It’s about the vote, stupid...

There he is: Vice President Al Gore defending democracy. But yes, sisters and brothers, there is a fight underway which is not about the elections. It is about the vote and about the inconsistent nature of democracy in the capitalist USA.

What became very clear immediately after the November Election is that the Republican Party and segments of the Democrats were more concerned about the formality of an election rather than its content. When Democrats, such as New Jersey’s Toricelli, suggested that Gore move toward concession, he was saying, in essence, that having gone through the formality of the election, the content was irrelevant. It did not matter to him and many other politicians that there were all sorts of irregularities, not to mention allegations of fraud. The USA went through an election and that was that as far as they were concerned.

In the past this sort of approach would have been called a “demonstration election.” This is the sort of election which the USA insists upon across this globe, particularly in the Third World. Have the formality of political parties. Have the formality of people casting their votes. Ignore irregularities. Ignore the question of whether the franchise is complete and fair. Go through the steps and let the candidate most favorable to the imperialist agenda win.

November 2000 was a demonstration election as far as major segments of the ruling class were concerned.

It should not be for us.

The November Election witnessed problems not only in Florida, but allegations in cities ranging from New York to Chicago to New Orleans. African-American and Latino voters found themselves interrogated by police, stopped at road blocks, as well as being subject (along with many other voters) to bizarre balloting systems. As a result, thousands of votes were not counted.

This is not only about the counting and manual counting of ballots which were run through the machines. It is about the thousands of ballots which were ignored because they were double punched or otherwise rendered useless.

The pollsters told us that the US public is tired of this situation. Part of that alleged fatigue is probably rooted in the fact that the issue has not been appropriately characterized or framed. Indeed, counting and recounting the existing ballots can be tiresome, but the issue before this country is about voting rights vs disenfranchisement. This is not about statistics, nor is it about competence. Nor is it about who wins the final election. It is about whether a vote has any meaning whatsoever.

In our gut, African-Americans, and many other people of good will, understand that the election was stolen. We understand that ignoring the thousands of votes cast in Palm Beach County, for example, means that the voices of masses of regular people were ignored and their actions deemed meaningless. In fact, what is even more outrageous has been the implication raised by many on the political Right that it was ok to ignore the votes of thousands because those folks were allegedly too stupid to figure out what to do once they arrived at the poll and therefore they did not need to be voting anyway. Leaving aside that this sentiment is unconstitutional, it also evidences the true intentions of the political Right in this fight: to reduce the franchise to those with money, power and education. In other words, to ensure that the political realm reflects the realities of economic neo-liberalism: a smaller and smaller elite deciding on the future for a larger and larger body of the dispossessed.

We, of the Black Radical Congress, believe that this struggle is far from over. This should not be seen as solely a legal — in the courts — struggle, though litigation is critically important. This should be seen as a cause for action in the streets, and in all facets of this society. Supporters of democracy need to be agitating about this situation. We need to be writing columns, op-eds, letters to the editor, calling talk-show programs. We need to be holding picket lines and handing out flyers. We need to be supporting demonstrations and civil disobedience, if necessary, which calls attention to the violations of democracy underway.

There is a story passing through the Internet about how this situation is being perceived in the Third World. The story identifies different aspects of what is happening and notes that if this electoral crisis was taking place in the Third World there would be hell to pay. Supporters of democracy should take this observation seriously, and not let this situation be brushed under the rug nor the subject of some sort of unprincipled compromise.

Regardless of our stands on whether people should have voted for Nader or Gore, that is all irrelevant at this moment. What is relevant is the battle for democracy. We need to use this battle, not simply to beat back the Right-wing’s flagrant efforts to disenfranchise entire sections of the population, but in order to advance the struggle. The struggle for democracy must now challenge the archaic and elitist electoral system of this country. We should be fighting for consistency in ballots and balloting procedures. We must fight to build the power of those traditionally disenfranchised.

This is not a time for despair, but a time for agitation and action.

Black Radical Congress
National Office
Columbia University Station
P.O. Box 250791
New York, NY 10025-1509
Phone: (212) 969-0348

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