vote, but

As mentioned in my last blog, I do think that people should vote. This may come as a “no brainer” to most reading this but it’s not as simple as it looks and a more detailed inspection highlights valuable insights.

Many who argue that we are obligated to vote remind us of the thousands (if not millions) that fought and died for their/our right to vote. In fact, this is no understatement. Our nation’s history does contain innumerable examples of tremendous struggle tied to obtaining “right to vote.” Women didn’t get this fundamental right until 1920!; so much for the “Land of the Free.” Many, many women were threatened, beaten, arrested and/or worse in their struggle for suffrage. To think it took our “enlightened” nation almost 150 years of existence to provide half the population this fundamental human right is astounding; and the US took longer than most Western nations–New Zealand was the first country in the world in 1893 (if interested in other nations, visit link). While African-American men were granted the right to vote in 1870 (15th Amendment), in practical terms, most were forbidden to do so because of racist “grandfather clauses,” literacy tests, and poll taxes that existed until 1965 (see link for historical timeline); thus, a significant component of our population has only been able to vote for ~50 years. Felons and others “being watched” by state are often not able to vote. This represents unfair disenfranchisement as our criminal justice system is extremely discriminatory (see Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”).

This is a strong argument for voting but it fails to consider exactly what voting means. Most elections are “majority rules” in our nation–to the winner goes all the spoils. This greatly disenfranchises minority groups. Sadly, even today, many voices of people overlooked and undervalued are ignored. The Native Americans struggling in the Dakotas (and elsewhere) are but one such example. Since these groups rarely have the ability to impact the outcome of an election, voting doesn’t help their cause(s). Other countries have governing bodies where representation is proportional. Then at least more voices are being heard (though, perhaps, not listened to).

Most of our elections (even many local ones) see two people vying to be the lone representative of “all.” So when one votes, one must decide between these two, and only these two, people. There are many shortcomings of this characteristic—-one true to the vast majority of our elections. First, typically the two people that reached the “top two” have been propelled there by corporate funded publicity, and, thus, have very pro-corporate mindsets. Let’s face it, it costs hundreds (if not thousands) of thousands of dollars to run even a statewide election. This severely limits candidates to those who are independently wealthy or “puppets” for those that have immense wealth. Second, the two people each typically represent one of the two major political parties. This is problematic because these two parties have become very pro-corporate and elitist; there are definitely exceptions to this but I am talking here about the vast majority of candidates representing these two parties. Third, having only “two” parties represented greatly limits the scope of what will be said/voiced and disseminated. We see how powerful this is in the current Presidential election. No “third party” representatives were invited to take part in the three debates (masquerades, might be a better word) that took place this year. If anyone watched the alternative debate organized by Jill Stein (it can be found online and at her Facebook page), you saw how significant having a third voice, particularly one not beholden to deep pockets and multinational corporations, can be. Interesting, there is sound evidence that the “two party” state was a natural outgrowth of the USA which was founded & organized by wealthy male landowners. These men understood the conservative nature of a “two party state,” one that gave them incredible power to control the policies and programs and any conversations held about them; see more on this in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. The terrible lack of coverage of third parties by the mainstream media clarifies how culpable this potentially democratizing entity is in controlling/limiting the coverage. (As a side note, this is one major reason that the two parties spend so much of their campaigns discussing social issues (such as, abortion, drugs, crime, guns, etc.), as these issues don’t upset the apple cart of extreme economic inequality that continues to expand over the past 40+ years independent of what political party is in the White House or in control of either legislative chamber.) Fourth, having only two choices often means that there is no way to submit a protest vote (such as “None of the above”) or a “write-in” candidate. In my mind, there should always be both of these for every election. For these, and other reasons, some decide, “why vote if both candidates represent the ‘status quo’,” when real economic, environmental and health challenges only get worse.

All of this is to say, “yes, vote, but do a lot more!”; I focus on the “more” in many of my other blogs and I encourage commenters to speak their minds on this as well. I voted but I am under no illusion that by doing so I have somehow done my part to build a better world. It will take a lot of other contributions, today, tomorrow, and every day in the future; and not just by me, but by you as well. This, the illusion associated with voting, may be the greatest challenge we face. Whoever wins next month, we will have our plates full of things to do and ways to contribute. Why not start making those lists today. We definitely don’t want to be (nor do we have time to be) complacent.

proudly voted for Stein

[Note: I contribute this piece with the following caveat. The “media” has given 99% of the political coverage to the goings-on of only two presidential candidates. This is absurd in so many ways. The state in which I live is in very serious financial trouble and our media outlets should be spending at least as much time focusing on the many statewide races as they do on the national election. Also, all candidates and political parties should be given equal coverage in the media and in any debates that are held. To not do so greatly jeopardizes any sense of democracy that we supposedly have.]

