Here’s an important message to CounterPunch readers from
Here at CounterPunch we love Barbara Ehrenreich for many reasons: her courage, her intelligence and her untarnished optimism. Ehrenreich knows what’s important in life; she knows how hard most Americans have to work just to get by, and she knows what it’s going to take to forge radical change in this country. We’re proud to fight along side her in this long struggle. We hope you agree with Barbara that CounterPunch plays a unique role on the Left. Our future is in your hands. Please donate.
Yes, these are dire political times. Many who optimistically hoped for real change have spent nearly five years under the cold downpour of political reality. Here at CounterPunch we’ve always aimed to tell it like it is, without illusions or despair. That’s why so many of you have found a refuge at CounterPunch and made us your homepage. You tell us that you love CounterPunch because the quality of the writing you find here in the original articles we offer every day and because we never flinch under fire. We appreciate the support and are prepared for the fierce battles to come.
Unlike other outfits, we don’t hit you up for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it.
CounterPunch’s website is supported almost entirely by subscribers to the print edition of our magazine. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads.
The continued existence of CounterPunch depends solely on the support and dedication of our readers. We know there are a lot of you. We get thousands of emails from you every day. Our website receives millions of hits and nearly 100,000 readers each day. And we don’t charge you a dime.
Please, use our brand new secure shopping cart to make a tax-deductible donation to CounterPunch today or purchase a subscription our monthly magazine and a gift sub for someone or one of our explosive books, including the ground-breaking Killing Trayvons. Show a little affection for subversion: consider an automated monthly donation. (We accept checks, credit cards, PayPal and cold-hard cash….)
To contribute by phone you can call Becky or Deva toll free at: 1-800-840-3683
Thank you for your support,
Jeffrey, Joshua, Becky, Deva, and Nathaniel
CounterPunch PO Box 228, Petrolia, CA 95558
In Defense of Not Voting
A week from today some of us will head to the polls and vote. Most of us won’t. Voter turnout has been declining so stubbornly since the 1960s that barely half the electorate votes in presidential elections, and only 36 to 38 percent does in off-year elections such as this one. Actual voters, in essence, are America’s newest, most powerful minority.
All controversies of the 2000 election aside, George W. Bush was put in office by just 25 percent of the electorate. Fewer than 23 percent of Floridians elected Jeb Bush governor in 1998. Fewer than 20 percent regularly put congressmen in office. The numbers frequently drop down to the 10 percent range for judges, county commissioners, school board members and city commissioners. This is no longer a representative democracy. It is a vote-owners’ association whose members tend to be richer, older, more educated, more conservative democracy’s equivalent of a gated community, with most Americans outside the gate. No wonder Republicans are in control.
Convention has it that non-voters have only themselves to blame. “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.” The dictum assumes that voters are more virtuous, more entitled to democracy’s spoils, than non-voters. But voting is neither a virtue nor a responsibility. It is a neutral civil right, like the right to marry, have children, earn a graduate degree. Not voting like not marrying or not procreating future taxpayers is a right of equal weight, a choice as defensible as the choice to vote. Both are exercises in freedom. To blame a citizen for not voting is like blaming another for voting for a crook. The blame is sanctimonious either way, suggesting the existence of an ideal voter out there, prescient and unfailing. No such voter exists, but the cult of the voter as superior citizen persists.
When Hollywood wants some gravity in a movie, it injects an English accent. When democracy’s missionaries need to give voting the weight of civic virtue, they inject some Aristotle. In both cases, the injection is more pretentious than accurate. True, in Athenian democracy, citizens were not only entitled to vote but to serve in public office, some of them judges in particular chosen randomly. But it was easy for Aristotle to argue that true citizenship is possible only through direct political participation. Greek democracy excluded women, slaves, the poor, the landless, the too-recently foreign, the unorthodox (who were exiled or hemlocked, Socrates-style), leaving a neat little club of white men to play politics.
Judges-by-lot and hemlock aside, America’s version of representative democracy, until recently, was virtually indistinguishable from Greece’s. When, say, the presidential election of 1840 officially drew an 80 percent turnout, actual turnout by today’s more inclusive standards would drop that figure below the dismal turnout of 2000. And 1840 was considered a banner year. So when it comes to voter participation, Aristotle has nothing to teach Americans. The American voting problem is its own to solve.
The Census Bureau analyzed the non-voters of 2000. Twenty-one percent cited a lack of interest in candidates or felt that their vote wouldn’t make a difference. Twenty percent said they were too busy or had conflicting schedules (an argument for making Election Day a holiday). Fifteen percent cited illness, and 11 percent were out of town. Seven percent had registration problems. Seventeen percent cited “other reasons” or refused to say why. The remaining 9 percent cited reasons as varied as the weather, inconvenient polling places, forgetting to vote, or transportation problems. Whatever the case may be, calling it “apathy” distorts the picture and misunderstands the non-voter. When the majority of Americans no longer vote, that majority’s voice speaks louder, in purely democratic terms, than the minority that is voting.
Those who are getting elected are not representative of the majority of Americans. (Do you really believe that Floridians as a whole are as rabidly and stiffly Republican as the Florida Legislature has been lately?) Those who are not voting are the voices that must be understood best if democracy is to work again. Theirs is less a reflection of their apathy than it is a reflection of the choices they are offered. Apathy implies laziness and ignorance. But I find it impossible to call the American citizen lazy when Americans are the most manic workaholics in the world. I find it equally impossible to call that citizenry ignorant when Americans are ridiculously and trivially over-informed. The fact that they choose not to be informed about politicians is itself the message: The politicians are too often the source of apathy. They are the uncompelling, ignorant, vapid, irrelevant variables in the equation, and they’re not variable enough, because they control their own gates.
Membership to that vote-owners’ association is a matter of money, that legal swindle euphemistically called campaign finance. One man, one vote is an ideal at a table rigged for high-rollers. If, as Benjamin Disraeli put it, “there is no gambling like politics,” one grand is ante for the game, one million is a congressman’s eternal friendship, a senator’s returned phone calls, a president’s earlobe for a few minutes. That cool million is also out of 200 million American voters’ league. The wonder is that 100 million Americans still have the heart to vote.
PIERRE TRISTAM is an editorial writer and columnist at the Daytona Beach News-Journal . He can be reached at email@example.com.