On Turning Orange: A friendly letter to those who urged us to vote

Submitted Anonymously to North Shore

There are many ways in which the recent Ontario election is disappointing, and the new leader is barely even one of them. No – though Doug Ford is a despicable rich jerk whose own entitlement to power was strong enough to persuade others to give it to him, the situation is actually much worse.

As the election approached, the political system deployed every trick to get people to put aside their disgust and participate. It’s understandable that someone trying to sit in the halls of power would claim that Ford is so bad that you’re wicked too if you don’t grab a ballot and try to stop him. But to see this kind of lazy thinking and moralistic manipulation repeated by so many who should know better is truly depressing.

Because vote or don’t vote, it doesn’t really matter. As a political act, it ranks about equal with other gestures that take ten minutes and are mostly symbolic: like holding up a protest sign as a camera pans across a crowd, taking the time to argue your opinions with a stranger, or throwing up a few agitational stickers on a bus shelter. Vote or don’t vote, because we’re going to fight hard against whoever gets in, right?

And yet it seems like many people transformed into actual NDP supporters for a month or so there, sounding as if that party wasn’t just a lesser evil, but could actually act on your behalf to bring about the kind of world you want to live in. Which is unsurprising if you’re a social democrat or a middle-of-the-road progressive of the kind that make up the baseline Canadian political position. But so many of the election season orange-coloured shapeshifters wouldn’t say that about themselves: “we’re anarchists”, they might say, or “we’re socialists”, “we’re revolutionaries”.

I believe you, I want to believe you’re radicals and that I’m not so alone, which is why I’m bothering to write to you and not to those folks who feel perfectly represented by the views on CBC radio. I was genuinely shocked how many people were repeating things along the lines of, “Go vote because the blue team wants to hurt marginalized people so you’re super fucked up if you don’t”. I’m not trying to say there was no difference between the positions of the parties, but if your desires go any further than cautious income redistribution, there is nothing for you to vote in favour of in Ontario politics. So why such insistence?

And for those of us who call ourselves anarchists or anti-authoritarians, how change comes about matters. It’s not that I oppose the specific choices made by leaders; I oppose the ability of anyone to control the lives of others. I’m against leaders. I push back against Trudeau for exactly the same reasons I did Harper, like how my pals in the States were no less hostile to Obama than they are now to Trump.

Yeah, my income went up when Wynne raised the minimum wage and I’m thinking about going back to school because I’d get tuition free now. But I don’t actually want either of those things – I don’t want a boss, I don’t want a wage, I don’t want a diploma, I don’t want job training. These measures promote equality within the existing system, so go ahead and vote for them if that feels worthwhile. But don’t forget that they also legitimate the system as a whole: better wages let the wage relation itself off the hook; better access to education contributes to the illusion of a meritocracy.

So if you care so deeply about some (frequently hypothetical) ultra marginalized person who needs your protection from Doug Ford, don’t pretend your advocacy for voting does anything to get that person out of the situation where they need protecting, where they are dependent on the benevolence of voters or of the powerful. It’s going to be a long four years and I expect things will heat up quite a bit before they’re through, so we need to be clear about where we stand. Are we fundamentally comfortable with the system and just asking for moderate reforms? Or are we anti-capitalists and anti-authoritarians who carry the seed of something radically different? Are we making requests of the powerful, or are we working for a world in which there are no rulers or ruled? These choices have consequences in how we live and how we organize, and if Horwath had been elected instead of Ford, none of that would be any different.

6 thoughts on “On Turning Orange: A friendly letter to those who urged us to vote”

  1. The author of this piece is definitely right in saying that voting is a pretty small and meaningless action, and that we’re definitely not going to find our salvation through the voting process, or get all that we want. Generally, that piece makes a lot of good points on focusing on the fact that in order to achieve meaningful change and realisation of our desires, we need to struggle outside of, and against government, regardless of where on the “political spectrum” they lie.
    That, said, I wanted to comment on the difference that left wing and right wing governments can have on our anarchist struggles, and how voting fits in. Often as anarchists, we make the blanket statement that all governments are the same, because at their core, they all rule us, and all oppress us, and therefor the voting system is really a sham because through it, we can’t ever hope to gain freedom.

    The reality is, that I would welcome a more left wing government even though I’m committed to fighting them. I would vote for a government that offers more of a welfare state, even though the voting process is a sham.

    Why? And how could I do this conscionably as a committed anarchist? The simple answer is, that the left wing welfare state can allow conditions that are more beneficial to our movement and it is far easier to exploit to our own ends.

    Over the years, I have watched anarchist friends as well as myself, milk the welfare state which allowed us more ease to live our lives, organize, and attack that same state. This has taken the form of welfare, ei, healthcare, schooling, childcare, baby bonus, more lax immigration policies, lighter prison sentences and easier conditions, and a lot of other shit many of us who grew up in this state take for granted. I’m not making the point that we have to be grateful of the fact that we live in a rich colonist nation with a liberal democracy, or be satisfied with the gestures the state has made to appease various social struggles of the past, I’m simply saying that we should exploit and steal what we can from the state that we fight. If it’s easier to take some of the necessaries of life, all the better, as it leaves us with more time and resources to focus on projects and what we want to do.

