Last week Dan Sanchez proposed that one way to protest war and criminally inept government is to stop attending political events and not voting in elections. I agree with him on this much: that to boycott public appearances by warmonger politicians makes a powerful statement. (On the other hand, chatting, texting, and taking selfies during a speech might embarrass a demagogue politician even more.)
But I definitely don’t agree with Dan when it comes to not voting. It isn’t necessarily clear to the powers that be what mere abstention signifies. They might take it to mean people have given up, beaten into what psychologists call learned helplessness. That would be positive reinforcement: nothing would please the political establishment more than for us to give up and accept serfhood.
Instead I believe it’s much better to take positive action by voting for antiwar and pro-peace candidates. This registers dissatisfaction with the war-duopoly much more directly and effectively. The Democrat/Republican establishment will covet every vote an antiwar Green, Libertarian or independent gets.
But what if there isn’t an antiwar candidate? That’s the situation I faced in this year’s race for US Congress in California’s 24th District (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties) . The answer is simple: to run oneself.
Getting ones name on the ballot as an independent in California’s congressional primary is simple. One only has to pay a filing fee of $1740 (1% of the current salary of a US Representative) and collect 40 nominating signatures. For an additional $1660 one can have a 250-word platform statement included in the printed Sample Ballot Booklet which voters in my county receive. That eliminates the need for expensive television ads, mass mailings and phone banking (which I avoid in any case on the principle of not inflicting on others what one find’s odious oneself). As I already have a website and can program, adding new pages for the campaign is easy and costs nothing.
From there it’s just a matter of spreading the word in ways like participating in candidate forums, attending public events like Earth Day, emailing press releases and handing out fliers.
Integral to this form of peace activism is that one doesn’t have to win the election to have an effect . My goal is simply to enable others to cast a meaningful vote. The focus is on the long term: every vote for peace brings us closer to a future time when a peace majority will prevail.
The advantages of this form of peace activism are several.
First, few things are as powerful in changing attitudes and behavior as an actual example. Actions speak far louder than words. A good example demonstrates conviction and is virtually assured of producing imitation.
Second, it turns the election into something meaningful and legitimizes our political institutions. We are privileged to live in a democracy. Whether elections are a tool for mass control, or positive change is up to us.
Third, having an antiwar candidate on the ballot empowers fellow citizens. It counters the growing spirit of cynicism by enabling people to cast a vote for something that matters. And once someone does vote for peace, they will be more likely to take other steps to oppose the war machine.
Fourth, running for office (with right intentions) is good for you. It causes you to rise to the occasion by improving your communication and organizational skills, ordering priorities and putting aside frivolities.
As a future goal we should try to have a peace candidate run in every House and Senate race. If this becomes common enough, voters will routinely look for the antiwar candidate on the ballot.
Will this alone wake people up and end US military imperialism? Probably not, but as war is a problem with no single remedy, our best strategy is to do everything within our means to stop it.