We have two great fears about Election Day 2004.
The first is that George W. Bush will be elected.
The second is that John Kerry will be elected.
Those fears are rooted in an understanding that the threats to global justice and world peace come not from a single person or party but from systems, and that no matter who is elected, those systems — empire and capitalism — remain in place. There is no hope for the long-term sustainability of human life on the planet if empire and capitalism are not replaced with more ecologically viable and humane ways of organizing political and economic life. And both Bush and Kerry are committed — by their words and deeds — to the maintenance of the capitalist empire.
But which of these imperial capitalist candidates takes office in January 2005 is not irrelevant. There are differences between the two, and some of the differences aren’t inconsequential.
Bush and Kerry are both pro-war candidates, in the case of Iraq and in general. Kerry voted to give the president authorization for the war and remains committed to continuing the illegal occupation of Iraq. Both pledge virtually unconditional support to Israel in its brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine. The two candidates’ hawkish rhetoric on Latin America and the Caribbean is virtually indistinguishable. And both Bush and Kerry are committed to continuing to spend more than $400 billion on an insane military system that has little to do with national security and much to do with the maintenance of empire and corporate profits.
On foreign and military policy, Bush and Kerry differ mostly in style and strategy, not fundamental aims. Much is made of Kerry’s commitment to traditional alliance politics, which some have pointed out would likely be more effective in the long term than Bush’s go-it-alone strategy. If Kerry rebuilds U.S. alliances with other powerful states, especially in Europe, it might allow the empire to continue for a longer period.
But one can also imagine the ideologically fanatical neo-conservatives who run foreign policy in the Bush administration taking risks with war and nuclear weapons that more moderate Republicans and Democrats would not. It’s important to realize that many in the global south who are working for radical change want us to remove the Bush administration, with no illusions about the pathetic alternative Kerry offers. It would be arrogant for Americans with left/progressive politics to ignore that.
On domestic policy, the differences seem more pronounced. No one can mistake Kerry or the contemporary Democratic Party as being pro-union, pro-environment, or pro-civil rights, but they are less overtly hostile to those issues than the reactionaries who run the Republican Party. The Bush administration’s eagerness to eliminate social programs and erode civil liberties, along with the theocratic leanings of some Republicans, should keep us up nights.
In short, left/progressive people who reject the U.S. empire can find reasons to vote tactically for the removal of the Bush administration, which means voting for Kerry in swing states. We can acknowledge that the Bush administration — the actual people in power and the ideology that fuels them — are scary, and that the rest of the world is scared of them.
But a Kerry administration will not mean a shift in basic policy, at home or abroad. It likely will mean a slightly less psychotic commitment to a system that is unjust and unsustainable. That’s why we’ve been saying that while Nov. 2 is an important date for American politics, Nov. 3 is even more important.
We work in a grassroots antiwar and global-justice political group (www.thirdcoastactivist.org). We intend to get up the day after the election and continue the work of educating and organizing within our community to make clear the horrors of empire. We’re going to keep talking about the atrocity-generating machine that is the U.S. occupation of Iraq, no matter who is in office. We’re going to keep talking about the need for a dramatic transfer of resources from the global north to the global south, no matter who is in office. We’re going to keep talking about how deeply rooted systems of white supremacy and male supremacy help bolster the empire, no matter who is in office.
In short, we’re going to come together with others in the anti-empire movement and keep at it, understanding that progressive social change happens through movements, not politicians. We’re going to keep suggesting to people that we face a choice: Either we dismantle the empire from within, non-violently, or we will watch the empire collapse through violence from the outside.
If Americans are truly interested in justice — in the simple plea that maintaining a world in which half the people live on less than $2 a day is wrong, that such disparities are evil — then we have no choice but to join the movement to dismantle that empire.
But even if we care only about our own survival, the choice is the same. On Sept. 11, 2001, we got a glimpse of what it will look like when the empire collapses from the outside. That is the future that Bush and Kerry are offering. It is a future that — no matter which one of them is in office — we can try to make sure does not come to pass.
Pat Youngblood is coordinator and Robert Jensen is on the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin, TX. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.