Thanks largely to Russell Brand, the question of whether to vote or not has been raised at national level this election.
Yet the only argument made against voting has been that they’re all, kind of, the same – is this really all that anti voters think?
The challenges we face include global ecological disaster, rampant inequality and continual structural violence – all fed by national governments such as our own.
To genuinely challenge this we have to take action, together. We have to organise with friends and communities, create alternatives and campaign for change.
The question remains, does voting help or hinder this project?
So here is our guide to the arguments for and against voting – and ultimately whether it matters or not.
WHY DON’T VOTE
As most readers will take voting as a given we’ll start with the reasons not to vote.
- Whoever wins we’ll be fighting them for justice
Whoever takes over the reins of power will be the enemy. Debt, war, ecocide, inequality and oppression will continue – and it will be the government that are doing most of it.
- Don’t vote, it only encourages them!
Every government points to their election as the justification for what they’re doing. When we vote we legitimise their corruption, violence and lying.
Elections derail us from creating real change – it makes us believe our options are limited, can be put in a list, and can only be created once every five years. Practising democracy amongst ourselves is the way we know this isn’t enough.
- Voting is an expression of our powerlessness
It is an admission that we can only pick our oppressor – we cannot make decisions for ourselves about society, we should trust someone else to do it.
- Picking teams is divisive
When you feel affiliation to a team you might defend what they do, even when it is batshit crazy. Others are less willing to listen to you if they’re not a fan of your team and ultimately we break our bonds of solidarity to each other – we think that the people we have elected might somehow have our interests at heart.
- No one can represent your interests for you but you
We are complicated and contradictory creatures, but a priest class of decision makers isn’t going to know better than you. Decision making is mystified as much as possible, but it isn’t as complicated as we’re led to believe.
- Elections are undemocratic
For every PM there have to be millions of people with less power, which is not a system of rule by the people. It is the rule of one, or a small number of people, over everyone else.
- Constitutionally we’re broken
100,000 super voters (swing voters in marginal constituencies) are the only voters that count. The Queen chooses our government, UKIP and Greens will get 3 MPs with 4 million or more voters between them and the majority of voters have not voted for the government in power for decades.
- There’s no real difference between the parties
Whilst there are clear nuanced differences – and differences that could save lives – between the parties, there is no fundamental difference. They all seek to manage a corrupt system – they all have historically lied, cheated and oppressed.
- Social change comes from without, not within, and has always been so
Voting has never changed anything – if it did the government would make it illegal. Forcing governments to change has always come from outside, from us working together – and usually by doing things considered to be illegal or distasteful.
- There is no party more receptive to change, or more progressive, than another
Labour has never supported a strike. It started the privatisation of the NHS, deregulated the banks, turned education into a market, and has started more wars than the Tories – all with vocal and concerted opposition. They are not better listeners than the Tories.
- Elections limit our imagination and our possibilities for change
“Real freedom cannot be held on a voting ballot. Freedom doesn’t mean simply being able to choose between options—it means actively participating in shaping the options in the first place, creating and re-creating the environments in which options exist. Without this, we have nothing for, given the same options in the same situations over and over, we’ll always make the same pre-determined decisions. If the context is out of our hands, so is the choice itself. And when it comes to taking power over the circumstances of our lives, no one can “represent” us—it’s something we have to do ourselves.”
SO WHY VOTE?
- People died for your right to vote
Yes and no – Chartists and Suffragettes, amongst many other movements across time – did include the right to vote in their list of demands. However they were fighting for meaningful equality and freedom above all. As Crimthinc. put it
“If the freedom so many generations have fought and died for is best exemplified by a man in a voting booth, who checks a box on the ballot before returning to work in an environment no more under his control than it was an hour before, then the heritage our emancipating forefathers and suffragette grandmothers have left us is nothing but a sham substitute for the true liberty they lusted after.”
- Voting can stop fascists taking power
Indeed this is true. Stopping the BNP and UKIP (especially in South thanet where Farage says he will quit if he loses) are good reasons to vote. Unfortunately, as many anti fascists have found, it is difficult to persuade others to vote when there doesn’t seem to be anything meaningful on offer.
Ultimately, voting is no substitute for anti racism.
- You can push certain topics into the mainstream debate
Look at UKIP, if the Greens had their support would we still be talking about immigration? Though that is a circular argument because we are talking about immigration so much that UKIP are getting support. There are easier ways to get the subjects we care about discussed nationally.
- You can’t complain if you don’t vote
Yes you can! It is even more valid if people rejected the system entirely! Those who voted are at least partially to blame for the reasons people are now complaining – maybe they have no right to complain?
- Block votes, without allegiance to party are actually democratic
Citizens UK organise people to offer their votes to the party that offers to meet their demands. Even if voting changes nothing fundamental, the act of bringing people together to discuss what they want is democratic.
- There is a substantive, if minimal, difference between the parties
There are many who certainly don’t want any more Tories. Or UKIP for that matter. Too many people’s lives will be made too much of a misery if they get in. We can’t afford a Tory Win, as the Morning Star puts it.
Ultimately this final point is the clincher for many, they then argue…
- You can vote and take action – they are not mutually contradictory. In fact they can dovetail nicely.
- It is like online polling, it won’t really change anything, but it helps make the score card look less mad.
- It is a small amount of political opportunity – don’t overthink it, just use it as best you can.
- Voting is not supporting elections as a system or parties – if you’re not in those parties, or working to get people elected, then what is the problem with taking five minutes to vote?
Critics of voting say that elections limit our imaginations, divide the people, encourage governments to believe they are legitimate, and take away our decision-making power.
They also question whether voting creates any real change, if in fact there is any fundamental difference between the competing parties and what the point of voting is in a constitutionally broken system like the UK’s.
Advocates of voting may admit the system is broken, but argue that one of the only ways to fix it is through voting. That at least it is an option, and there are nuanced but important differences between the parties.
They argue that ultimately people died for this right, and the least we can do is exercise it. Especially as more people may die because we didn’t.
Whatever your position on voting it is worth remembering these things
- INEQUALITY, DEBT, VIOLENCE – all of these are inherent to the sytem which these guys will act as the policemen for. We will need to change things more fundamentally at some point.
- Change is harder than voting – It is disastrous to think that voting is playing your part in creating change, there is more we can do together
- We have to believe we can do better than this - we cannot be looking to build towards one moment every five years to feel like we are part of society and that our opinions matter.
- Voting is a tiny part of your day to day life – look to your friends, family and neighbours to start doing the things you love together to create a real change.
If you are looking for things to get involved with please get in touch and we’ll chuck you some suggestions
If you are interested in the debates around voting, you can also check out
Angry not apathetic – an Anarchist position on voting
This is no normal election – Owen Jones