A Plea for Progress

As Election Day is upon us, I vacillate between continuing to play my assigned role in the sham of American “democracy” (i.e. voting for someone who will, in the end, cater not to the needs of the people, but to whichever corporation has financed her/his campaign) and casting a non-vote of protest. This year, however, I’m firmly in the camp of voting; with a caveat and a plea. Too often, I’ve encountered the argument and fallen prey to it, myself, that voting for a progressive or radical third party is simply enabling the cause of the right wing. This is why, contrary to my instincts, I, an avowed and proud Socialist, voted for Barack Obama, who has proved himself to be an avowed and proud Wall Streetist. The logic is convincing: If we cast our ballot for the Green Party, one of the Socialist Parties, et al, we will simply take votes from the Democratic candidate, thereby ensuring the victory of the Republican. The first problem I see with this argument is that it presupposes that the Democrat is any better than the Republican. The only discernible difference between the two parties is that the Republicans make no pretense of caring for anyone but the banking class. Both parties perpetuate war; corporate subsidies; taxation favorable to the wealthy; a practiced anti-labor stance and a disregard for civil liberties.

I recall watching Jay Leno, during the 2004 presidential campaign season, as he derided, admonished and belittled Ralph Nader for siphoning votes from John Kerry. I also recall the revulsion and anger I felt at Leno’s condescension and audacity. Then, it occurred to me: the establishment has a fine-tuned apparatus in place to keep a third-party candidate from making a real showing in the polls, let alone actually winning a seat (an interesting exception being Vermont, whose citizenry is wise enough to have elected and reelected the Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders). It’s the age-old weapon of assuring conformity: terror. Forward-thinking people are browbeaten into submission for fear of the Republican winning. This is why union members continue to vote for a Democratic Party that has betrayed them, laughing as it cashes the checks culled from the hard-earned wages of working people. In my state, New York, the Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo, last week declared in a New York Times interview (read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/nyregion/25cuomo.html?_r=2&hp) , that he would take on the unions; that business has been victimized in my state. Really? The preponderance of Starbucks and not-really-the-mayor Mike Bloomberg’s support of Wal Mart establishing a foothold in my city (in spite of the people’s successful actions to prevent this malignant entity from poisoning our community) suggest otherwise. Still, co-opted parties, such as the ironically named Working People’s Party, which has bowed its head and endorsed Cuomo, and rank-and-file union members have averred their support for this establishment marionette of the ruling class. When I ask them why, the answer is the same: We fear the victory of the Republican candidate. Well, I counter with this: What if every one of us—and make no mistake, we constitute an overwhelming majority, which is the source of capital’s fear. Let’s really frighten them and be unified—voted for a candidate who actually is one of ours; who is a union member; who is not for sale? The answer is that the Democratic Party would cease to be relevant. This is good. This party acts as a means of confusing the working class and poor. Let a party of the people take on the Republicans.


This Tuesday, I petition all forward-thinking people to cast an honest vote; not a lesser-of-two-evils vote. Personally, I’m voting screw-both-of-the-evils, and abjuring both wings of the single capitalist party. If we all did this, we just might find that our so-called “representative government” actually represents us. People, as the great lover of humanity and justice, imprisoned for exercising his right to free speech (read, speaking an uncomfortable truth), Eugene Debs exhorted us, 105 years ago, GET OUT OF THE CAPITALIST PARTIES! Vote in the interests of people, not profit and capital. Peace, love and a knowledge that we will win!


I leave you with the words of that phenomenon, Helen Keller, on the fallacy of American two-party politics: “Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” Let’s reject capital’s parties, this Tuesday, and cast a vote for life.


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on http://sparrowmedia.net .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.


9 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. andy,

    Great article, Arthur. Thanks for sharing!

  2. So, Arthur, did you do your civic duty?

    Did you remember to flush?

  3. Dan,

    I agree with much of what you’ve said, Arthur. But I have to respectfully disagree with the claim that there is no genuine difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties. Their agendas are entirely different. When Democrats cave to Republican sensibilities — and I’ll frustratedly admit, they do so a lot — it’s because they believe it is politically non-viable to stand up for what they really believe in. This calculation is false. If they would do what voters elected them to do — if they would simply stand strong — they would enjoy lasting power. But the mainstream media has much to do with convincing them otherwise.

    Meanwhile, Democrats do a pretty limited version of what we elected them to do, and we the voters get extremely pissed. As we should. It’s our job on the progressive side to pull politicians closer to us, away from the brink of moderate non-solutions. Still — isn’t that moderate version of what we elected them to do better than an extreme version of what Republicans want to do?

    I’m as annoyed as anybody with the Democratic Party. But I’ll never forget what the Republican Party is and stands for. And I’ll never do a protest vote for an election in which a typical Republican has a chance of victory. If we lived in a truly representative democracy, with a parliament-style arrangement, I’d vote my basic conscience all the way. But my practical conscience begs me to do the thing that is most likely to stop Republican electoral victories in our winner-takes-all political system.

