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Voting Doesn't Create Social Change? Tell That To The Descendents of Slaves

by Paul H. Rosenberg Thursday, Nov. 02, 2000 at 12:49 PM
rad@gte.net

Voting doesn't create social change without the larger context of a social movement. But social movements have created enormous social change over the centuries, and voting has played a vital role bringing about this change.

The claim that voting doesn't create social change is either trivial or false.

In one sense it's trivially true, since voting divorced from social change movements is clearly insufficient. In such cases, one can also argue that it voting doesn't create the change, it merely facilitates it; what created the change was the movement itself. All this is true, and the point is crucially important.

But logically the claim is trivial--at least from any sort of progressive (much less radical) point of view. No one would seriously dispute it. That leaves us to consider the only serious, disputable meaning of such a claim. -- that voting is *irrelevent* to social change.

This claim is *CLEARLY* false. Rather than go through countless examples, I will simply point to one: The status of African-Americans today. No one would seriously suggest that it's one of true equality. Nor would anyone suggest that voting alone could finally achieve full equality. But without voting for social change it's possible that slavery would still endure to this day. Without voting for social change it's certain that the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments would never have been passed. Without voting for social change we would still have segregation. Very few blacks would be able to vote. America would be inconceivably more fuedal, reactionary and racist than it is today.

Now, I suppose that there are some white self-styled radicals out there who will be completely unmoved by this argument, and I say, "fine." These folks are radicals only in their own minds, and the sooner we make this clear, the better.

The engine driving social change will *always* be social change movements. It will *always* come from the streets. But it will *always* have to pass through the voting booth as well. What destroyed the Soviet Union was the attempt to have a revolution that renounced the voting booth as a vital part of the revolution.

For working people in 1917, for the vast majority of the world's people at that time, the Soviet Union represented the greatest hope of humanity, and that was betrayed & destroyed primarily because the voting booth was treated with contempt by the revolution. Renounce the voting booth today, and you *AUTOMATICALLY* betray the hope of billions in the world today that a just social order can replace the existing world order.

This is not an argument for any *particular* vote in any particular election. It is an argument against a pattently false statement that's part of a trendy psuedo-radical posture. Once you admit that voting *can* play a vital role, then the really hard work begins. Then you have to think about how voting is related to movement-building, and you have to learn how to argue with others who will disagree with you about this relationship without letting those disagreements undermine your fundamental agreements about the need for change and the kinds of changes needed. This kind of work is *far* more demanding than simply striking a pseudo-radical pose and waiting for someone to take your picture. This kind of work is what creates social change. It's what creates human dignity and freedom. And it's inseparably linked to the act of voting, however compromised that act may be in the existing political order.
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False assumption that voting freed the slaves

by PUTOK Thursday, Nov. 02, 2000 at 4:36 PM

Although those amendments may have "changed" the status of slavery. voting by far was the least of all the factors that changed slavery. If not for social pressure the 13th 14th and 15th amendment would have not been in place. And even after passing these amendments many states did not recognize thier existence. Thus further social action had to be implemented at the grassroots level.

I would argue that it is naive to assume that is was solely the white man who freed the slave through voting. The black slaves took their own initiative and if these amendments would have not been in place despite having fought in the civil war and having been told that they would be freed from bondage, you would have seen another uprising--a black revolution.
The civil rights movement is a demonstration of this. The laws despite these fore mentioned amendments did not truly free the slaves, because although they were free from physical slavery they were not free from economic slavery (similar to sweatshops of today). Also, segregation and other racist laws continued to exists. During the civil rights movement time, (which was not brought upon through voting) the politicans knew legislation or not, the opressed were going to have thier way. You cannot truly argue that voting was responsible for their liberation. Although people of color are still not entirely equal the gains in leaps acheived was through grassroots movements not through superficial voting. Voting merely made concrete the inevitable.

This is the same issue with women suffrage, women were not allowed to vote, how could they have gone from a non voting status to voting status. It seems that your argument would imply that it was through the men's voting that push forth the law that allowed women to vote. This would assume that the men were benevolent and "permitted" the women to vote. Yes in the least sense and most trivial it did, but if not from the strong women's movement these white men would have not felt the pressure to bring about such legislation. And if women were denied the right to vote, then you would have seen another civil action or possibly a womens revolution.

Now vote if you want, that is your problem, but peoples movement is not a "trendy thing." The only reason i would vote is for a political statement in the honor of people that won out certain rights in the several peoples movement.

But is it going to create social change? No, nothing major.



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Straw Man Arguments, Nothing More

by by Paul H. Rosenberg Thursday, Nov. 02, 2000 at 10:24 PM
rad@gte.net

This post simply does nothing to respond to mine.

