Every three years or so, New Zealanders get to exercise their democratic rights of marking a piece of paper and vote. Gripped by election fever, and because from a young age we have all been led to believe that voting is a something to be treasured and is crucial in deciding our own, and the countries future, you will hear people claim that it is the most important act a citizen can get involved with and that if you don’t vote you can’t complain.

One of the saddest things of an election run-in is to witness even people who consider themselves radicals for the rest of the time suddenly get interested in parliamentary politics and declare themselves for a party who while offering slightly better outcomes for some of the more vulnerable of society, put forward very little else of substance.

It is our choice that will decide the election we are told, but time and time again the reality is that all that is on offer for us to exercise our democratic right is a choice between a few uninspiring mediocrities, who have already been chosen for us by their uninspiring mediocre parties, offering a similar array of uninspiring mediocre policies that lie within a very narrow range of political and economic ideas.

If you don’t like the choices then vote for the lesser of two evils we are advised…your vote can make a difference. Even when there is a ‘better’ party (the Greens, if they are to believed, maybe will make life slightly more bearable for beneficiaries for example), or ‘better’ candidate (Yes Jacinda you have a lovely smile and are very media friendly, but why do you make me think of Tony Blair in a dress), that difference will not mean anything unless the people are asserting their power outside of parliament, in ways that whoever forms the next government will find difficult, even dangerous, to ignore.

Vote if you must, but if you want to live in a democratic society, outside of the few minutes that it takes to go into the polling station and register your choice on the paper, our time really needs to be spent on educating, agitating, and organising our fellow citizens in our workplaces and communities. Our aim has to be to build a movement that will challenge the established parties into changing their policies on matters of social justice in the short-term and to do away with the lot of them and revolutionise society in the long run.

Despite Labour and the Greens caring, sharing rhetoric, they do not offer what is really needed, such as well paid jobs for everyone, radical changes in taxation to ensure a fairer distribution of the wealth, guaranteed housing needs met for those facing homelessness, and a transformation away from the unsatisfactory way many of our country are living now. They are still parties very much of the establishment, and only a popular upsurge will move them away from the centre. Governments of all colours have only ever given the people what they want when faced with actions that make them sit up and take notice. Without such pressure, they will renege on promises, ignore us, and continue thinking they know what is best for us.

We need to free ourselves from the election madness that engulfs most of us, including those who position themselves on the radical left. Either side of those few minutes we spend at the polling station we need to be taking actions against what prevents us from leading freer, more comfortable lives.

The radical US historian Howard Zinn said that “Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.” He is right, and all citizens concerned about the direction this country is taking need to ask themselves what they are going to do the day after election day to address that concern.