My first chance to vote came four years ago. Going against some of my then-burgeoning anti- establishment sentiments, I supported John Kerry, thinking that a Democrat in the White House could halt some the mistakes done by George W. Bush and perhaps even make some improvements in the world. I was more hopeful about the system then, optimistic that Americans could unite and take back the power from the right wing…. I was a little disappointed when this didn’t happen that year, though I recovered from Kerry’s loss quickly (deep down I knew he was a dud). I realized that there wouldn’t have been any significant difference between the two candidates.
Now, in the second election I’ve been able to vote in, I abstain and there is a Democratic victory. It’s an irony that forces me to reflect on America’s changing political landscapes and new horizons. Election results like this are precisely what I had hoped for in 2004, but since then I’ve become a vote-avoiding anarchist and radical. And while most Americans are generally still beholden to the political beliefs that gripped them for the last 8 years (as evidenced in the popular vote), I have jumped ship just as Obama’s election seems to have provided legitimacy to the Democrats and so-called “progressive” political stances. There seems to have been a symbolic defeat of political cynicism, which since the 60’s (at least) has been the one golden thread connecting all Americans together. All we hear is a patriotic chorus of “Yes, We Can!”
As an anarchist, I have to ask what the place of my beliefs are under the presidency of a black and nominally progressive man (some even call him a Socialist!). We anarchists have based our philosophy of elections on an outright dismissal and derision of party politics. To us, representation and parliamentarianism are not Democracy, they are a charade. We see American “democracy” as a tool of class oppression, a weapon of patriarchy, a guarantor of white hegemony, and other such things. We rally around slogans like, “If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal”, “Whoever you vote for, the government wins”, and even “Our dreams will never fit into their ballot boxes”. But now when we say “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote”, the phrase seems to elicit disdain from progressives young and old, while senile old neo-cons seem to warm a little to us. Our fairweather friends, the progressives, are riding a post-election high, what some callObamania.
I experienced the phenomenon very briefly when I was invited by some young liberals to a post- election party. Amongst the liberals, there was probably a tangible and excited energy; they all seemed giddy with anticipation. However, when the results were announced, all I could feel was slight relief that McCain and Palin weren’t elected. That sense was followed by a bittersweet appreciation of the fights still left unfought; I think of all the tendrils of the deadening world of exploitation (and yes, it is racist, too) that I’ll be living in for the foreseeable future and I realize that Obama is not going to fundamentally change anything. In fact, by granting him power over us, we forfeit a portion of our imagination to a specter who spouts hollow words.
But I was a political minority there. Not that that is a new arrangement for me, but there was a novel sense of alienation from some of the people who I used to count as fellow travelers. It made me reconsider who still were my fellow travelers. I’d like to ask them (all anarchists, radicals, and non- parliamentary communists) how we engage others in a political climate that is not jaded, that is indeed (dare I say it?) optimistic? We have to once again ask ourselves to talkpositively about what we believe in – in front of others. I think it will limits us when to retreat to cynical platitudes. Our critique is broader, and our outlook is more hopeful, too! Whereas our anarchism has enjoyed a minor revival in the past ten years, more people were de-politicized then than were radicalized. We traded in tokens of this de-politicization – and this tactic worked for a while. But will this still be enough? Will oppositional posturing and a cynical outlook help us to work within our communities, or will it alienate us from potential friends?
From the view at the beginning of his first term, it looks like Obama’s acceptance of the presidency is a sign that anarchists and other radicals should begin to emphasize the more practical and local-based forms of anarchist practice. We should keep on unionizing our workplaces democratically, continue to transgress gender and sexual roles, still occupy universities, and give more power to our collective imaginations. This is not to say that we shouldn’t critique and fight the powers of the state – in fact, the Obama administration’s current agenda is already revealing imperial arrogance and bankruptcy. I suggest that we claim our position as the opposition within the opposition, though we don’t have to wear our pessimism on our sleeves. Obama doesn’t control everything, let’s work interstitially!
Hopefully the post-Bush world will have more opportunities for that.