I will never forget the command issued by one state Democrat speaking to tens of thousands of workers and their supporters outside the Madison Capitol Rotunda last March 12th: “Put down your [protest and strike] posters and pick up a [Democratic Party election/recall] clipboard.” [#8] The lefties with whom I had just spent the last two hours marching had been chanting on behalf of, among other things, a general strike – a potential massive worker action that actually received real hearing in Madison labor circles last February and March. A venerable Chicago radical within my earshot put it well as Democratic and labor “leaders” took to the microphones to lead a pre-recall election rally at the foot of the capitol “ ‘okay thanks a lot, you can all go home now.’ ”
So how'd that work out?
Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to see Walker kicked out of office and I would certainly vote for that if I lived in Wisconsin and was given the chance to do cast a recall ballot. But imagine if you will tens of millions of dollars being spent not on electioneering (recall or other) and Democrats but instead on the rebuilding of rank and file working class movement culture and capacity beneath and beyond the staggered big money big media candidate-centered narrow-spectrum electoral spectacles the masters stage for us, telling us “that’s politics” – the only politics that matters. The banished American anarchist Emma Goldman had a point when she said that the ruling class would abolish voting if the ballot mania actually made any positive difference for the working class. The radical American historian Howard Zinn offered equally sage advice, arguing that “The really critical thing isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.” Adding “or the governor’s mansion” to “the White House’ in this quote, we should further consider the following related counsel from Zinn’s eloquent case against the “election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society, including the left” in 2008:
“The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us.”
“…Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.”
“But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools…..”
“Let's remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush [or Scott Walker-P.S]), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House [or the Governor’s Mansion-P.S.] will find it dangerous to ignore…..Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. ….The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties.”
The most exciting thing about the Wisconsin moment last late winter was the significant extent to which masses of workers and citizens seemed to be acting on an innate Zinnian understanding of the need to develop and expand popular rebellion from below, beneath and beyond elections (even specially called ones forced by labor-directed insurgency) and the direction of elites from either of the two dominant business parties. It is important that that spirit be kept alive whatever the “better” or “worse” outcome of elections and machinations of politicians.
The Zinnia should be the official left flower. Anybody got any zinnias? (I don't) Maybe the Plantitoditians could run a Zinnia contest....