I have friends who sometimes wonder just that. They think that their vote won’t matter, or that elections are rigged or that politicians only server the elite, saying, “If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal.” However, that is not true, & even if it was, it is still worth a try.
It is true that those who hold power do not wish to relinquish it, & that those in power do not want the status quo to change; but that is the very reason why voting can be so powerful in a Democratic Republic. It has always been the case, be it a Democratic Republic, a Dictatorship or a Monarchy, that those currently in power could be removed by an outcry or mass protest by the majority of the people, by a revolution.
Voting is a chance to have a peaceful revolution every few years. The people can enter the ballot & make clear their outcry, make clear their protest, by voting out of power, those who are currently in power.
As much as a person may wish to pretend senators are like the common man, they are not. They have vast amounts of money, a mansion, & have to work very little. They therefore enjoy this life, & do not want these things taken from them. This is where voting can influence change; politicians will often do anything to remain in power, anything to maintain their easy lifestyle, so if the people make their demands clear, politicians will in fact be forced to do as the people say.
This means that people should not just vote on election day, but that they should vote every day with their actions, they should make it clear what they want. People should write their mayor, governor, congressmen, senators, & presidents, regularly. Tell them what you want, and that if they do not do it, then you will vote them out of office.
Now one might say, “But my letters won’t matter, they won’t care about just one vote.” True, however if a lot of people wrote to them, all expressing the similar things, then the politician would realize they have a choice: Either do as the people say, or lose your comfy position. When given that option, they will do as the people say, or they will be replaced by someone who will.
Some people may say, “But if we vote them out of office, then we are still being controlled by someone, we just replaced a cruel master with a kind master, that isn’t much better.” But it can lead to better things, for who would you rather have to protest against, a politician who believes in human rights & treating people kindly, or one who believes in gassing, jailing, & beating protesters?
It is far easier to gain what we want, if we are demanding it from someone who is willing to listen to the people, someone who cares about what the people want. When people protested against dictators like Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il, they were swiftly murdered, & to overcome such people would result in the deaths of many protesters. Where as protesting a more freer system usually results in the deaths of far fewer people, & may even be able to happen peacefully.
So voting gives us that option, would we rather have to protest against a dictator, struggling with them for more power for the people, or would we rather protest against someone who is willing to eventually do as the people say or step down from power peacefully? The choice is ours.
The right to the vote – the ability to organise and promote alternative ideas, is just one element in the hard won struggles of workers & suffragettes, & is worth defending. None of the rights we now enjoy were simply gifts handed to us by our rulers, they all had to be struggled for. In democratic societies it is easier to gain rights than it is from dictatorships, as Mikhail Bakunin said, “The most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than even the most enlightened monarchy.”
By voting every day with our actions, we can force politicians to respect the wishes of the people. If someone tries to limit free speech, we can encourage free speech, we can break unjust laws until they are revoked. Slaves kept breaking free & defending themselves until they were declared free, blacks & whites kept getting married until the laws saying they couldn’t were removed, workers fought with strikes for days off, child labour laws, & safe conditions until they got them. We must be a people of action, a people of deeds, we must fight for what we want or else lose them. We must vote for the things we want, be it by filling out a ballot, writing a letter, protesting, striking, or breaking unjust laws.
Voting for those who will listen to social protests (letter writing, strikes, rallies, boycotts, etc), & then protesting, would be an effective means of stopping authoritarian laws being passed. These forms of voting are vital as the government could happily handle hours of speeches by opposition politicians, but they could not ignore large social protest. Organisation & political engagement enhances the democracy & is an essential step towards social change.
By voting for people & parties that will not stand against our goals, we can eventually achieve them. Even if voting at a ballot won’t create any “serious or lasting change” surely the fact that ballot voting requires little effort in exchange for some change makes it worthwhile. Not voting would make less difference than voting, not voting would not decrease state power, If only 1% of the population voted then that simply means that the government will be decided by that 1%.
Ballot voting usually won’t bring about a complete revolution like how voting with actions could, at most we could hope for some reforms, but those reforms can benefit the people. Voting is an opportunity to possibly improve your lot in the short term and maybe give you some breathing room to undertake the real task of action to achieve a revolution of the heart.
Ballot voting on its own does not normally have operative power to reduce the government’s hold over us. But when combined with action, with protests, voting can provide withering power, voting can advance candidates and legislation that may help to wither, or forestall, oppressive authorities. For instance, voting for candidates who are against creating new bombs, missiles, & other instruments of violence, voting against the militarising of police, & voting for taxes to be used to fund education and social services, instead of thousands of bombs & jets we do not need, can advance the dignity and quality of the life of the people living in poverty. Which allows people to rise up, & learn how to grow their own food, build their own homes, & eventually realize that we do not need a government as long as we love one another & help each other.
-Jack Danya Kemplin