How Dare You Vote

She said.

It’s true I put a cross in a box and they used it to wage war, dismantle the NHS, give my sovereignty to multinational corporations and public money to thieving bankers. Certainly, politicians secured my vote with lies, but am I so gullible as to be surprised?

Shocked by her reckless suggestion, I nevertheless see that resolving not to vote tweaks a strange disapproval. I believe in democracy, in citizenship and I thank the revolutionaries that gave their lives for my right to vote. Yet most of us barely remember why voting was invented, when, where or how, and so it becomes a dangling duty, draped in guilt but hanging there unsupported. Should I allow all these admirable democratic beliefs to be summed up by a simple and occasional act? The average lifetime political participation by a citizen of a western democracy amounts to twelve little crosses, carefully marked with humble fingers. Is this the citizenship in which I believe? When, subsequently, the government kills in my name, have I really done my duty? Perhaps I simply need my high-minded indignance to go back to sleep.

If you vote, she said, you hope your party wins. But you also agree to obey the winner. If you win, those who voted against should accept the result, and you undertake to do the same if you lose. This is majority rule. To vote is thus to support a system of electoral democracy, one characterised by deceit, corruption and a stunning disregard for its own citizens.

If you vote, she said, you simplify yourself, squeezing your complex and changing understanding of how to solve society’s problems into a single choice between alternatives. You reduce yourself to a static one-off cross in a box, a tiny mark you give to those who come to your house once every five years and lie to your face. They do not mean to lie and instead do so in the pathetic belief that their party can overcome generations of proven incompetence, can represent you, rule over you and act in your name.

If you vote, she said, you are personally responsible for the actions of your government. You have personally supported wars, renditions, torturing, healthcare inequality, benefit reductions, mass surveillance and tax avoidance. Perhaps you are not responsible for these apparently small and naive acts of obedience – no more so than those who unquestioningly obey authority to kill and maim. No more than those who say, ‘I’m just doing my job,’ as they pretend their actions have no consequences.

How dare you vote! How dare you settle for THAT as an enactment of your citizenship! How dare you blindly obey! If you are THAT gullible, she said, I order you to give me a tenner. Now. I was ashamed, and began at last to think of other more meaningful ways to contribute.

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