“To vote is to give up your own power. To elect a master or many, for a long or short time, is to resign one’s liberty”
– Elisee Reclus
Many people work hard to convince those who don’t vote that they should. At the last three UK general elections the percentage of the electorate that didn’t vote has almost matched the percentage that voted for the winning party* (35-40%). All those people are not simply ‘disengaged’ – in need of a good talking to about their responsibilities as a citizen and a swift kick up the arse while we’re at it. We cannot write off such a large mass of people as apathetic, lazy or uneducated.
This system does not and cannot speak for everyone: the young, the working classes, or anyone with a minority opinion. We need to stop saying that those people are the problem and start acknowledging that the system is the problem. There is far more to political engagement than ballot papers. The narrative that if you don’t vote you can’t have any say in politics is dangerous and disempowering. Politics is everywhere and can be for anyone, whether that’s at home, on the streets or in a prison cell.
Here are some answers to common arguments against not voting…
If I don’t vote, then nothing will change.
That’s true if you do vote, with the added kicker that you might also get change that no-one voted for and no-one wants – who needs the Bedroom Tax or Labour’s tough stance on immigration on their conscience?
Voting is a pitifully slow and ineffective way of creating change. In reality, the only thing that has ever created change is collective action; we think that action should be direct. Direct action is not just a tactic but a transformative way of taking back power for the people and beginning to re-organise our world.
Parliament merely provides a democratic facade that allows neo-liberal capitalism to keep flowing.
“The ballot does not make a free man out of a wage slave. There has never existed a truly free and democratic nation in the world”.
– Helen Keller (Strike Against War, 1915)
But what do you expect to change by not voting?
Most tube strikes have more support than Boris Johnson received to become Mayor of London and almost the same amount of people voted for the winning party in the last three general elections as the amount that didn’t vote at all.
If we can show that low turnout and spoilt ballots happen because politicians don’t/can’t represent people, we can further de-legitimise their ‘rule’. A big turn out for spoilt ballots would send a clearer message to those in power than any number of protest votes, online petitions or letter writing campaigns.
If the current system loses legitimacy, we can think about replacing it with alternatives – but that’s less likely to happen if we keep legitimising it by voting for it.
Isn’t not voting just a sign of apathy?
Apathy doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s a natural, healthy response to disappointment and dejection, a way to forget about broken promises and betrayal. We think the blame should be laid at the door of the people breaking the promises, not the people feeling disappointed.
Simply turning out once every four or five years to put a mark in a box could be described as apathetic; to those already engaged in political activity beyond the ballot box, it feels that way.
Nobody is suggesting staying at home and doing nothing. Spoil your ballot: a vote for none of the above, if you will, a vote against the system. Engage in politics: find a campaign or issue that matters to you. Take to the streets: make a banner, create a zine, build a movement. Do something! Lots of amazing people already do.
Politics would represent [insert underrepresented group here] if only they voted.
Like the Liberal Democrats represented the thousands of young people who voted for them – many for the first time – in the last election? If you look at recent history it tends to suggest that elections are about scoring political points with the people who are most likely to vote for you – then you can forget about representing anyone and do whatever you want.
Remember the Iraq war? Did anyone vote for that? No, but millions marched against it.
Even if politicians actually did what they said they would do for the electorate, they are still more likely (in the current system) to listen to the money – corporations, business leaders, media barons etc. – than they are to listen to the electorate. Most of those people don’t vote in UK elections, many barely even pay tax here – but they have more influence over our national politics than your vote does.
“The party, a true instrument of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, reinforces the machine, and ensures that the people are hemmed in and immobilized. The party helps the government to hold the people down. It becomes more and more clearly anti-democratic, an implement of coercion.”
Frantz Fanon [The Wretched of the Earth 1961]
But if I don’t vote, the Conservative party might win – and they’re the worst thing ever.
Do the people who voted to ‘keep out the tories’ in 97 take full responsibility for the Iraq War, student debt and opening up the NHS to privatisation? We don’t think they should: we think our system and the elites that run it are to blame. That’s also why we don’t think blame should be levelled at the door of anyone who refuses to vote for Labour policies – many of which are abhorrent – this time round. Nobody should feel forced to vote for something they hate, just because something they hate more might win.
But what about UKIP? They’re even worse than the worst thing ever.
