People in the U.S. are preoccupied with voting to anunhealthy degree. This is not to say that everyone votes, orthinks voting is eective or worthwhile; on the contrary, asmaller and smaller proportion o the eligible population votesevery election year, and that’s not just because more and morepeople are in prison. But when you broach the question o politics, o having a say in the way things are, voting is justabout the only strategy anyone can think o—voting, andinuencing others’ votes.Could it be this is why so many people eel so disempowered?Is anonymously checking a box once a year, or every our years,enough to eel included in the political process, let alone play arole in it? But what is there besides voting?In act, voting or people to represent your interests isthe
efcient and eective means o applying politicalpower. The alternative, broadly speaking, is acting directly torepresent your interests yoursel. This is known in some circles as “direct action.” Directaction is occasionally misunderstood to mean another kindo campaigning, lobbying or inuence on elected ofcials by means o political activist tactics; but it properly reers to any action or strategy that cuts out the middle man and solvesproblems directly, without appealing to elected representatives,corporate interests, or other powers.Concrete examples o direct action are everywhere. Whenpeople start their own organization to share ood with hungry olks, instead o just voting or a candidate who promises tosolve “the homeless problem” with tax dollars and bureaucracy,that’s direct action. When a man makes and gives out iersaddressing an issue that concerns him, rather than countingon the newspapers to cover it or print his letters to the editor,that’s direct action. When a woman orms a book club withher riends instead o paying to take classes at a school, or does what it takes to shut down an unwanted corporate superstore inher neighborhood rather than deerring to the authority o city planners, that’s direct action, too. Direct action is the oundationo the old-ashioned can-do American ethic, hands-on and no-nonsense. Without it, hardly anything would get done.In a lot o ways, direct action is a more eective means orpeople to have a say in society than voting is. For one thing, voting is a lottery—i a candidate doesn’t get elected, then allthe energy his constituency put into supporting him is wasted,as the power they were hoping he would exercise or themgoes to someone else. With direct action, you can be sure that your work will oer some kind o results; and the resources you develop in the process, whether those be experience,contacts and recognition in your community, or organizationalinrastructure, cannot be taken away rom you.Voting consolidates the power o a whole society in thehands o a ew politicians; through orce o sheer habit, not tospeak o other methods o enorcement, everyone else is kept ina position o dependence. Through direct action, you becomeamiliar with your own resources and capabilities and initiative,discovering what these are and how much you can accomplish.Voting orces everyone in a movement to try to agreeon one platorm; coalitions fght over what compromises tomake, each action insists that they know the best way andthe others are messing everything up by not going along with their program. A lot o energy gets wasted in thesedisputes and recriminations. In direct action, on the otherhand, no vast consensus is necessary: dierent groups canapply dierent approaches according to what they believe inand eel comortable doing, which can still interact to orm amutually benefcial whole. People involved in dierent directactions have no need to squabble, unless they really are seekingconicting goals (or years o voting have taught them to fght with anyone who doesn’t think exactly as they do). Conictsover voting oten distract rom the real issues at hand, aspeople get caught up in the drama o one party against another,one candidate against another, one agenda against another. With direct action, on the other hand, the issues themselvesare raised, addressed specifcally, and oten resolved.Voting is only possible when election time comes around.Direct action can be applied whenever one sees ft. Voting is only useul or addressing whatever topics are current in the politicalagendas o candidates, while direct action can be applied in every aspect o your lie, in every part o the world you live in.Voting is glorifed as “reedom” in action. It’s not reedom—reedom is getting to decide what the choices are in the frstplace, not picking between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Direct actionis the real thing. You make the plan, you create the options, thesky’s the limit.Ultimately, there’s no reason the strategies o voting anddirect action can’t both be applied together. One does notcancel the other out. The problem is that so many people think o voting as their primary way o exerting political and socialpower that a disproportionate amount o everyone’s time andenergy is spent deliberating and debating about it while otheropportunities to make change go to waste. For months andmonths preceding every election, everyone argues about the voting issue, what candidates to vote or or whether to vote atall, when voting itsel takes less than an hour. Vote or don’t, butget on with it! Remember how many other ways you can make your voice heard. This being an election year, we hear constantly about theoptions available to us as voters, and almost nothing about ourother opportunities to play a decisive role in our society. What we need is a campaign to emphasize the possibilities moredirect means o action and community involvement have tooer. These need not be seen as in contradiction with voting. We can spend an hour voting once a year, and the other threehundred sixty our days and twenty three hours acting directly! Those who are totally disenchanted with representativedemocracy, who dream o a world without presidents andpoliticians, can rest assured that i we all learn how to apply deliberately the power that each o us has, the question o which politician is elected to ofce will become a moot point. They only have that power because we delegate it to them! Acampaign or direct action puts power back where it belongs,in the hands o the people rom whom it originates.
V o t i n g i s t h e l e a s t e f f e c t i v e s t r a t e g y f o r h a v i n g a s a y i n s o c i e t y . Y o u c a n v o t e o n c e o r t w i c e a y e a r , b u t i t ’ s w h a t y o u d o e v e r y d a y t h a t c o u n t s . D o n ’ t a b d i c a t e y o u r p o w e r t o s o - c a l l e d r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s — t a k e r e s p o n s i b i l i t y f o r t h e w a y s y o u c a n c h a n g e t h e w o r l d y o u r s e l f .
D O N ’ T J U S T V O T E —
G E T A C T I V E
A C o m m u n i t y N o n - P a r t i s a n V o t e r s ’ G u i d e 2 0 0 4
Voting for people to represent your interests is the leastefcient and effective meansof applying political power. Thealternative, broadly speaking,is acting directly to represent your interests yourself.