The author writes: "I would argue that it is naive to assume that is was solely the white man who freed the slave through voting." But of course I never said this. I said that voting was part of the process. I never claimed it was the wellspring. I said the exact opposite--that social movements are where it all starts. But the voting booth was required in the way the to finish.

This simple observation is so irrefutably true, it's no wonder the author feels the need to put a completely different argument into my mouth.

Another straw man argument is implicit in the statement, "Now vote if you want, that is your problem, but peoples movement is not a 'trendy thing.'"

I never said that movements were a "trendy thing." I said that people who *pose* as radicals are the ones trying to be trendy, "more radical than thou." A true radical wouldn't put appearance over substance. That was my argument. I'm not dissing movements, buster. I'm dissing *YOU!*

Countless people's heroes have risked their lives to gain the right to vote, and you treat them with utter contempt without even realizing it. How "radical" is that? Not one bit! It's just a trendy pose, that's all.
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Media Lies + not informed constituency = Shit

by Marcus Saturday, Nov. 04, 2000 at 2:56 AM
MAfricanus@Altavista.com

What good can the voting booth do if the Media represent the interest of the coorporations, riches and wealthy? When people go to the voting booth, they vote based on the informations they got from the media... The media lies to us, emphazises on trivial issues, do not report certain taboo news and avoid the issues that really concern the working class....And you want to vote based on that information???... And by the way how did we get the right to vote in the first place... Did we vote for that?
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Somebody Pinch me. Is he saying that?

by Marcus Saturday, Nov. 04, 2000 at 3:18 AM
Mafricanus@yahoo.com

Somebody Pinch me. Is he saying that?
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What Good Can Voting Do?

by Paul H. Rosenberg Saturday, Nov. 04, 2000 at 12:48 PM
rad@gte.net

Marcus asks, "What good can the voting booth do if the Media represent the interest of the coorporations, riches and wealthy?"

A very good question. Which is why I'm an IMC volunteer and have long been a media activist. I never said that voting alone was the answer. I said that without voting we'd never get where we want to go.

Marcus also asks, "And by the way how did we get the right to vote in the first place... Did we vote for that?"

As a matter of fact, we did. Voting alone was not enough, of course, but the right to vote has been extended enormously over the centuries, and none of the different social movements that brought this about could have succeded without finally gaining substantial support among those who could already vote.

It seems to me that Marcus wants voting to be a magic bullet, the cure to all that ails us. And because it's not a magic bullet, he implies that it's utterly useless. This kind of simpistic either/or thinking is what we confront all the time from the corporate media: If you're not for corporate globalization, you must be a racist bigot who wants to live in caves. We instantly recognize how stupid this kind of either/or thinking is when it comes from the corporate media. We need to get better at recognizing how we can fall into the same kind of simplistic thinking ourselves. Either/or thinking is *rarely* appropriate, no matter how self-righteous we feel about being able to take the noble side of the false dichotomy.
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Do you need an award? For voting

by Jimmi Saturday, Nov. 04, 2000 at 5:52 PM

We have a self proclaimed activists, do you need an award with that? Thanks for your resume.

Who are you refering to as the we when you say that we did vote for voting rights? Do you constitute as one of the we? My people were not. Was it the support of the voters that allowed people to vote or the fear of the voters' reprisal? Someone had legistalte the laws, they did not get on the ballots on their own. Were the lawmakers afraid that the workers would stop working, the women stop cooking or the slaves tart rebelling? Probably.

The media is not only guilty of simplistically reporting the events but skewing the facts, is your idea of voting freed the world skewing and simplifying the struggles? Oh wait, youre a volunteer at the IMC, you cant be guilty of "falling into the same kind of simplistic thinking."

Why do you use this magic bullet metaphor? What does a bullet have to do with voting? does it shoot down

Can we get somewhere without voting? You seem to be someone who enjoys the forefather's independence story, did england allow these forefathers to vote themselves out?

Did voting put pressure to stop vietnam wars?
Did voting tell the people not to unionize. Unions were illegal, unions would have continued legal or not.
Did voting force respect from the slave masters? Slave masters continued their tyrany despite laws.

The fact of the matter is, people hold values that are beyond man made laws. Just because it is voted upon by it does not mean it will make change.
Values need to be changed and voting does not do that. It is peoples struggles that do that.

If a law or a government is unjust it can be cahnged by other means, outside of voting.

even your forefathers stated in their declaration:
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
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typo

by Jimmi Saturday, Nov. 04, 2000 at 5:57 PM

typo: I wrote "voter's reprisals" i meant "non-voters reprisals"
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Clearing Up More Confusion

by Paul H. Rosenberg Saturday, Nov. 04, 2000 at 6:57 PM
rad@gte.net

Jimmi asks, is your idea of voting freed the world skewing and simplifying the struggles?

