Occupy the Voting Booth Revisited

OK, so maybe I’m a little sensitive since I just wrote my piece on why the Occupy movement needs an electoral strategy. (And yeah, Occupy a Voting Booth does not really appear to be a unique title on my part, but sometimes the obvious choices are good ones.) But this piece in the Philadelphia Daily News putting down the idea that Occupiers should care about voting really aggravated me. It came off as ax-grinding, and poorly-researched and poorly-thought-out ax-grinding.

Will Bunch sets up the question like this:

The main kiosk at the west entrance to Occupy Philly is plastered with fliers for a “die-in” later today at PNC Bank and a Tuesday night event,”Why Does the Curfew Matter to Occupy Philadelphia?” but not one reference to Election Day.
Indeed, when it comes to the anti-corporate-greed Occupy movement that has blown open the national political dialogue in just six short weeks since it debuted on Wall Street, the main election debate is this:
Do elections even matter?

Bunch then dismisses those voices saying that Occupy should be part of the electoral process by calling them “voices of the Establishment” before approvingly quoting Michael Moore:

Michael Moore, the left-wing filmmaker and rabble rouser who has spoken at Occupy rallies from New York’s Zuccotti Park to Oakland, says that an emphasis on voting is tantamount to an endorsement of politics as usual.
“This movement is so beyond just, ‘Hey, let’s get behind this candidate, get them elected to office,’ ” Moore told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week. “Those days are over. You know, we’ve all worked for candidates. We’ve all voted. We’ve all participated. And what have we gotten out of it?”

OK, here’s the thing. Since 1968 there have been 11 presidential elections. Call 2000 a split, and Republicans have won six and Democrats have won 4. So if Moore’s wondering why it doesn’t seem like voting has gotten him and the left very much, it’s because they’ve lost more than they’ve won. So one possibility is that the public doesn’t agree with Moore and the leftward tilt of movements like Occupy – in which case it’s pretty silly for Occupy to say “We are the 99%” when they’re not even 50% plus one. Another possibility is that Occupy does represent a majority of Americans – but that majority can’t enact its preferences because, despite Moore’s claim, they’re not participating.

Bunch then goes on to cite a common justification for not-voting:

“If elections changed anything, they would be important,” said C.T. Lawrence Butler, a founder of the Food Not Bombs movement, who was visiting Occupy Philly from a commune north of Baltimore. “But most of the time it’s between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” Surveys have shown that a majority of Occupy protesters voted for Obama in 2008, but are fed up over his coddling of Wall Street or the unending war in Afghanistan.

I’m going to put aside the reference to “his coddling of Wall Street” because that’s an entire topic on its own, but are we really still going with “There’s no difference between the candidates” in 2011? Are there people who think that Al Gore would have pursued the same policies that George W. Bush did? Are there people who think that John McCain would have signed any kind of law expanding access to health insurance or any kind of law regulating Wall Street or setting up a consumer finance protection bureau?

Go ahead and say these measures aren’t enough. Go ahead and demand more. But recognize that the conservative movement has been pushing its agenda since 1980. They didn’t get it all when Ronald Reagan was elected. They didn’t get it all when George H.W. Bush was elected. They didn’t get it all when George W. Bush was elected or re-elected. But they’ve kept pushing and they’ve kept turning out to vote. The only way to push back is to vote against them.

Bunch quotes an independent party candidate for a local office who is frustrated that she can’t get more support from the Occupiers, who don’t seem interested in voting at all. Then he turns his fire at the “pundits” again, including his own bosses who, apparently, envisioned a different article from Bunch and share my good taste in titles:

To the “grown-up” punditry class – including even the Daily News editors who assigned me to this article to match a front page picturing a voting booth with the words “Occupy This!” – a move into elections will be a much-needed sign of maturity for the Occupiers.
Here’s why the political pundits (including Daily News editors) are wrong, in my opinion.
Remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the guy with the national holiday and that big statue on the National Mall. Do you know how many political candidates or parties King endorsed in his career? Zero.

OK. The entire piece was bad, but now we have just gone horribly, horribly wrong.

First of all, so far, the entire article has been about voting. Not endorsements, not running candidates, but voting. Does anyone want to claim that King and the civil rights movement didn’t care about participating in the voting process? Does anyone want to claim that King didn’t want people to vote because it didn’t really matter? Do I have to write a few hundred words about the Voting Rights Act, or the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s attempt to seat African-American delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, or the voter registration drives, or the confrontations with Southern sheriffs provoked merely by an African-American attempting to register to vote? No? Good.

But let’s go to the larger point about King and endorsements. OK, King never said “I endorse so and so.” But in 1960, when he was in jail due to a traffic ticket, John F. Kennedy called his wife Coretta and Robert F. Kennedy worked behind the scenes to get King released. King’s father endorsed Kennedy over Nixon. King himself came out with effusive public praise of Kennedy even though he said he needed to remain officially neutral. King knew that he was helping Kennedy, and he thought that was a good idea. In 1964, King was not as fond of Lyndon Johnson, but he denounced Barry Goldwater and urged people not to vote for him. That doesn’t sound like someone remaining neutral in the electoral process.

OK, we’re in the home stretch now. What else does Bunch have to say?

In six remarkable weeks, the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street has changed the national conversation so that foreclosure, student debt and the lack of jobs are no longer taboo words on cable-news shows. Everyone should vote, and there will surely be some 2012 campaigns – consumer-advocate Elizabeth Warren’s Massachusetts Senate bid is a template – that stir this movement.

Side note – hey, you know who else started talking about the lack of jobs and student debt back in August and September? Some guy named Barack Obama. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

But look at that last sentence. “Everyone should vote.”

Everyone should vote? Really? You’ve just spent how much time questioning whether elections really matter and arguing that it’s between Tweedldee and Teedledum but in the end you’re going to say that everyone should vote? Which, by the way, is the point of the newspaper cover you mocked your editors for using?

Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who spends two hours critiquing his foolishness?

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