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Voting vs. Direct Action

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					Voting VS
Direct Action
Voting VS
Direct Action   from “A Community Non-Partisan Voters’ Guide” published in 2004
                                                                                                          Given that our lives and our world are occupied territory,
                                                                                                          that relations of struggle and competition exist on every
                                                                                                          level in our society because once introduced they tend
                                                                                                                                                                          Folk Music d.i.y. punk rock and hip hop and
                                                                                                                                                                          techno music, pirate radio, drum circles, demonstration
                                                                                                          to replace other relationships: everything then depends         chants and songs . . . The demystification of the role
                                                                                                          on whether we can find ways to reappropriate our own            of musician—the realization that anyone can create
                                                                                                          creativity and productivity from this cycle, and thus           an aural environment, that anyone can shape the
People in the U.S. are preoccupied with               cuts out the middle man and solves problems         subvert and abort it.                                           emotions of her fellows into fear or courage, love or
voting to an unhealthy degree. This is not            directly, without appealing to elected repre-                                                                       sentimentality, rage or despair—and the subsequent
to say that everyone votes, or thinks voting          sentatives, corporate interests, or other powers.   Revolution will never be bought at list price.                  insight that this must be done cooperatively, or else
                                                                                                          Obviously, we’re not going to get our “money’s                  the result will be a dreadful, atonal mess. Thus, the
is effective or worthwhile; on the contrary, a
                                                                                                          worth” for either our labor or our capital on the               recognition of music-making as the perfect analogy
smaller and smaller proportion of the eligible        Concrete examples of direct action are every-       “free” market; we have to create situations, as                 for human relations.
population votes every election year, and that’s      where. When people start their own organiza-        fleeting as need be (for nothing can or should be
not just because more and more people are in          tion to share food with hungry folks, instead       sustainable, in an unsustainable world), in which               Folk science squatting, dumpstering,
prison. But when you broach the question of           of just voting for a candidate who promises to      we have power over resources that are otherwise                 gardening, inventing, d.i.y. building and plumbing and
                                                                                                          out of our hands. We need to learn from those                   decorating and printing and repairing . . . The end of
politics, of having a say in the way things are,      solve “the homeless problem” with tax dollars
                                                                                                          already adept at these practices: the bank robbers,             specialization—the end of expertise as a commodity
voting is just about the only strategy anyone         and bureaucracy, that’s direct action. When a       the cheating high school students, junior high                  in a scarcity economy. The rejection of technology
can think of—voting, and influencing others’          man makes and gives out fliers addressing an        students who call in bomb threats in spring,                    as a deity mediated by an elite priest caste, and of
votes.                                                issue that concerns him, rather than count-         workers who cheat the time clock or use company                 linear “progress” as the sole and unquestionable
                                                      ing on the newspapers to cover it or print his      materials for private projects, office-supply pilferers,        principle of human history. The realization that each