This is another implicit straw man argument. I never said that voting freed the world. In fact, I said, Voting alone was not enough, of course, but the right to vote has been extended enormously over the centuries, and none of the different social movements that brought this about could have succeded without finally gaining substantial support among those who could already vote.

And even that is a *looooong* way from free[ing] the world. That part is still to come.

Jimmi also asks, Who are you refering to as the we when you say that we did vote for voting rights? Do you constitute as one of the we? My people were not.

It was Marcus who started this we talk, when he asked, "And by the way how did we get the right to vote in the first place...Did we vote for that?"

My answer made it very clear that the historical processes of social stuggle greatly expanded the scope of who we voters were over time. Very few of our ancerstors were one the we if you go back far enough. But thats the whole point. The we of today is far more inclusive. And the struggle for the right to vote was a crucial part of what brought about that change.

And Jimmi asks, Can we get somewhere without voting? You seem to be someone who enjoys the forefather's independence story, did england allow these forefathers to vote themselves out?

This pair of questions reveals a fundamental confusion. The forefathers could *not* have gained independence without voting. It wasnt sufficient, of course. They also had to fight a war. And for that they needed a lot of help from France. But none of the rest would have happened if the people hadnt voted themselves free of British rule.

Implicit in all these questions is the attempt to tag me with a straw man position of presenting voting as a cure-all. But I don't hold that position.

The relationship of voting to social movements and their struggles is a very complicated one. The relationships on the other side are much simpler. Those who oppose social justice movements *also* oppose the extension of voting rights. Kinda makes things easier to figure out, knowing what the other side is against.
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Here we go again

by PUTOK Saturday, Nov. 04, 2000 at 9:02 PM

I guess you do not realize why this discussion has continued for so long and wonder why people seem to be very oppositional to your suggestions. Aside from your stubborness in accepting other views you have been racially offensive. I first posted a response to you because of your arrogance in stating "Tell That To The Descendents of Slaves " well i am one of them. You seem to be speaking intheir name. For several hundreds of years this has been an American problem, let the descendents speak for themselves. We do not need anymore filtering or misrepresentations. Voting or not voting is a widespread american practice, but it is moreso in th African-American community. Tell that to the descendents? Maybe we are just stupid and do not realize what we are missing. Or maybe my grandmother or my friends or my uncles have never felt that they have been represented properly by the people they vote for nor the laws that they voted against. 1/3 of my brothers are in jail or have been there, how will voting fix that? They cannot vote and many will never be allowed to. Where is their say in democracy? There are deeper problems that legislator can barely comprehend it is not through voting that they will eventually understand.

I commned that you pointed out "Those who oppose social justice movements *also* oppose the extension of voting rights", though this is true, these reationaries realize that voting is a channel for some power, but they also do know that it is not the only way to take a hold of power. Thus they also oppose demonstrations and protests, they oppose community identity and ethnic networks they especially hate international unity of movements. we see police in riot gear in permitted legal protests but no longer in voting booths. Voting may be a resource for the ones it has historically served but it is not necessary to change society nor is it necessary to run society, like you several times insist. We do not need to sanction the "channels to democracy" the powerful has defined for us we can make our own paths to a true democracy without voting.

I agree in a true democracy people would vote or make their voice heard in one form or another, but in this country voting has become corrupt a means of "pleasing the audience," "giving them a feel of democracy" but the laws being voted on has only become more and more reationary right. We are not in an offense like during the 60s we are currently on a survival defense, we may vote one dangreous law out but several hundreds are in congress waiting to be passed. We are in a situation where we defeat the bill or the bill wins. And even if we beat the bill, a newer more decieving one will be put into the ballots. We cannot rely on voting anymore. By rallying to counter hundreds of right wing bills being legislated we are being kept busy from other means of more effective democracy. We must rely on our unity and reform the strength of the masses. Until then you will see me in the rallies, in the workers organizing centers etc, but you will not see me in the voting booth.

PUTOK

PS: you keep calling several things strawman arguments but you do not state why the statements you point out are "strawman" you merely "dis" the author and reaffirm your statement. You do not say why the claims are fallacy arguments.
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Mind Reading vs. Close Reading

by Paul H. Rosenberg Wednesday, Nov. 08, 2000 at 1:02 PM
rad@gte.net

PUTOK writes: "I guess you do not realize why this discussion has continued for so long and wonder why people seem to be very oppositional to your suggestions."