Given the extremely limited media coverage given to third parties, it is important for those that think “outside the box” to express why they feel justified going against the grain and voting for a third party in this election (and in other elections). Yesterday, I proudly cast my vote for Jill Stein (& Ajamu Baraka) for president (& vice president). As there are many independent thinkers out there who may still be contemplating whom to vote for in this year’s presidential election, let me express my rationale.

In order of relevance:

(1) Jill Stein is the best candidate, hands-down. She is the best educated. She is the most rational. She has dedicated years to understanding the complexities of issues and her positions and argumentation demonstrate that she truthfully listens to the people! She came through my town nearly five years ago and she met with and dialogued with ~15 everyday people in a coffee shop for 2 hours.

(2) Jill Stein has real solutions to the many challenges we face as a nation. Let’s face it, our ways are destroying the planet, causing enormous pain and suffering on people here and abroad, and the super rich continue to steal from everyone else. This has to change. Really, it has to change and soon. To do otherwise is to continue the plunder and suffering. Hillary’s positions on energy, sustainable agriculture, and the environment are much too tempered (by the elite mindset that she existentially represents). Please read Jill Stein’s plan, here, before dismissing it as unrealistic.

(3) Jill Stein is not beholden to multi-millionaires or multi-billionaires or corporations that largely own and operate most media outlets, TV networks and magazines. This is a HUGE deal. All other viable candidates (and virtually every currently elected senator and congressperson in the U.S.) have been on the doles of these very powerful interests since they first set foot into the “democratic” political process. We have to begin voting for real people, not stooges for special interests.

(4) Jill Stein understands race and poverty so much better than the other candidates. Watching the two mainstream presidential debates (primarily for their comedic value), one located just miles from Ferguson (MO), probably the most revealing thing was the absolute ignorance with which Hillary spoke about our current racial divide. Under her husband’s command, we put more people of color into prison than ever before. We led a “drug war” that did nothing but fill jails and further impoverish communities and displace children from their parents/guardians. This pattern continues. (Please read Michelle Alexander’s amazing book entitled, The New Jim Crow (link to website), to find out how pernicious our system is in this regard.) The lack of leadership at the top of our government on these matters should give anyone pause that Hillary will do anything different than what is being done today. We need a leader that is willing to get arrested to defend the rights of oppressed peoples, as Stein and Baraka were willing to do in the Dakotas (in protest of a “profit over people” pipeline).

(5) The Greens will get significant financial support if they get 5% of the vote (read the law here). Yes, there is a very practical reason to vote Green for President this year! Just think what the Greens could do with these resources to educate the public (using social media and alternative media) about the real options that exist. Think of what message would be sent to all voters if the Greens were to have a presence in the national discussions. To think that Mr. Johnson (Libertarian) will get these federal funds and not the Greens is very, very sad; apparently, libertarians have a stronger commitment to the positions which they hold than do progressive thinkers.

(6) Jill Stein is a woman. Yes, this is important. I’d love to have a woman running the White House, but I want a woman that will truly stand up for women’s rights and won’t be converted into a testosterone-laden man in order to prove how tough she can be. A “hawk” (regardless of sex) is definitely not what we need right now in this world. As Secretary of State, Hillary has failed to represent peaceful interests in places like Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Palestine. She certainly won’t do so as President of the US.

(7) Jill Stein chose a real crusader for human rights as her running mate. Ajamu Baraka has a long history of work in the arena of justice and peace; read about it here. Don’t we want a vice president that is a true advocate for such important causes, not some homophobe (i.e., Pence) or some centrist (to make the “pro-lifers” happy) (i.e., Kaine)? Dr. Stein shows her amazing insight and courage by selecting such a heroic and honorable person as her running mate!

(8) I live in a state that Hillary can’t lose. I don’t rank this as very high as I would vote for Jill in any state of the US but I can see how some people might feel uncomfortable if they live in Florida or Ohio or North Carolina. If you don’t live in one of these states, you have no excuse not to vote for Stein; if you live in one of these very few states, you must make a choice but given the collapse that Trump has begun, Hillary is probably very safe in your state as well.

(9) Lastly, I voted. I believe one should vote. It isn’t all one should do. In fact it is probably only 1/20 of what one should do, but it should be done. If there were no options but for Hillary or Trump (and no write-ins or “None of the Above”), then I think people should vote for Hillary but, again, this only represents 1/20 of the political and social work that each one of us should be doing in our communities.

Comments/reactions? As always, such input from others is very welcome!

Insanity continues

[This piece is being offered on “Columbus Day” on purpose. The fact that we still celebrate this barbaric man and validate the conquering of people is clearly insane…so it fits nicely. Twelve years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a similar full-page piece for The Zephyr—then an alternative local weekly newspaper—which I hear might be making a comeback! For those that want to read the old piece, click here.]