                                                                                                          suburban adulterers, grill cooks who pull off                   of us can do anything, that it is more valuable to
Could it be this is why so many people feel so        letters to the editor, that’s direct action. When
                                                                                                          workers’ compensation frauds. With this precious                make your own progress than to passively accept or
disempowered? Is anonymously checking a box           a woman forms a book club with her friends          contraband, we contra-bandits can rediscover the                even contribute to a “progress” beyond your control.
once a year, or every four years, enough to feel      instead of paying to take classes at a school, or   folk arts—which we can use both to create new,
included in the political process, let alone play a   does what it takes to shut down an unwanted         liberated environments, and to rescue our fellow                Folk love Food Not Bombs, local and international
role in it? But what is there besides voting?         corporate superstore in her neighborhood            human beings from the current nightmare.                        communities, communal living arrangements, community
                                                                                                                                                                          spaces, open relationships, loving friendships, affinity/
                                                      rather than deferring to the authority of city
                                                                                                          Folk Art murals, markers, spraypaint, stickers,                 infinity groups . . . The emergence of mutual aid and
In fact, voting for people to represent your in-      planners, that’s direct action, too. Direct ac-     posters, wheatpaste, stencils, bricks, gasoline and styrofoam   emotional support outside the exchange system, for
terests is the least efficient and effective means    tion is the foundation of the old-fashioned can-    . . . The reappropriation, by every individual, of the          their own sake rather than as a transaction, so that
of applying political power. The alternative,         do American ethic, hands-on and no-nonsense.        means (and “right”) to transform the environments               we can build communities which protect and foster
broadly speaking, is acting directly to repre-        Without it, hardly anything would get done.         we live in. The realization that as the fashioning of           individuality and cooperation at once.
                                                                                                          the world is a collective project, the designing of it
sent your interests yourself.
                                                                                                          must be as well.                                                Folk WAr demonstrations, squatting, Critical
                                                      In a lot of ways, direct action is a more effec-                                                                    Mass, Reclaim the Streets, the Black Bloc, wildcat
This is known in some circles as “direct ac-          tive means for people to have a say in society      Folk lore stolen photocopies, broadsides, pamphlets,            strikes, spokescouncil meetings, topless federations . . . The
tion.” Direct action is occasionally misunder-        than voting is. For one thing, voting is a          ‘zines, phone trees, discussion groups, oral tradition,         collective establishment of means of defending
stood to mean another kind of campaigning,            lottery—if a candidate doesn’t get elected,         independent media networks . . . The circumvention of           our individual freedom and autonomy that do not
                                                                                                          the mass media by direct, decentralized, and non-               endanger those in the process. The abolition of
lobbying for influence on elected officials           then all the energy his constituency put into
                                                                                                          hierarchical means of communication. The rejection              leaders and orders, even in times of war (like this
by means of political activist tactics; but it        supporting him is wasted, as the power they         of History, any History, in the objective sense, in             one), in favor of radically democratic, decentralized
properly refers to any action or strategy that        were hoping he would exercise for them goes         favor of myth and legend and storytelling.                      or consensus-based strategies of resistance.
                    to someone else. With direct action, you can         Voting is glorified as “freedom” in action. It’s
                    be sure that your work will offer some kind of       not freedom— freedom is getting to decide


