With the approach of the 2014 midterms, perhaps the least consequential American election season in a generation, it's worth asking a perennial question: Should you even bother to vote?
Many people have basically given up on the democratic project, arguing that the American system is completely rigged by the rich and that nobody on the ballot truly represents their interests.
There's a lot of truth to this view. America is teetering toward plutocracy because the rich have schmoozed and donated their way to a politically favorable environment in which there are no options for expropriating 1 percenters for badly needed expansions of social insurance. No matter who wins the upcoming election, that won't change.
But voting is still worth doing.
Just look at the Democratic Party's increasingly desperate attempts to hold on to the Senate. They're working hard and spending gobs of money to try and get African-Americans to vote in Georgia, North Carolina, and elsewhere, because high turnout could be the difference between the status quo and a Senate led by Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), one of the biggest shills for moneyed interests in Washington:
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has poured $60 million this year into its Bannock Street Project, a data-driven effort to target potential voters, then make sure they vote. In North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is fighting to retain her seat, party field operatives have deputized more than 150 "captains" — the owners of black barbershops, hair salons, and other small businesses — to help register voters. Nearly 30,000 African-Americans have registered since January. [The New York Times]
Now, electing Democrats in those states won't necessarily improve things. After all, there are different types of Democrats. (Colorado's Mark Udall, for example, is worth a vote, while New York's Andrew Cuomo is not.) Hell, vote for a doomed protest candidate if you want. If the party hacks don't make a good case for themselves, then a protest vote is a strong signal that there are electoral veins to be mined by a challenger or third party.
Still, we know for a fact that low-turnout elections dominated by the enraged white paranoiacs of the Fox News set will definitely keep power in the hands of the rich. If America had a turnout rate of 100 percent, our political situation would look very different than it does now.
Voting in itself won't protect your rights or secure beneficial policies. But it is a key first step to getting there. As the British politician and activist Tony Benn once said, "I think democracy is the most revolutionary idea in the world. Far more revolutionary than socialist ideas or anybody else's ideas — because if you have power, you use it to meet the needs of you and your community."
He once expounded on these ideas in an interview with The Guardian discussing the Putney Debates, a 1647 discussion about a new English constitution and a key development in the history of Western democracy:
Benn was no starry-eyed dreamer — indeed, he openly questioned whether Britain or America were even worthy of the title "democracy." But as he also says, this is a fight that every generation has to fight. And the simple act of voting has to be part of it.
Look no further than Republican attempts across the country to disenfranchise voters and suppress Democratic efforts to register and organize black and brown voters. The fact that the party of organized money thinks the right to vote is worth taking away says that it must be worth quite a lot.