I’ve been worrying at this for a couple of days now, and think I’ve got to the nub of what concerns me – and it’s about engagement.
Not voting is a kind of dis-engagement. And disengagement bothers me.
(nb – I’m not much interested in giving more attention to anyone who does something “because a beautiful woman asked me”. So many other people have been working to unpick the sexism there, I’m happy to note it and leave them to it – though I will say I won’t be taking any lessons in being a revolutionary from someone who clearly doesn’t see that gender disparity also needs to be addressed in any change to the current order.)
Yesterday I tweeted citing several people including Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Kate Sheppard, Emily Wilding Davison, who were motivated to action around the vote. Yes, other issues, of course, but for each of them the vote, the right to vote, was a huge motivator.
In any discussion of voting or not, I think it’s disrespectful to their struggle not to acknowledge that winning the right to vote took some people’s lives. Not just their life’s work, which is plenty, but their actual life. We can’t discuss choosing to vote or not without acknowledging that for many people, in the past – and still – the simple opportunity to vote was (is) denied them by those in power.
And yes, there are many won-rights we in the relatively-wealthy-west, the first world (whichever phrase you prefer for those of us who have the luxury of sitting around discussing voting, or even marching down streets protesting, about how we don’t believe in the system) that most of us take for granted. Rights we assume are ours by right and therefore get on with living with those rights without acknowledging the lineage. And yes, if we were to acknowledge the lineage of every action we take, it might be a little tricky to move forward at all, ever.
And yet … the Civil Rights struggle in the USA was so very recent, in my own lifetime. The struggle for women to vote, for universal suffrage, for people without property, people of colour, to vote was so recent, within the past century … that actually not-voting, not going to the polling booth, not turning out, not choosing to spoil the ballot paper and be counted that way, does feel, to me, like an abdication.
Spoilt ballot papers are counted.
Those of us who just don’t vote, are not.
If we don’t believe in the system then WE have to change it.
But I want offers of how, not just calls for unspecified and wide-ranging ‘revolution’.
I want suggestions of an alternative way to do it, not just “it’s all shit, I don’t believe in any of it”.
I want to make a difference. I want to be doing stuff. I want to be active.
Choosing to disengage feels like inactivity to me. It feels like stepping back.
And it’s not that I too, don’t feel disillusioned – it’s not as if I voted for a coalition in Britain (for any part of it). Of course I’m worried and disillusioned to a degree. I’d be daft not to be.
But I honestly can’t think of a single revolution that worked, long-term, and didn’t, at the same time, disenfranchise another part of the population.
I’m all for the redistribution of wealth. Always have been.
I too, want a radical left that works. Always have done.
But I think we make more of a difference by being in it than by standing back.
I think we each make change faster by changing ourselves and letting that ripple out, than by decrying it all and offering no alternatives other than to rip the lot down.
The Buddhism I practice speaks of individual human revolution. The personal change, the personal efforts, that make a difference for all.
And I honestly do see voting (spoilt ballots too) as an agent for change. It’s a way to use your voice. It’s a way to be counted.
And, however screwed our system, however predicated on the absurdly outdated values of rampant capitalism, however formulaic and stuck that system is, I would rather be counted than not. I’d rather be in it than not, working to make change, than outside saying it just doesn’t work.
My choice is to be engaged with, rather than without.
(Of course there are loads of ways to be engaged, I choose my vote as one of them.)
So, speaking of engagement, I come back, as ever, to the Fun Palaces project. Massive public engagement, across the UK and beyond, around arts, culture and sciences, solidly community-and-locally-based to create great events for and with local people, working from within communities to make a difference around engagement nationwide. You might want to join in.
Do you remember that long long line of people stretching out into the South African countryside of people registering to make their precious vote? Many had walked for miles.That image is what makes me use my vote and not take it for granted.