DIRECT ACTION AND
                    results; and the resources you develop in the pro-   what the choices are in the first place, not
                    cess, whether those be experience, contacts and      picking between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Direct
                    recognition in your community, or organizational     action is the real thing. You make the plan,


MuTuAl-AID sOuND
                    infrastructure, cannot be taken away from you.       you create the options, the sky’s the limit.




     wONDERful!
                    Voting consolidates the power of a whole             Ultimately, there’s no reason the strategies of
                    society in the hands of a few politicians;           voting anddirect action can’t both be applied
                    through force of sheer habit, not to speak of        together. One does not cancel the other out.
                    other methods of enforcement, everyone else          The problem is that so many people think of
                    is kept in a position of dependence. Through         voting as their primary way of exerting politi-
                    direct action, you become familiar with your         cal and social power that a disproportionate
                    own resources and capabilities and initiative,       amount of everyone’s time and energy is spent




HoW cAn i Get
                    discovering what these are and how much you          deliberating and debating about it while other
                    can accomplish.                                      opportunities to make change go to waste. For
                                                                         months and months preceding every election,
                    Voting forces everyone in a movement to              everyone argues about the voting issue, what



   stArteD?
                    try to agree on one platform; coalitions fight       candidates to vote for or whether to vote at all,
                    over what compromises to make, each faction          when voting itself takes less than an hour. Vote
                    insists that they know the best way and the          or don’t, but get on with it! Remember how
                    others are messing everything up by not going        many other ways you can make your voice heard.
                    along with their program. A lot of energy gets
                    wasted in these disputes and recriminations.         This being an election year, we hear constantly
                    In direct action, on the other hand, no vast         about the options available to us as voters, and
                    consensus is necessary: different groups can         almost nothing about our other opportunities
                    apply different approaches according to what         to play a decisive role in our society. What we
                    they believe in and feel comfortable doing,          need is a campaign to emphasize the possibili-
                    which can still interact to form a mutually          ties more direct means of action and com-
                    beneficial whole. People involved in different       munity involvement have to offer. These need
                    direct actions have no need to squabble, unless      not be seen as in contradiction with voting.
                    they really are seeking conflicting goals (or        We can spend an hour voting once a year, and
                    years of voting have taught them to fight with       the other three hundred sixty four days and
                    anyone who doesn’t think exactly as they do).        twenty three hours acting directly!
                    Conflicts over voting often distract from the
                    real issues at hand, as people get caught up in      Those who are totally disenchanted with
                    the drama of one party against another, one          representative democracy, who dream of a
                    candidate against another, one agenda against        world without presidents and politicians, can
                    another. With direct action, on the other hand,      rest assured that if we all learn how to apply
                    the issues themselves are raised, addressed          deliberately the power that each of us has, the
                    specifically, and often resolved.                    question of which politician is elected to office
                                                                         will become a moot point. They only have
                    Voting is only possible when election time           that power because we delegate it to them! A
                    comes around. Direct action can be applied           campaign for direct action puts power back
                    whenever one sees fit. Voting is only useful for     where it belongs, in the hands of the people
                    addressing whatever topics are current in the        from whom it originates.
                    political agendas of candidates, while direct
                    action can be applied in every aspect of your
                    life, in every part of the world you live in.
12 Myths About Direct Action
Direct action—that is, any kind of action                  enforce unethical conditions, is to suggest that the     Direct Action is exclusive                                 ity that activists could do such things themselves,
that bypasses established political chan-                  arbitrary pronouncements of the legal establish-         Some forms of direct action are not open to all, but       overestimating the powers of police intelligence and
                                                           ment possess a higher moral authority than our own       this does not necessarily mean they are without            reinforcing the illusion that the State is omnipotent.
nels to accomplish objectives directly—                    consciences, and to demand complicity in the face of                                                                Likewise, it preemptively dismisses the value and
                                                                                                                    worth. Everyone has different preferences and
has a long and rich heritage in North                      injustice. When laws protect injustice, illegal activ-   capabilities, and should be free to act according to       reality of a diversity of tactics. When people feel
America, extending back to the Boston                      ity is no vice, and law-abiding docility is no virtue.   them. The important question is how the differing          entitled to make unfounded claims that every tactic
Tea Party and beyond. Despite this, there                                                                           approaches of individuals and groups that share the        of which they disapprove is a police provocation,
                                                           Direct Action is unnecessAry                             same long-term goals can be integrated in such a           this obstructs the very possibility of constructive
are many misunderstandings about it, in                                                                                                                                        dialogue about appropriate tactics.
part due to the ways it has been misrepre-                 WHere people HAve FreeDoM oF                             way that they complement each other.
                                                           speecH
sented in the corporate media.                             In a society dominated by an increasingly narrowly                                                                  Direct Action is DAnGerous
                                                                                                                    Direct Action is coWArDly                                  AnD cAn HAve neGAtive
                                                           focused corporate media, it can be almost impossible     This accusation is almost always made by those who
                                                           to initiate a public dialogue on a subject unless                                                                   repercussions For otHers
Direct Action is terrorisM                                                                                          have the privilege of speaking and acting in public        Direct action can be dangerous in a repressive
Terrorism is calculated to intimidate and thus para-       something occurs that brings attention to it. Under      without fearing repercussions: that is to say, those