  4. Dan, if all Democrats were going to do was “cave to Republican sensibilities,” when the Democrats gained power they wouldn’t EXPAND on the Republican agenda. They might continue it, but they wouldn’t EXPAND on it. Obama has EXPANDED the Republican wars of aggression based on lies. He EXPANDED the bailouts to the rich. His assassination hit list EXPANDED the erosion of civil rights. Whereas the Republicans trashed the Constitution, but killing people without due process, the Democrats trashed the Magna Carta and took us back to the 13th Century.

    If all they had done was carry out the Republican agenda, but slightly less enthusiastically, your argument would hold water. But they EXPANDED the Republican agenda and did it enthusiastically.

    The Republicans are unspeakably evil, but the Democrats are not the lesser evil, they’re the greater evil because they act worse than the Republicans and then blame the Republicans.

    Without Democratic support, the Republicans couldn’t have accomplished their agenda. Democrats conceded to Republicans without bothering to count the votes, voted with Republicans, took impeachment off the table, refuse to prosecute Republicans, and given control of the White House and Congress, EXPANDED the Republican agenda.

    The results of the election are in. Life expectancy in the U.S. will continue to decline, income disparities will continue to increase, the wars of aggression based on lies that cost trillions of dollars and kill millions of innocent people will continue, and that’s because our Republican/Democratic oligarchy favors the corporations that spend billions to get out the vote to put them in power and legitimize their tyranny. The corporations that rule America don’t just give to Republicans, they give to both parties and in ’08 they gave more money to the Democrats than to the Republicans and their investment paid off for them in increased no-bid defense contracts, the BP oil spill, and more favoritism for the rich than Bush had dared.

    “If elections could change anything, they’d make them illegal.” –Emma Goldman

    “Don’t vote–it only encourages ‘em!” — Old IWW slogan.

    Did you do your civic duty? Did you remember to flush? –Me

    While the FBI assassinated or framed and imprisoned U.S. revolutionaries, Brazil has just elected a former leftist guerrilla leader as President. In Brazil, as in Bolivia and Venezuela, life expectancy will continue to increase (as U.S. life expectancy falls), poverty will continue to decrease (as it increases in the U.S.), and things will just keep getting better in the socialist countries as capitalist greed destroys the corrupt imperialist economies.

    But Brazil has honest elections. The U.S. does not. Our CIA has been rigging elections at home and abroad for decades. The Supreme Court stopped the vote count in 2000 and said that the popular vote is irrelevant and doesn’t matter, and idiot U.S. voters keep voting anyway. By voting to grant their consent of the governed to fascism, voters destroy any possibility of peace and prosperity.

    Did you do your civic duty? Did you remember to flush?

  5. Dan,

    Mark, your comments fail to convince by the end of the first sentence, when you say: “Dan, if all Democrats were going to do was ‘cave to Republican sensibilities,’ when the Democrats gained power they wouldn’t EXPAND on the Republican agenda.”

    First, nobody has said that “all” Dems do is cave to Republican sensibilities. The reality is far different from that. And that was my point, in fact. Second, I fail to see a contradiction between “cave to Republican sensibilities” some of the time and “expand” upon the Republican agenda some of the time.

    Does this post represent your idea for a new political party? The Angst Party?

    Anyway, you conveniently fail to mention the points of differentiation between Democrats and Republicans, of which there are many. Again, my point was to say that Dems actually believe in something other than what they sometimes enact — and if we could just get them to act on their beliefs with strength and conviction, we would get the results we want. That is a far less daunting task than birthing an entirely new political party that enjoys popular support — something that hasn’t happened in over a century.

  6. What you appear to be saying, Dan, is that Democrats secretly believe in something that nobody can tell because they don’t act on their secret beliefs.

    What I’m saying is that because we have no accountability, it doesn’t matter what they believe or don’t believe, they can do whatever their corporate backers tell them to do and we have no way to hold any of them accountable–nether Democrats, nor Republicans, nor a third party.

    I’m not advocating for a third party, as a third party would be part of our corrupt, undemocratic system.

    I’m advocating for democracy.

    You seem to feel that there’s nothing wrong with Democrats pretending to care about democracy some of the time, and pursuing fascist wars of aggression based on lies that torture and kill millions of innocent people all of the time.

    You don’t mind the torture, the unmanned drones bombing innocent civilians, the trillions of dollars spent on war crimes when American life expectancy is declining, joblessness, homelessness, and poverty are increasing, and the economy is being destroyed, as long as Democrats are doing it.

