20150519_nobody

The recent local elections have seen a continuation in the decline in the numbers of the people taking time to vote. Along with this comes the usual soul searching and hand wringing among commentators in the media wondering just what is going wrong, and how can it be fixed.

The usual possible solutions are offered including on-line voting, making voting compulsory, a “none of the above” option being placed on the ballot paper, or a “no-confidence party” being formed for the disaffected. Of course some just consider the electorate to be too distracted by other things, too ignorant, too ungrateful of living in a democracy, or just too lazy.

From my experience of talking with people who don’t vote there is an instinctive repulsion for our politicians and the system that hands them a nominal position of power, while not really troubling the corporate giants who really hold the reins. They know that their vote is worthless, politicians make promises they have no intention of keeping, and that it doesn’t really matter who you vote for as things will not change. There is a famous anarchist poster that says, “vote for nobody, nobody tells the truth,” and it certainly seems that with each passing local and central government election nobody is getting more and more popular.

While we’re not against democracy per se, the problem with relying on voting to change things under our parliamentary system is that it still locks the individual into the system that has been reflecting and defending their interests pretty poorly. We need to change our whole thinking of how to look after our interests. Trusting them to politicians is not working.

As we face a world of climate collapse, poverty in the face of obscene wealth, and permanent war, our representative democracy is in fact part of the problem of a broken system. It endorses and legitimates an unjust political system and makes us look to others to fight our battles for us, while at the same time offering us the illusion that electing parties to office means that people have control over their own lives.

With the goal of electoral politics being to elect a representative who will act for us, our system blocks constructive self-activity and direct action, and leaves most with a tendency to entrust important matters to the “experts” and “authorities,” when the reality should be the opposite. No one else is suited to know what is best for us than ourselves.

In fact far from empowering people, electioneering dis-empowers them by creating an expectation of a “leader” figure from which changes are expected to flow. Because of this, instead of building worthwhile alternatives in our communities and workplaces, political participation merely becomes the activity of campaigning and voting. Instead of participating in decisions that affect our lives, we become passive observers as we hand that power over to others who don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart.

Instead we need to be looking outside of parliament and local authorities to solve our problems. Such extra-parliamentary activity, based around individuals solving their own problems by their own actions, not only can achieve changes, but also builds confidence in people, teaches them how to use their initiative, and helps create solidarity between us all. Most importantly it breeds a sense of individual and collective power, giving a sense of what we do matters and that we can change the world.

Nothing will ever change unless we ditch our reliance on politicians and act for ourselves. It is only through the use of action that we can force the establishment to respect the wishes of the people. In short, what happens in our communities, workplaces and environment is too important to be left to politicians, or indeed the ruling elite who mostly control governments.

Abstention from the ballot box allied with vibrant and powerful movements built around extra-parliamentary activity is the only way we can meet the challenges facing us as we face an increasingly uncertain future, and will send a powerful message to the powers that be that we are serious in our desire for change. However, if you must vote, don’t expect too much, and remember that what is really important is what we do every other day of the year to protect our own and our community’s interests.