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Smoke Signals from Portland, Oregon
Karmic Blowback and the Democrats
by SpArk

I remember spending the night of the 2000 presidential (s)election at a Nader campaign party in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We didn’t care what the numbers were — we knew we weren’t going to win — we didn’t yet know how long it would all drag on. We certainly didn’t know yet that the real story of the night was the intentional disenfranchisement of so many people, disproportionately people of color (disproportionate to the population, that is, not to what is believable).

I spent this election night at my job, working at the local natural foods co-op. We hooked a laptop up to the in-store stereo-system and played the portland indymedia coverage streaming over the web. They had publicized an 800 number and were taking calls from around the country. In between, they passed along the numbers as they came in, and discussed the greater issues — of the campaign, the candidates, and the nature of the system itself — in depth. This was not liberal coverage; no one was rooting for Kerry because everyone knew he is no one to root for.

Without having seen any corporate media coverage all day, I knew what I was experiencing was quite valuable. I knew that most people were getting superficial, horse-race-style coverage from the national networks, and that it would be difficult to talk to them later about the events because their perception would be so different. Many well-intentioned, educated liberal people still consume corporate media, and deny the devestatingly deleterious effects it has on judgement, perception, and emotional health. Classic addictive behavior. Later that night, I went to CNN to look up the state-by-state numbers because that was the only place to find them, but I steered clear of the stories and "analysis". I knew i would get sucked in if I didn’t stay away. And i know that remaining free is much more satisfying and enlightening.

But back to the real story of the 2000 race, which is also the real story of 2004: voter disenfranchisement, whether through fraud before, intimidation during, or electronic manipulation after ballots were cast. I don’t for a moment believe that Kerry actually lost the popular vote. Of all the votes lost — with partisan scrub lists, at-the-polls shenanigans over IDs, etc., and Diebold hackings, or just plain thrown out — a majority would undoubtedly have voted for Kerry and put him over the top. What happened was simple: last time, the Republicans stole it by the seat of their pants, so this time they ratcheted up their efforts and stole it big. They got away with it this time because the Democrats never called them on it last time. Instead, the Democratic leadership and their national support groups spent four years building the myth that the blame was with Nader. Considering who was disenfranchised, this lack of action was nothing less than Racist with a capital "R".

I remember Minnesota in 2000, when the facts emerged about the illegal casting off the rolls of so many voters. Some of us were damn pissed and wanted to take it to the streets. We tried to organize through the local Green Party network, with whom we had just been working intimately on the Nader campaign for months, but met immediate resistance from some of its leadership. "We don’t want to look like we’re supporting Gore," one of the organizers told us. But it’s not about that, we argued. "It’s 135 years after the Civil War and black people still can’t vote in the South!" I remember saying. To no avail. We ended up joining with a local anti-police brutality group to organize the Inauguration Day protest. Some of us showed solidarity with the local chapter of the NAACP’s rally to publicize the busload of people they were sending to DC for the protests on the 20th.

The resistance we met with the Green Party leaders was an echo of the Democratic Party’s refusal to make an issue of Florida. When Jesse Jackson started making noise, they called him off. When the Black Congressional Caucus sought support, it was rebuffed. Given a choice between fighting or ignoring a serious injustice, the Democratic Party leadership chose to look the other way (belated mentions near the end of this year’s campaign notwithstanding). The Party got what was coming to it on Tuesday when the number of disenfranchised and unrepresented voters grew in number, in just the right states.

The Democrats did learn one thing from last time around: don’t give the concession speech so early. "We’ve waited four years for this victory," John Edwards said, "so we can wait one more night." Unfortunately, they waited four years too long to help safeguard the right to vote for enough of their supporters, so the asset of having a majority of the popular vote is not in their hands. Without that, they can raise no serious challenge at this point, within the narrow confines they’ve defined for themselves. The time to raise a fuss about the use of electronic voting machines was during the vote for the Help America Vote Act, at the latest, and they passed it up. This is a classic case of making your bed and having to sleep in it. Though perhaps it would be more accurate to use a metaphor with a coffin. Imploding would be the decent thing for the Democratic leadership to do now, and let abler hands rebuild the party, if it is found to be worth saving.

After the inauguration protest in Minnesota in January 2001, those of us who had been protesting the theft of the election moved on to other isses and projects. It seemed like there was nothing to do, with no response from higher up. I still followed the stories as they emerged, especially Greg Palast’s excellent investigations into the nuts-and-bolts of the crime, and Bev Harris’ essential Black Box Voting exposures, but I did no more than read and write. I didn’t organize rallies or campaigns. That’s what was needed this whole the time, though — a wave of grassroots rage, sweeping across the country, that could have forced honest politicians of whatever party to put into place measures that would forbid such fraud by empowering private citizens and knocking down corporate chalatans. We know this didn’t happen, and that reflects, in part, the racism of people in the U.S. in general, and of white, intellectual liberal activists in particular.

Leaders don’t usually do the right thing unless they’re forced to. As was pointed out in CounterPunch, on indymedia, and elsewhere, it was a raw deal that Democratic rank-and-file made with Kerry: we’ll vote for you without making any demands of you, and be silent when you stomp on what we stand for. Kerry met little grassroots opposition from leftists; everyone was too afraid of Bush. In the four years after the 2000 coup, Democrats recieved little urging to restore rights to voters and reform crooked systems. The result is another stolen election, with even less room to wiggle.

Can Bush be forced to be better? After all, Nixon signed the EPA into law and pushed a few other progressive issues. That’s because he had to; the force from below was too strong to resist. Is Bush susceptible to such pressure? It seems unlikely, but i’d rather say, "Who knows" and "Who cares". That Bush might be the most dangerous person to inhabit the Oval Office is not meaningless, but it’s not the end of the world, either. The most effective ways of changing the world have always been bottom-up without rising too high. The co-op where we played the indymedia election coverage was started in 1970. Other co-ops started all over the country around then and in the early 70’s. A revolution to eat well and grow sustainably rose up, and is now mature and successful enough to be the target of corporate co-optation. No president in that time significantly helped or hurt the co-op movement. Nor has any president in that time slowed down corporate media consolidation or addressed homelessness. More and more, I feel we should simply operate as if the federal government is irrelevant and see if we can make it true. Build our own regional networks for food, media, energy, etc., and take care of ourselves. Run down the system by unplugging as many people as possible from it. It can’t run without our juice.

The more people see how much freer it feels outside, the better.

spArk works at a food co-op and activates for indymedia in the part of Cascadia temporarily known as Portland. Email: fellowtraveler@riseup.net