Perception and reality are often far apart. Projection, here the perceptions that we project (i.e., our cultural stories), and reality are equally so. Worse yet, the few people that contemplate on these glaring inconsistencies are often dismissed as weirdos, greenies, or catastrophists. Hence the flawed stories and the complacency, dependency and hopelessness they breed continue.

So what is so insane about our world, or more specifically the Western civilization (that we’ve grown up in)? One not need look far. In fact, it is much easier to identify the “craziness” of our world than to find rationality. Let’s examine the two most fundamental aspects of any civilization: (1) human relationships with nature; and (2) human within species relationships. No rational civilization would consider itself successful if it didn’t function at a very harmonious level in these two areas.

So how are we treating the Earth and its other billions of inhabitants? On nearly all objective measures we are doing very poorly. The bees are down (ref 1), the bats are down (ref 2), the butterflies are suffering (ref 3), many bird populations are in steep decline (ref 4), and fisheries around the planet are collapsing (ref 5). Not a very good report card. And scarier still is the precipitous decline in ocean plankton (ref 6)—most concerning as these microorganisms are at the bottom of the food chain (and consequently will affect all life forms above them). I suspect many of you have heard of these things but given the grave nature of the news and the sources of their demise, most media sources steer clear of giving them too much attention. So not only are we seeing tremendous losses of other life forms but we’re all too busy to focus on this issue. Not surprisingly, I have heard no word on these matters coming from either major party during this year long campaign period.

I could go on and on about how much of the rainforest is razed each day (to grow more sugarcane or lifestock meat), how oceans are becoming inhospitable to large sea creatures because of sound waves emitted by military craft, or how many billions of pounds of new pesticides are being sprayed, etc. But no matter how many pages of scientifically-collected information I provide here, I realize that I am unlikely to raise much of an eyebrow. Reality tells us that humans are functioning in ways that are clearly in opposition to life and though an increasing number of “two-leggeds” are becoming aware of this, our civilization’s ways of “progress” beat on with little hope in sight.

Okay, so what about how humans are treating other humans? Clearly, an intelligent species would at least function to promote its own, right? Well, if the nightly news is any indication we are doing very poorly on that score as well. Murders, threats, conflict, and turmoil appears to be found everywhere one looks. But as I’ve warned in earlier blogs, we can merely trust the information emanating from our screens because of the monetary incentives involved in capturing our attention (and our fear). Looking at more objective statistical data provides some hopeful signs. Life expectancy (at birth) is way up. People are living to their 80s in the UK and to their mid-60s in India. Just one-hundred years ago these numbers were 54 (UK) and 25 years (India). Infant mortality is way down as well, from 122 (per thousand births) in 1960 to 32 in 2015. These trends certainly are signs of improvement. However, other statistics paint a different picture.

In the US, we put more people into prison than any other country and the proportion of our population in prison is nearly double that of Russia and nearly six times that of China! We subsidize corn (and a few other grains) that is largely turned into ethanol (driving up the cost of food worldwide) or fructose which does harm to our bodies in many ways. Much of the “cheap” food produced by large-scale corn and soy production is overconsumed by masses of our population who are overly stressed out economically and have limited options for fresh food in their neighborhoods. This has consequences in terms of child- or adult- onset diabetes; diabetes rates have grown from 1% of the US population in 1958 to 7% in 2014 (ref 7). Though we know that nutrition is key to health, very few doctors are taking nutritional courses in medical school and many of our schools are pumping “cheap” food into our children’s bodies (and minds) (especially given that most of it is now “freely” provided by the government, via these same subsidies, to the industries that make “cheap” food) and we are surprised that kids can’t concentrate. We are seeing significantly lower sperm counts among men (ref 8) and much faster sexual maturity rates among girls (ref 9), especially girls of color, and we hardly bat an eye at these very disturbing trends. And let’s not forget that nearly 100 million people were killed because of war in the 20th Century–and the 21st Century has gotten off to a similar start. These astonishing number aside, consider how we now have nearly all of our media outlets owned and operated by major corporations and yet most of us still go to them (e.g., CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, etc.) for our news and so few of us boycott the “debates” when these corporate outfits refuse to allow third-party candidates (and their ideas) to be represented. This is equivalent to asking the foxes how the hen house is doing! I could go on but these insane realities of our civilization should be enough to give major pause.

Yet, despite all the insanity, there is hope. Yes, I know, it doesn’t seem possible given the insanity. But there is. Everywhere you look there are humans that are doing their part to make this world sane again. From those that dedicate their lives to growing food in humane ways to those who reject materialistic ways and work to spread love and peace instead. The precautionary principle has a lot to offer us in new ways of thinking (ref 10, ref 11). There are much more intelligent ways to activate a truly democratic country. But unless we firmly recognize how insane our ways are right now, we have very little hope of doing the work and making the sacrifices and changes that are needed to right our ship. Columbus and his ilk took us down a path of genocide and conquest, one we’ve continued on for the past 500+ years. It is time to alter our course and live in peace and sanity.