deregulated days where corporate welfare conduits run heavy and the human welfare trough goes dry, we have seen the median wage drop 11% in the last three decades after inflation adjustments are considered. That means the typical, middle of the road US household is significantly WORSE OFF than they were thirty years ago. Perhaps the corporate media moguls and their hired mouthpieces didn’t pay close attention in their statistics classes. Or rather, they are paid to have just such lapses in memory.

The situation in Iraq is relevant in that both Republicans and Democrats have supported the overt aggression as well as the sanctions that have now claimed the lives of over 1.5 million Iraqis, most of which were children. As Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire observed, “Sanctions are the economic nuclear bomb.” Many people are under the false impression that food and life saving medicines are being amassed in Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The truth is that the vast majority of goods traded in the Oil-for-Food program are distributed directly by UN officials and it is US officials who restrict the delivery of life saving infrastructure supplies under the “dual use” claim. In fact, two of the Oil for Food program coordinators have resigned in protest of these sponsored sanctions. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded in an interview to whether she was aware of the deaths of hundreds of thousand of Iraqi children due to the US/UK sanctions with, “We think the price is worth it.” With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans? And the media is playing its rightful role by carefully guarding the silence about the impact of these sanctions as well as the continuation of bombing raids, both of which are in violation of international law. I feel sick when I think about how my country has made me complicit in genocide. So much for “never again.”

So, perhaps some of us stay away from the polls out of contentment. If this is you, all I can say is start looking past the corporate media cartel for your information and you will quickly see your contentment evaporate. But many of us stay away out of the sense of powerlessness we feel in pulling a little lever that seems to be connected to a corporate owned candidate one way or another. Both candidates support genocide in Iraq. Both candidates support the racist death penalty. Both candidates take massive campaign contributions from corporations who buy up influence on both sides of the aisle. Both support a Missile Defense System that is both technologically unsound and assured to usher in a new era of nuclear weapons stockpiling. Both derived personal fortunes from the not so environmentally friendly fossil fuel industry. Both define the economy as strong and support the rhetoric of neoliberalism. Both claim we have a budget surplus when in actuality, spending exceeds revenues when you leave out income from trust funds such as social security. Neither are concerned about genetically modified food. Both are steeped in the culture of politics as usual from childhood. Both support the WTO, NAFTA and FTAA and neither seem concerned about the increasing consolidation of corporate power. I don’t see much difference between these two rich white men.

Many point out the one difference which is the pro-choice/anti-choice split. While I, as much as anyone, would hate to see what little power we women have over our bodies eroded, a vote for Gore is no guarantee of safety as abortion access has declined to epidemically low levels under the watch of a democratic white house. We are supposed to hang it all on those four supreme court nominations. But don’t forget, it is the senate that needs to approve each nomination and it has been grass-roots organizing that has ensured the preservation of Roe v. Wade thus far.

So, you may well wonder, what difference voting can affect. This is where I ask you to look a little way down the road. Not voting at all could feel like a protest and a big “fuck you” to the powers that be, but in reality, the powers that be are happy evey time a discontent stays home on election day. Your silence is complicit with the corporate takeover that is currently in progress. A symbolic vote for a personal heroine or hero, past or present, would be at least a _counted_ NO vote, and the more of those the less credible the claim that we live in a democracy. Or better yet, you could throw your weight over to the greens to help build an anti-corporate alternative for the years ahead. 5% in the presidential elections will guarantee $12 million in federal funds for 2004. This is a hurdle that is well within reach. As the republican and democratic parties converge right of center, creating a growing, vibrant alternative is the only way to show that we won’t stand by and watch as every aspect of our lives are sold to the highest bidder. Clearly, spending 20 minutes on election day to pull a few levers is not the key to the revolutionary transformation that many of us are seeking and folks like Nader may be too centrist for our personal ideal. The opportunity that unfolds before us is to find a way to take the awareness sparked in Seattle when trade unionists, environmentalists and advocates for “developing” nations saw that they were fighting for the same things against a common enemy. When people make the connections between human exploitation and environmental degradation and how these both lower the quality of life for all of us, then we begin to why we have no choice but to stand up for each other. The Green party, with its inclusion of non-violence, ecological, and social justice principles, allows for these demands to be placed on equal footing. Not jobs at the expense of the environment, not environment at the expense of a living wage for all, and neither at the expense of justice. Building such a movement raises a lot of challenges. We can’t just stick with the issues that we feel comfortable with. We need to learn how to listen and hear about where we are needing growth both as individuals and as an organization. But being part of such a movement that uses every venue for voice, from the ballot box to the streets to the independent media is being part of the only force that ever makes history. Not through any one particular action such as a pull of a lever or a chanting in a street or handing out a leaflet or unlearning a historical lie, but through the net result of all of these actions acting like water to erode what would seem a permanent rock down to little grains that even the wind can toss about.


The Thistle Volume 13, Number 2: Sept./Oct., 2000.