                                                           such conditions, direct action can be a means of nur-                                                               political climate, and it is important that those who
lyze people. Direct action, on the other hand, is in-                                                               who have power in this society, and those who obe-         practice it make every effort not to endanger others.
tended to inspire and thus motivate people by dem-         turing free speech, not squelching it. Likewise, when    diently accept their power. Should the heroes of the
                                                           people who would otherwise oppose an injustice                                                                      This is not necessarily an objection to it, however-
onstrating the power individuals have to accomplish                                                                 French Resistance have demonstrated their courage          -on the contrary, when it becomes dangerous to act
goals themselves. While terrorism is the domain of a       have accepted that it is inevitable, it is not enough    and accountability by acting against the Nazi oc-
                                                           simply to talk about it: one must demonstrate that                                                                  outside established political channels, it becomes
specialized class that seeks to acquire power for itself                                                            cupying army in the full light of day, thus dooming        all the more important to do so. Authorities may
alone, direct action demonstrates possibilities that       it is possible to do something about it.                 themselves to defeat? For that matter, in a nation         use direct actions as excuses to terrorize innocents,
others can make use of, empowering people to take                                                                   increasingly terrorized by police and federal surveil-     as Hitler did when the Reichstag was set afire, but
control of their own lives. At most, a given direct        Direct Action is AlienAtinG                              lance of just about everyone, is it any wonder that        those in power are the ones who must answer for the
action may obstruct the activities of a corporation or     On the contrary, many people who find traditional        those who express dissent might want to protect            injustices they commit in so doing, not those who
institution that activists perceive to be commit-          party politics alienating are inspired and motivated     their privacy while doing so?                              oppose them. Likewise, though people who practice
ting an injustice, but this is simply a form of civil      by direct action. Different people find different                                                                   direct action may indeed run risks, in the face of an
disobedience, not terrorism.                               approaches fulfilling; a movement that is to be          Direct Action is prActiceD only                            insufferable injustice it can be more dangerous and
                                                           broad-based must include a wide range of options.        by colleGe stuDents/privileGeD                             irresponsible to leave it uncontested.
                                                           Sometimes people who share the goals of those who        ricH kiDs/DesperAte poor
Direct Action is violent                                   practice direct action while objecting to their means
To say that it is violent to destroy the machinery of                                                               people/etc                                                 Direct Action never
                                                           spend all their energy decrying an action that has       This allegation is almost always made without
a slaughterhouse or to break windows belonging to
                                                           been carried out. In doing so, they snatch defeat                                                                   AccoMplisHes AnytHinG
a party that promotes war is to prioritize property                                                                 reference to concrete facts, as a smear. In fact, direct   Every effective political movement throughout his-
                                                           from the jaws of victory: they would do better to        action is and long has been practiced in a variety
over human and animal life. This objection subtly                                                                                                                              tory, from the struggle for the eight hour workday
                                                           seize the opportunity to focus all attention on the      of forms by people of all walks of life. The only
validates violence against living creatures by focus-                                                                                                                          to the fight for women's suffrage, has made use
                                                           issues raised by the action.                             possible exception to this would be members of the
ing all attention on property rights and away from                                                                                                                             of some form of direct action. Direct action can
more fundamental issues.                                                                                            wealthiest and most powerful classes, who have no          complement other forms of political activity in a
                                                                                                                    need to practice any kind of illegal or controversial      variety of ways. If nothing else, it highlights the
                                                           people WHo prActice Direct                               action because, as if by coincidence, the established
Direct Action is not politicAl                             Action sHoulD Work tHrouGH                                                                                          necessity for institutional reforms, giving those who
                                                                                                                    political channels are perfectly suited to their needs.
expression, but criMinAl Activity                          tHe estAblisHeD politicAl                                                                                           push for them more bargaining chips; but it can go
Unfortunately, whether or not an action is illegal         cHAnnels insteAD                                                                                                    beyond this supporting role to suggest the possibil-
is a poor measure of whether or not it is just. The                                                                 Direct Action is tHe Work oF                               ity of an entirely different organization of human
                                                           Many people who practice direct action also work         AGents provocAteurs
Jim Crow laws were, after all, laws. To object to an       within the system. A commitment to making use of                                                                    life, in which power is distributed equally and all
action on the grounds that it is illegal is to sidestep                                                             This is another speculation generally made from a          people have an equal and direct say in all matters
                                                           every institutional means of solving problems does       distance, without concrete evidence. To allege that
the more important question of whether or not it           not necessarily preclude an equal commitment to                                                                     that affect them.
is ethical. To argue that we must always obey laws,                                                                 direct action is always the work of police agent pro-
                                                           picking up where such means leave off.                   vocateurs is disempowering: it rules out the possibil-
even when we consider them to be unethical or to

				
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