I guess you do not realize that you're no better at mind reading than anyone else. I only wish that *more* discussions went on *at least* this long. And, after spending most of my life involved with left politics in one way or another I'm *very* used to people being "very oppositional" to everyone else's suggestions, whoever they may be.

I'm also quite accustomed to posts that begin by assuming that I'm a fucking idiot, and have to be educated from square one in the One True Right and Only Way (OTROW) to see things properly. OTROWism (and sloppy thinking, which usually goes with it) is what I've been objecting to in this discussion, and I see little sign of it abating in this latest post by PUTOK.

But I don't expect it to disappear magically just because I engage in a brief interchange with someone. I'm not that arrogant to think I could have that kind of effect. If I plant just a little seed of doubt that may sprout some day, maybe years from now, that would be a great accomplishment. So, on the off chance I might do that, I'll proceed.

PUTOK continues: "Aside from your stubborness in accepting other views..." I suppose you mean "stubborness in rejecting other views," but how does this describe *me* rather than *you*??? I've pointed out fallacies in your reasoning. This is what people do when they disagree & are actually paying attention to what the other person says. I keep getting the impression that you're *not* really paying attention to what I say, that your faulty mind-reading is getting in the way of doing that.

PUTOK: "...you have been racially offensive." The basis for this claim is that PUTOK is a descendent of slaves, and I seem to be speaking intheir name. (More faulty mindreading on PUTOKs part.) This is rather like Phyllis Schlaffly calling me sexistly offensive for being a man defending pro-choice women. Schlaffly certainly doesnt like it that millions of women have a politics quite different from hers, one that I defend. But her gender is irrelevent to historical reality and any argument that I might make about it. Similarly, PUTOK may not like it that millions of blacks and their historical leadership from Frederic Douglass to Martin Luther King to Randall Robinson (who supports Ralph Nader, not not voting) have a politics quite different from his? hers?, one that I defend. But PUTOKs race is irrelevent to historical reality and any argument that I might make about it.

PUTOK writes: 1/3 of my brothers are in jail or have been there, how will voting fix that? They cannot vote and many will never be allowed to. Where is their say in democracy? Youre the one who says they *shouldnt* vote, so why pretend to be angry about their loss of voting rights? I *am* angry about it, because I believe that *everyone* should vote, including those who are in prison. (Not that I believe in prison, but thats another discussion entirely.) Its this kind of inconsistency in your reasoning that interests me. I believe we learn by studying inconsistencies--those of others and our own as well.

PUTOK: I agree in a true democracy people would vote or make their voice heard in one form or another, but in this country voting has become corrupt... Voting has *always* been corrupt. It was much more corrupt when only wealthy white men could vote. Its taken tremendous polticial stuggle by different movements over the centuries to make voting come closer to reflecting true democratic self-government.

PUTOK: We are not in an offense like during the 60s.... We cannot rely on voting anymore. We never *could* rely on voting. As Ive said before, voting is only part of the process of struggling for social justice. We could *never* rely on it by itself.

PUTOK: By rallying to counter hundreds of right wing bills being legislated we are being kept busy from other means of more effective democracy. So, bottom line: you cant walk and chew gum at the same time? Sorry, but I dont believe you. G.W. Bush cant walk and chew gum at the same time. But Im sure that *you* can, PUTOK.

PUTOK: We must rely on our unity and reform the strength of the masses. In other words, Shut up and follow me!

PUTOK: Until then you will see me in the rallies, in the workers organizing centers etc, but you will not see me in the voting booth. Translation: I wont vote when were on the ropes and need every vote. But once were regained strength and have a comfortable majority, Ill be happy to vote. Im not really opposed to voting on principle, I just love striking that James Dean outsider pose. James Dean is my hero. Forget that whole Martin Luther King/A Philip Randolph/W.E.B. DuBois/Fannie Lou Hamer routine.
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Mind Reading Vs. Close Reading, P.S.

by Paul H. Rosenberg Wednesday, Nov. 08, 2000 at 1:17 PM
rad@gte.net

Sorry I overlooked this.

PUTOK writes: "PS: you keep calling several things strawman arguments but you do not state why the statements you point out are 'strawman' you merely 'dis' the author and reaffirm your statement. You do not say why the claims are fallacy arguments."

This is just plain false. Here's my first anti-strawman statement:

"This post simply does nothing to respond to mine.

"The author writes: 'I would argue that it is naive to assume that is was solely the white man who freed the slave through voting.' But of course I never said this. I said that voting was part of the process. I never claimed it was the wellspring. I said the exact opposite--that social movements are where it all starts. But the voting booth was required in the way the to finish."

