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Vote: It Does/n’t Matter. Organize: It Does.

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Nov 02, 2010

I once stood in line for hours on a cold, miserable day to vote for a candidate whose defeat in a national election was of the historic proportions that pollsters had indicated it would be.  The guy stood not a chance.  The winner took the country down a pathway to his own oblivion, to say nothing of the disastrous and deadly impact he left in his wake.

Ever since that day, in particular, I have had to squelch the nagging sentiment that I have encountered countless times in others as I worked the phones, canvassed, caucused, or otherwise encouraged folk to support a candidate or to vote—the sentiment that “voting doesn’t matter.”  Regardless of who wins or which party prevails, the sentiment goes, “the haves” always prevail over “the have nots.”

If you thought the election of Barack Obama was really going to yield “change we can believe in,” or if you’re faced with that “lesser of two evils option” on your ballot, you’re probably pondering whether to even go to the polls today.  With millions of others at all points on the political spectrum, you’re wondering what, if any, difference it will make if you vote or not.

It’s the civic version of Pascal’s wager: God may or may not exist, but I’ll wager that God does; my vote may or may not make a difference, but I’ll wager that it will.  Or not.  A lot of Obama supporters are said to be staying at home today just to register their “or not;” a lot of folk who despise the President and/or both political parties will likely vote in droves, making their own wager for change.  They, too, are likely to be further disillusioned at some point down the road, in spite of their zeal today.

Unless voting is intricately intertwined with organizing and actively engaging people in workplace, civic, and community affairs both before and after elections, it can indeed be a rather useless exercise, a wager.  Those on the rightward side of the political spectrum seem to understand this and are largely committed to the hard work it calls for.  Those on the leftward side have opted for representational change without accountability, and seem to believe that the election of Democrats is sufficient to effect their laissez-faire liberalism.  The larger middle of the spectrum has had enough of both sides, but are likely today to cast their wager rightward, aiming to throw the rascals out.

Regardless of today’s outcomes, the haves will continue to wreak havoc.  Racial disparities will continue to destroy communities.  Poverty and hunger will increase.  Wealth will continue to accumulate at the top.  The gap between rich and poor will widen.  The proverbial middle class will be further squeezed.  The status quo will be further reinforced.  Little will really change. That is…

Unless there is a new and renewed commitment to organize the peoples and communities most severely affected by the outrageous indifference of those with increasingly concentrated power, and unless such organizing emerges out of an ideological framework grounded in the fundamental realities of race and power that drive the political economy and public policy.  This is the endless, enduring, long-range commitment that must be made.  This is the real choice for the long haul.

I’ll go to the polls today.  Cast my ballot as I have many times before.  It’s important.  But it’s insufficient.  As with the election of 2008, tomorrow we begin anew, “…the hard, slogging work of organizing that always lies before us as we seek to build community, justice, and equality with peoples who seldom seem to matter in Washington anyway… The nuts and bolts of deep change that grows into waves that sweep the road ahead.  The work on the ground.  The work of true democracy.”

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