I don’t know if the Diebold computer voting machines in my town will let me to write-in a presidential candidate come November. But if it is possible I’m voting for Emma Goldman.
It will be a symbolic vote, of course. Emma died in 1940.
Emma, the most important anarchist of the 20th century, has been my hero now for more than three decades. She was against mandatory conscription. She was an advocate of free speech, birth control, feminism, and union organization.
In 1919, Emma was deported after a raid conducted by the John Ashcroft of the day, A. Mitchell Palmer. As rumor had it, J. Edgar Hoover used her confiscated library and manuscripts to bone up on the radical Left. Goldman and her partner, anarchist Alexander Berkman, according to Hoover, were “beyond doubt, two of the most dangerous anarchists in this country.” So anxious was Hoover to get rid of Goldman and Berkman, he stood on the dock at 5 AM on the morning of December 21, 1919, to watch the Buford set sail for Russia carrying Goldman, Berkman, and 247 other foreign-born radicals. In short order Goldman took Lenin and his version of authoritarianism to task, especially after the massacre of the Kronstadt rebels in 1921. In the last 20 years of her life, Goldman lived in Russia, Sweden, Germany, France, England, and Canada. She never returned to America, except for a short lecture tour in 1934.
Emma didn’t believe in voting. “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal,” she observed.
In her famous essay, “Anarchism: what it really stands for,” Emma quotes Thoreau, who said, “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers, or backgammon, a playing with right and wrong; its obligation never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right thing is doing nothing for it. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”
Elections, Goldman knew, consist primarily of “wire-pulling, intriguing, flattering, lying, cheating; in fact, chicanery of every description, whereby the political aspirant can achieve success. Added to that is a complete demoralization of character and conviction, until nothing is left that would make one hope for anything from such a human derelict. Time and time again the people were foolish enough to trust, believe, and support with their last farthing aspiring politicians, only to find themselves betrayed and cheated.”
Both Bush and Kerry are human derelicts of the sort Emma described. Both represent more of the same — more invasions, more occupations and brutality, more economic inequality, more frontal assaults against workers and the environment, more authoritarian government.
In this election season, Kerry wants to out-Bush Bush by sending more troops to Iraq. Kerry is Clinton redux. He voted for NAFTA, the Patriot Act, and Bush’s invasion.
Bush, if elected or once again appointed, will simply continue his agenda — war, all over the place, an obscene increase in military expenditures, the dismantlement of social programs, and frenetic privatization (i.e., theft) of everything not nailed down. Say good-bye to old growth forests and the pristine Alaskan wilds (and Otero Mesa here in New Mexico, slotted for oil and gas development).
A second Bush term will ensure the destruction of more international treaties, more coups and CIA plots, and more concentration camps for an ever increasing number of “enemy combatants” (while Osama roams free). Four more years of Bush will guarantee a swift erosion of constitutional liberties in America (hello Patriot Act 2), more radical Christian Zionist madness in search of apocalyptic rapture, and continued denial of climate change and greenhouse gas asphyxiation, something even the Pentagon admits is real and catastrophic.
Tapping the Diebold touchscreen this November for either Kerry or Bush will be a vote for more mindless, arrogant, and fearsomely destructive patriotism.
“Patriotism requires allegiance to the flag, which means obedience and readiness to kill father, mother, brother, sister,” Emma wrote in 1910. “Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.”
In Emma’s day that “superiority” was imposed on Latin America and the Philippines. In our day it is imposed with technological efficiency on Iraq and Afghanistan.
As for Ralph Nader… forget about it.
Sure, Ralph takes on corporations, but has said little about American foreign policy. Instead of outlawing and scattering the IMF and World Bank loan shark criminals, Nader has proposed “a more enlightened policy” toward these mobsters.
“The US should rein in the IMF and World Bank, and demand that loans be conditional on human rights and labor rights records, social and environmental impact statements, and the providing of basic health and education,” declared the Green Party in 2000, a platform Nader endorsed. Obviously, the Green Party and Nader are seriously deluded. Reform the IMF and World Bank? Not.
The Managing Director of the IMF, Horst Köhler, and James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, should be prosecuted, not reformed. A small, uninhabited island somewhere in the Pacific is in order for these guys and their Wall Street co-conspirators, lest they be allowed to victimize more people in the third world.
As Emma knew, only direct action is effective against authoritarianism, not elections.
“Anarchism,” Goldman wrote, “stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage… Direct action against the authority in the shop, direct action against the authority of the law, direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method of Anarchism.”
Granted, writing Emma Goldman’s name on the ballot — electronic or otherwise — is a sorry excuse for direct action.
But somewhere on a government computer my name and Emma’s will be linked together. Maybe it will be coalesced with my Red Squad file, compiled around 1970 by the Michigan State Police for speaking and acting out against Richard Nixon’s war against the people of Southeast Asia.
It seems to make more sense than voting for Ralph Nader.
Or not voting at all.