    Latin American, where, unlike the United States, many countries have honest elections, has just elected another “terrorist” President. Dilma Rousseff of Brazil is a former leftist guerrilla leader opposed to capitalism, imperialism, and fascism. And when Latin American leaders elect “terrorists” unfriendly to Rockefeller business interests, their countries’ economies improve, their people become healthier, more prosperous, and live longer. Unlike fascist governments which operate on behalf of private business interests, socialist governments have the audacity to operate on behalf of the general welfare of their own citizens.

    The corporations that rule the United States through the puppets they fund to front for them in the oligarchic bureaucracy we call a government, don’t like it when leftist governments provide free health care, housing, education, and jobs to their people. But the rest of the world does. The United Nations just voted for the 19th time to end the embargo on Cuba. As usual, there were only two no votes, the United States and Israel, the new axis of fascism. How dare their governments care about the health of their people more than about the profitability of the pharmaceutical, insurance, and medical industries?

    No, Dan, in asking people not to vote, to withdraw their consent of the governed from fascism and demand democracy, I’m not advocating for a third party, I’m advocating for nonviolent revolution, ousting the oligarchy, and establishing a democratic form of government that puts people before profits.

    We’re still the only developed country in the world without a national health care plan, and our life expectancy has dropped to 49th place globally. In countries with free health care, people live longer. No third party could accomplish that here, not even in centuries of seeking power within our corrupt system, it is the system of corporate rule, where our government operates on behalf of business rather than on behalf of people, that is the problem, not which parties hold power within that corrupt system.

  7. Dan,

    Once again, by the end of your first sentence, it’s clear that you’re not making much of an effort to understand my stated position.

    You said: “What you appear to be saying, Dan, is that Democrats secretly believe in something that nobody can tell because they don’t act on their secret beliefs.”

    To anyone who understands, well, *words,* it’s clear that I haven’t said that. And it wouldn’t take much research for you to find that Dems have plenty of stated (i.e. not “secret”) platform positions that you would agree with. Now, you don’t believe that the Democratic Party as a whole is living up to those statements, and I agree. I haven’t stated otherwise. What I have stated is: (1) Dems genuinely believe in many progressive ideals that you share; (2) Dems come much closer to fulfilling progressive statements of purpose than Republicans do; (3) where Dems fail, it is because they believe it politically non-viable to succeed in those progressive objectives; and (4) it is a far easier task for us to achieve results by convincing the Democratic party otherwise — by strongly participating as unapologetic progressives — than it is to make symbolic-only gestures of non-participation.

    You said: “No, Dan, in asking people not to vote, to withdraw their consent of the governed from fascism and demand democracy, I’m not advocating for a third party, I’m advocating for nonviolent revolution, ousting the oligarchy, and establishing a democratic form of government that puts people before profits.”

    Do you really think “not voting” is going to create the radical revolution you seek? The only truly successful progressive legislative programs in this country’s history have accorded with the political interests of an entrenched power. That entrenched power has always been progressive in nature, even if it needed a lot of prodding and assurances to finally get there.

    You want to throw grains of sand at a tank. I want to climb inside the tank and wrest the wheel away from the driver. Who do you think has a better chance of success?

    And, to expand on an earlier observation about the fact that you just aren’t paying attention to the position I’m actually advancing: how do you expect to help create a revolution when you won’t even *listen* to your political friends (that’s me)? Do you even want to understand what I’m saying? If not, you might as well be talking to yourself. If you do wish to have a productive conversation — which requires that you understand the points with which you are engaging — I suggest you go back and reread what I’ve written on this thread, without imposing assumptions and biases to which I am not at all committed.

    (Side note: you also seem to think direct democracy will achieve and/or maintain your other lofty ideals. Have you ever seen a large body of people get together and do the right thing — the thing that takes into account complexities and minorities and the under-voiced and standards that ensure fairness and equal access and the like? I certainly haven’t.)

  8. Yes, I have seen large bodies of people get together and do the right thing. If you’d read what I posted, you’d have seen that.

    Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, U.S. life expectancy has decreased. They’re killing you, Dan, and they’re smiling and telling you that they care about you as they do it.

    In the ALBA countries, like Venezuela, Bolivia, and now Brazil, where they have socialist Presidents, life expectancy is increasing, poverty is decreasing, and large bodies of people get together to protect their beloved socialist Presidents every time the U.Sl. attempts a coup. So far they’ve been successful, except in Honduras.

    According to recent surveys, half of all U.S. voters, which includes those who vote for Democrats, Republicans, third parties, and independents, think that people chosen randomly out of phone books could do a better job than those in Congress and the White House. They’re wrong. People who are listed in the phone book have obviously paid their phone bills, so they’re more competent and fiscally responsible that the people in D.C. and would do a better job.

    Not voting is the only proven way to nonviolently oust an oligarchy. Most of the oligarchs who have been ousted and are living in exile were ousted by election boycotts. Once they saw that nobody voted and they lacked the support of the people (the consent of the governed), rather than fight, they usually take their ill-gotten millions and billions and retire to an enclave of ousted oligarchs like themselves, where they can live happily ever after.