We know, we know: they’re awful. But if you want to fight against UKIP spreading their toxic attitudes against immigration any further, don’t do it by voting for parties that are outdoing each other to be more UKIP than UKIP. The best way to defeat UKIP is to join campaigns such as No Borders or any of these migrant solidarity campaigns who are using direct action to change attitudes.
But people died for my right to vote.
Lots of courageous people struggled and gave their lives because they believed in the principle of collectivism. A vote for any of the mainstream neo-liberal parties is a vote for individualism and exploitation.
“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”
― Karl Marx
WOMEN DIED FOR YOUR VOTE, WOMAN!
And women are consistently amongst the most fucked over by parliamentary politics, particularly those who also belong to minorities and other oppressed groups.
The pressure on women to vote because of suffragist movements ignores radicalism within women’s movements across the world. Women didn’t die for you to be led by a bunch of elite, white, conservative men: Suffragists were (generally) revolutionaries not reformists.
On the other hand, many movements for suffrage, including women’s suffrage, were dominated by white members of the elite who ignored and actively rejected the involvement of ‘others’, including working class, disabled, LGBTQ* and BME groups.
We live in a hetero-patriarchal society, built on colonialism and imperialism. An election is not about to change that, but other forms of political activity can.
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”
– Audre Lorde (1984)
Some people don’t even have the right to vote, you privileged scum!
That’s true, but we’re not we’re arguing for a less democratic system. Parliamentary democracy is indeed more democratic than dictatorship; parliamentary democracy may even be the most democratic political system the world has ever known (it’s not), but that doesn’t necessarily make it democratic, or as democratic as we’d like.
And it’s not possible to vote for more democracy in the current system – the only parties that have changing the political system on their manifesto aren’t ever going to win because of the political system they operate in. It’s yer classic Catch 22.
Voting doesn’t effect change. Whoever you vote for, the political class wins – voting maintains the privilege of the most privileged class.
Everyone would vote if it was easier or less confusing.
Last year’s Scottish referendum proved once and for all that the masses do have the time, energy, knowledge and interest to engage in politics both at grassroots level in communities and in the polling station with pencil and paper.
84.6% turned out and voted. This record burst of political involvement did not happen by chance but because for the first time in living memory people were offered a genuine choice. Unfortunately that choice was not reflected in the largely biased and unrepresentative mainstream media, but that’s for another democracy debate.
Are you just saying this because Russell Brand’s saying it?
Russell Brand is probably saying it because of a long history of anarchist thought against the sham of parliamentary democracy and the voting system that holds it up. William Godwin, one of the first modern proponents of anarchism, was arguing against parliamentary democracy as early as 1789.
Are you just saying this because the Labour party is so shit?
No: the Labour Party is so shit because of our shitty political system. But, yes, the Labour Party is very shit. All political parties are necessarily shit, because the system that produces them is also shit.
Though there are still a few decent members, the Labour party has become increasingly right wing and no longer represents working class people, or other minorities for that matter. Why? Because to win elections you have to be in the centre, pander to the mainstream media (which is predominantly owned by millionaires and oligarchs), and become part of the political class (the elite).
It makes me really, really angry that you won’t vote, you idiots.
Isn’t that anger a sign of how rigged the voting system is? Aren’t you frustrated because you can’t just vote for what you want – even if that’s nobody – without having to engage with tactical voting and the world of bullshit that is The Election? We think that anger would be better directed at the people who keep the system in place.
But I still really, really want to vote.
If you really feel you must vote, why not have a look at this article by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett first? We also published an article by Class War’s Ian Bone called An Anarchist Guide to Electioneering. We’re not trying to tell anyone what to do, we’re just opening the debate to show another side of the story.
We realise some people might find our ‘Don’t Vote’ designs controversial, but STRIKE! exists to put forward views that are unrepresented – or misrepresented – in the mainstream. But the right to vote should also include the right not to vote, or to vote for no-one…
*Non voters vs winning votes:
Anarchism and not voting
Women, suffrage and voting
Emma Goldman (1911), The Tragedy of Women’s Emancipation, Anarchism and Other Essays.
Shulamith Firestone (1970), On American Feminism, The Dialectic of sex.
Anarchist Federation, What the Suffragettes did for us.
Supporting migrants (direct action against UKIP)