In this passage I *quote* the exact words that I'm responding to, and restate my own arguments to show how they differ from--even contradict--the argument that's being ascribed to me. This is the very definition of a straw man argument. I do nothing to "dis" the author, except to argue against his? her? misrepresentation of *me*.
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voting freed the slaves???

by Irving da Naile Wednesday, Nov. 08, 2000 at 8:42 PM

Voting did not free the slaves nor was the freeing of slaves a result of even a partial electoral effort. If the South had not freaked out when Lincoln was elected and tried to seceed from the Union it is very possible that we would still have chattel slavery today. No, it took a Civil War and the deaths of over 600,000 people to get rid of slavery! And the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves held in states in open insurrection against the Union. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed in order to ensure the continued dominance of the Northern capitalist class over the Federal State. They became a virtual dead letter after 1877 until the Civil Rights Movement of the 50's and 60's, which was based on direct action bye the way, forced the governments of the South, and the North, to pass legislation to allow Black folks to exercise their rights under those amendments.

Ultimately the argument isn't whether or not voting can effect some changes in the system, they can. The question is whether or not voting can emancipate us from STATISM snd CAPITALISM, it cannot.

Your history of Russian Revolution and Soviety Union is also faulty. The Soviet Union always had regular elections to the Soviets with 99% voter turnout.
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The Historic Role Of Voting Defended Again

by Paul H. Rosenberg Wednesday, Nov. 08, 2000 at 9:59 PM
rad@gte.net

Irving da Naile writes: Voting did not free the slaves nor was the freeing of slaves a result of even a partial electoral effort. If the South had not freaked out when Lincoln was elected and tried to seceed from the Union it is very possible that we would still have chattel slavery today.

But the South DID freak out, and Lincoln was elected because people VOTED for him. QED.

Irving: No, it took a Civil War and the deaths of over 600,000 people to get rid of slavery! And the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves held in states in open insurrection against the Union.

None of which would have happened without people voting for Lincoln, etc. For the umpteenth time, my point is *not* that voting produces social change all by its lonesome. Thats clearly ludicrous. My point is that voting plays a significant role at various stages of the process. Voting for Lincoln in 1860 (and 1864, too) played a significant role in the process that lead to the freeing of the slaves. Had Lincoln lost to McClellan in 1864 because millions of people bought your argument, the slaves would not have been freed.

Irving: The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed in order to ensure the continued dominance of the Northern capitalist class over the Federal State.

This kind of cartoon leftism is no more true than regarding them as selfless acts of pure idealism. But even if it were the whole and only truth, it still wouldnt alter the fact that voting played a crucial role in getting them proposed in the first place, and then passed.

Irving: They became a virtual dead letter after 1877 until the Civil Rights Movement of the 50's and 60's, which was based on direct action bye the way, forced the governments of the South, and the North, to pass legislation to allow Black folks to exercise their rights under those amendments.

Except for the the fact the they werent quite a dead letter until the Plessy decision nearly 20 years later, I agree completely. So what makes you think this constitutes a refutation of my argument?

Irving: Ultimately the argument isn't whether or not voting can effect some changes in the system, they can. The question is whether or not voting can emancipate us from STATISM snd CAPITALISM, it cannot.

It played a crucial role in emancipating slaves. And thats not chopped liver.

The question is not what voting by itself can do, because its clear that alone it cant do shit. The question is what kind of fundamental change can be accomplished without voting playing *any* role at all. And the answer to that is not encouraging, to say the least.

Irving: Your history of Russian Revolution and Soviety Union is also faulty. The Soviet Union always had regular elections to the Soviets with 99% voter turnout.

And if those elections had allowed for meaningful votes, socialism would not have become a dirty word all around the world. The Communists brutally suppressed any possibility of independent social movements, and thus provides the best possible example of voting by itself being utterly sterile, as I've argued all along.


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Voting and Social Change

by Chuck0 Friday, Nov. 10, 2000 at 4:49 PM
chuck@tao.ca

Paul H. Rosenberg: Which political tendency do you identify with?

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Voting vs Action

by Fred Hilgart Thursday, Nov. 16, 2000 at 6:59 PM
fredh696@my-freenet.com 360-696-9313

Without voting we could of course restore violence as a means to impress our wills.

Action is required in many cases to bypass the recalcitrant media and get a message out to the people. Once done, the people can vote in a more informed manner. Regardless of the outcome of the vote the principle of democracy will be retained and the promises democracy will be within grasp. March, bellow, resist, get arrested, disrupt and then if the people agree with you they can vote for your positions. But vote we must or we will not have a government with its just powers derived from the consent of the governed. If not where will the power come from? Someone will have it and it will not be the people.
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