    Oligarchs are educated, they know history, and they don’t want to end up with their heads on pikes.

    That’s why they all have offshore bank accounts, homes in foreign countries, private jet planes or chartered plane services on retainer, and keep their bags packed. You never know when people might stop sucking up to the rich and begin to demand a voice in government.

    As long as people vote, the plutocrats have nothing to fear. It means that people are happy with job outsourcing, mortgage fraud, environmental disasters due to lack of safety regulation enforcement, a larger percentage of our population imprisoned than any other country in the world, corporations either outsourcing jobs or using prison labor, and trillions of dollars spent on military adventurism and giveaways to corrupt financial fraudsters, and think that the system can be reformed from within.

    It cannot.

    If we had honest elections, it might be possible, but instead we have faith-based, unverifiable elections, where votes, if counted at all (the Supreme Court says they don’t have to be), are “counted” secretly by easily hacked, unreliable centralized computer tabulators.

    In Ireland, when the government brought in voting machines, the people simply refused to use them, and they were never used and had to be scrapped. American voters are so apathetic that they don’t care if their votes are really counted, so even knowing that the machines are so unreliable that they regularly “lose” tens of thousands of votes, they keep voting anyway.

    The Republicans didn’t force Obama to announce his assassination hit list, he did it all by himself. Not even Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were that tyrannical. And the Tea Party can’t torture and kill more innocent people than Bush and his dear friend Obama have. They couldn’t even begin to catch up.

    Do you have kids, Dan? How would you feel if your son or daughter came home and said that they’d killed a sleeping homeless person with an axe, and that they hadn’t wanted to do it, but their friends were doing it and it would have cost them their social status if they’d refused? That’s the excuse you’re making for the Democrats, that that don’t really believe in and want to torture and kill millions of innocent people, but “it’s because they believe it is politically non-viable to stand up for what they really believe in.”

    I think I’ll let you have the last word. I really don’t enjoy talking with war criminals and their supporters and apologists. Crimes against humanity aren’t something I’ll excuse on the basis of political expediency. Particularly not when most of the Democrats (just like the Republicans) happen to have defense stocks in their investment portfolios that increase in value every time they vote for war.

    Unsubscribing to this thread.

  9. Dan,

    “Yes, I have seen large bodies of people get together and do the right thing. If you’d read what I posted, you’d have seen that.”

    I’m sorry, are you referring to life expectancy in Brazil as your example? Am I supposed to believe that that represents a gathering of people who got together and implemented a holistic agenda of social progress? The scope of your “evidence” is far too small to actually edify the point you’re trying to make. You seem to be making a habit of committing sins of omission. Your life expectancy example, which is apparently the cornerstone of your case for the practical possibility of progressive direct democracy, omits the fact that the U.S., even if life expectancy is decreasing, still has a far higher life expectancy than Brazil, even if life expectancy is increasing there.


    It also omits the fact that Brazil and the U.S. have decidedly different cultures, but we don’t even need to get into that. You haven’t done the legwork necessary to present any kind of case for even your limited-scope position. (By the way, I for one do not see life expectancy, sans qualification, as the sign of a truly progressive nation. A progressive nation would incentivize the reduction of human population, since it is at the root of all our most fundamental and far-reaching crises. But that is another discussion.)

    For another example of your sins of omission, as I’ve already pointed out, there are plenty of progressive things Dems do enact or at least fight to enact. You don’t seem willing to admit that obvious reality. At the same time, I haven’t denied that Dems do bad things; in fact, I’ve asserted as much. You can keep arguing against your fantasy opponent, I guess, but it once again shows how little effort you’ve put in to understanding my actual position.

    “I really don’t enjoy talking with war criminals and their supporters and apologists. Crimes against humanity aren’t something I’ll excuse on the basis of political expediency.” I am not an apologist (once again, you misunderstand my position). I am a realist. You can have your fantasy revolution. I’ll take hard-won progress in the real world. I’m a vegan, and you remind me of the vegans who don’t support legislation that incrementally increases farmed animal welfare because they believe it doesn’t go far enough. They forget that in the immediate term, such legislation genuinely betters the lives of 10 billion non-human animals each year. In the long term, it creates a legal foundation for arguing for more fundamental rights for animals. If the law acknowledges even the smallest of rights for these animals, the stage is set to acknowledge far more fundamental and expansive rights. The law works that way — existing bodies of incremental legal progressions and precedents set the stage for a consequent fundamental change.

    But hey, you’re “unsubscribing to this thread.” Just like you’ve unsubscribed from political engagement, eh? You’ve chosen to see me as an enemy, when I am anything but. Well, see ya. In this case, at least, it seems we’ve both got better things to do with our time.

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