    Although all forms of government are uninterested in what we desire, and therefor will seek to put us down, there is no doubt that certain forms are easier than others to exist under and struggle against. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in struggle in both famously leftwing states and famously right wing states elsewhere in the world. Both places had deep problems and active struggles against them, the main difference was the barriers poverty presented to struggle, the death toll, the prison sentences, and the lasting trauma; the extremity with which the government repressed the movements. Those factors are very real, and not theoretical, and they certainly have a deeply negative effect on life and radical movements.

    I’m not a reformist and don’t really have a history of participating in reformist campaigns, but I can’t deny that I’ve definitely been a beneficiary of lefty reforms. I’m ok with that, because I see no issue in benefitting from reforms while at the same time, not being satisfied, and pushing the boundaries further.

    Often our lives as anarchists in the midst of a capitalist democracy are filled with contradictions and hypocrisies; through our participation in the consumer economy, use of state structures and institutions, participating in the work force etc. but we are constantly making decisions on how we can most tactically engage with the state based on all kinds of factors affecting us. I see voting for a lefty welfare state, not so much a political act, as just another one of those engagements of existence within the system. We can neither vote in the life we want, nor get rid of government by not voting, but I see it as beneficial if we can score something we can use to our advantage, just as I would try to score a bum cheque, or some free dental care, or a tax return.

    To reiterate though, voting is not a very important or meaningful act, and one should not take what I write hear as a suggestion to actually commit energy to rally people to vote, or endorsing the process. This is more to add to discussion about how anarchists relate to government and voting.

    1. Hey! Thanks for writing such a good response to the text. I agree with almost everything you said, especially the part about how the left and right have different responses to dissent and draw their credibility through different relationships to the carceral and punitive systems. I’m definitely super glad that we don’t have to deal with friends getting disappeared or killed here, or that prison terms aren’t as long as they are in the states. I like how you point out though that this is just a different solution by the powerful for how to manage people and not a reason to support some more progressive social vision, just perhaps a reason to prefer it to a more right-wing one.

      Some comrades replied to this text in person saying that they prefer to struggle against centrist or left-leaning governments because it allows us to focus on the systemic issues more clearly, instead of of fighting less proactive and defensive battles to avoid regressive policies, like around abortion for instance.

      I just feel cautious about prefering progressive politics. The Poor People’s Movements argument in favour of building pressure groups that rally around progressive politicians and then continue to pressure them to implement redistributive measures is a strong argument in favour of a tactical engagement with electoralism, but the difference to me is what is it that brings change about. If it’s stil the state, then I’m not sure we’re on the road to autonomy: social justice maybe, but not autonomy.

      Thanks again for the reply! Makes writing crap like this feel worthwhile.

  2. mostly politics these days on are who’s more charismatic to people so really whats the point in voting if the idiot is what people. its starting to look like the bad politics from america is spreading to Canada starting with ontario

  3. I won’t lie it is a well written piece but I have issue with what I would call the missing content. In general the original post argues against the governmental system, and believe is an anarchist state. The issue is I don’t know what benefit you’d get out of this anarchist state since I am new to this type of discussion but I’d love to know your opinions on it. What I got from the article was simply a dislike for the current system but no alternative.

    Then my next question is wouldn’t it be smartest to live under a meritocracy? I mean if you don’t than you have two choices. The first being everyone’s beliefs are equally accepted and one can not challenge them no matter how absurd (even though in theory nothing is absurd), this would be because if you believed your opinion better than theirs you end up with a “higher class” once again. The second choice is you have the strongest survive, which would end with tyranny of those who are at the top of the chain in opinion. Which leaves you back to where you would say we are. So how would you solve societal dynamics, with out a governing rule which sets the so called standard for everyone?

    Thanks for you time.

    1. Big questions :) If you’re curious to get into anarchist theory in more detail, this is a good place to start: http://www.infoshop.org/an-anarchist-faq/

      But to answer briefly, the key is what you say right at the end, the absence of a governing rule that sets the standard for everyone. The problem as far as I see it is power — it’s why I oppose even powerful people who do things that benefit me or that I agree with, because a system that gives them the power to do that leaves them the power to undo it. In the place of power-over, or authority, I’m interested in building autonomy. This can look a lot of different ways, but in general it means when the people affected by decisions are the ones who make them, directly and without mediation, and that people have control over the material conditions that allow them to go on living (no one owns anyone else’s house, no one buys anyone else’s labour to profit…). Anarchists don’t tend to make grand plans for all of society, but rather develop a large array of practices for building autonomy and mutual aid that people could choose to apply as they see fit according to their desires and circomstances. I want a world where people live in radically different ways, but with a set of core values held in common if possible. That gives us a basis for working together or not.

      It can be nice to have visions for the future, but it’s also possible that in the present our antagonism to all rulers and owners is enough. If we start from struggle against, the forms our organizing takes in the present can be a powerful gesture towards another way of living.

      Ok, good luck out there!

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