To Vote or Not to Vote: Using the Other Tool
Today I read an article by Farai Chideya over at Alternet in which she lamented about a girlfriend that she says is guilty of not voting. To Ms. Chideya's credit she avoided the usual skreed that many blacks make about how so-and-so died so you could vote. She gave poor Kiesha, the changed name of the "guilty" party, one line of self defense. Kiesha votes with her dollar. Ms. Chideya claimed that Kiesha was falling victim to consumerism. Let me state the case for those of use who have the "vote with money" attitudes.
I lost interest in voting when Jessie Jackson failed to secure the vice presidential spot. I recall being on the bus going to school one morning and passing J. Jackson shooting a commercial by a church off Sutphin Blvd. As I grew older and wiser I noted that Black people as a group voted democratic as a block. Every election I noted that they would talk about how 98% of Blacks (now African Americans) would turn out and while so and so democrat took NYC (where most blacks in NY State live) so and so republican took the state. I quickly understood the idea of what I call Vote Nullification. In national elections, the electoral college system could erase the votes of millions of people. For those unfamiliar with the system I'll briefly explain. On Nov 8 people vote. The state counts the votes and finds out who got the most votes Then the electoral college meets and the states electoral representative will 'give" his entire states votes to the person that got the most votes. The representative does not have to vote as the state majority did, but they do. As a result it is possible, as happened in 2000, for a candidate in national elections to have the most popular votes and still lose an election. Welcome to indirect elections. I then came into the realization that though most of the people I lived with were black, black people in the US are a relatively small population (13% and falling as people "opt out" of being identified as black). So Nationally, unless we were a huge majority population in any given state, our votes could simply be nullified by the dominant group (whites and soon up-and coming-Hispanics). As a result, I refused to participate. It's called and informed decision.
Now I will agree that many non-voters simply don't vote and that is their lone statement against "the system." However some of us have been studying how "the system" works and have decided to use other means to make our points. Mind you, the non-voting option is not necessary the best option or even a useful option in some cases but it does have it's place for certain types of situations. The first thing we should note is how many non-voting people have influence on the US and it's policies. Being a Garveyite I would immediately offer Marcus Garvey as an example of how a non-citizen, who cannot vote could be a force for huge change. Mr. Garvey managed to organize one of the largest black run organization of it's time. He was at times able to, through his organization, hire people, provide medical care and exert political influence on both local and national policies in the US as well as other countries. How did he do this? He provided organization and an organizing ideology.
What other people influence US policy who cannot vote? Ariel Sharron, Tony Blair and a host of other heads of state. Who else? Remember the flack with Clinton and the Chinese business man that gave his campaign money. He can't vote, yet he had a direct connection to the White House that most American citizens could only dream about. All over the globe Multinational corporations often have more input into national policy than the sum total of the citizenry. All of these facts seem to escape those people that blindly prattle about how one "needs" to vote. Heck, even in the great Congress and Senate of the US, representative routinely abstain from voting. For a more egregious example, we could even note that the War in Iraq is a direct result of representatives of the people, giving up their votes en mass to a single person. I'm sure many of these same representatives will put the guilt trip on their constituents when it's time for re-election. So it is clear that voting is only one tool that is used to decide how things get done and who the money goes to.
So what exactly is "Voting with your money?" In short it is practicing in a personal level the fact that in America, those with money and property are catered to and protected and those without either of these are used. Furthermore, America, the corporate entity, protects and defends those that make money and used those who spend it. The problem with Black people in America, and indeed the world over is that they lack money and property. Those few of us who do have money, and I mean large sums of it, do not build "race first" institutions that empower the race. Rather we either try to join the white elite (usually liberal but sometimes conservative) and act just as they do, or we go on spending sprees in which we can show off how many Bentley's and multi-million Dollar mansions we have. We do we do this? Because as Oprah Winfrey found out in the early 90's when she boldly and courageously attempted to use her show to tackle White Supremacy, White folks run shyt. ratings plummeted and so called friends talked bad about her. She stopped and went generic empowerment. I believe Arsenio Hall got the same Hollywood treatment for speaking favourably of Louis Farrakahn of NOI fame. Back to the point though.
A few years ago when gas prices went through the roof for the first time in my driving lifetime, I figured I needed to send a message to the oil industry. I encouraged everyone I knew that they should boycott Exxon. I picked Exxon because they were one of the largest and well known companies and as I had noticed they had some of the highest prices for gas. The premise was simple and based on the techniques used by the bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama. If consumers stopped purchasing gasoline from one competitor until prices dropped, they would be sending a very potent message to the producers and retailers. Many people simply laughed me off. I told them that the plan of these companies was to push US prices for gasoline to $2.00 as soon as possible. What these companies would do in the meantime is get the population used to higher prices. If there is one thing Americans do it is they forget very quickly. I reminded people that right before the spike in gas prices it was widely reported that Exxon/Mobil was shipping oil to Asia and back in order to boost prices. Sounds to dumb to be true but it is. Also, even though Iraqi oil had been off the market for over 10 years, there was not a shortage of oil and to not believe the hype about how the recent refinery fires was boosting prices. I got my gas from Citgo, a Venezuelan oil company, who's prices were the cheapest anywhere, yet they too, succumbed to market greed and started to price themselves close to the gouging prices of BP-Amoco, Shell and Exxon-Mobil. I preferred to hand my cash to Venezuela since I was not happy with the US support of the attempted military coup against democratically elected Hugo Chavez. In the past two years, aside from emergencies, US oil corporations have not gotten a dime out of me for gasoline including BP-Amoco and Shell who landed on my shyt-list for their activities in Nigeria (I convinced by mother to rid herself of her Shell credit card too). Imagine if Black Americans, who spend 90% of their income on mostly white owned corporations, followed the same thinking? It is not impossible. I remember the "black jellybean" incident at Texaco, where at the behest of Civil-Rights leaders caused that company's stock to drop and a few retailers to change to other competing gasoline distributors due to lost business. Again, In South Carolina, when the issue of the confederate flag came up and businesses stopped using facilities in the state, it was the power of the lost black and "coalition" dollars that caused the leaders of that state to make a change. This was not voting, every election they got votes and never acted on the flag until the bottom line was threatened. I wrote in an earlier post that profit, in America, is not king but G-O-D.
So what I ask the voter to consider is this: If you put so-and so-into office, are you able to capitalize on the presence of that person? Does having a Charles Rangel in office keep Gentrification of Harlem from occurring? Does it prevent white corporations from gaining sweetheart deals in the rebuilding Harlem? If it doesn't then what is the point?
So in principle this is the "vote with my dollars" ideology. It is basically using the "other" lesser known and harder to wield tool of American Democracy. it is a difficult tool to master, and requires organization in order to work, but when it does, it can trump just about any ballot box. Anywhere on the planet.