*Date:* Wednesday, May 05, 2004 @ 00:05:06 CDT
*By Gabriel Ash
YellowTimes.org Columnist (United States) *
(YellowTimes.org) -- Last summer I was in Nablus during one of the
regular Israeli army raids that are destroying any semblance of normal
life for the town. Hundreds of angry and courageous people gathered in
the afternoon to confront the tanks that took over the main street. The
crowds were swirling in large and furious circles, improving their
positions, finding cover or attacking, evading the border police jeeps
that were scurrying around, dispensing shock grenades and tear gas.
As we were running -- everyone was running -- down the market, some of
which stalls were on fire, a young man, his two hands holding blocks of
broken concrete he intended to throw at the tanks, ran past us and
slowed down to our pace, noticing that we were not locals. He asked us
"do you like Bush?" It was, in that particular moment, a scary question
to be asked. Pumped with adrenalin, I answered without hesitating, "Bush
is a madman." The young man sped towards the tanks, leaving us behind.
It is a journalistic cliché that throwing rocks at tanks is a futile
gesture. Wrong. To be sure, it is a symbolic gesture, but not a futile
one. It takes a lot of courage to confront a 60 ton steel monster with
rocks; the powerlessness of the rock thrower to stop the tank only
underscores the powerlessness of the tank to do what it is there to do
-- terrorize the people.
Compared to rock throwing, casting a ballot in the presidential
elections in November, 2004 requires far less personal courage and is
far more futile. Yet the stone thrower confronted me with my choice of
president. How do I answer?
To me, that young man in Nablus represents billions of disenfranchised
people, people whose fate, and often their very life and death, is
decided in Washington by the President of the United States, yet they
have no say in choosing that president.
Some of the disenfranchised are American -- prison inmates, parolees and
ex-felons, for example. There are also the hundred million Americans who
gave up voting. But most of the disenfranchised aren't U.S. citizens. If
the U.S. were minding its own business, there would be no reason to be
concerned about the presidential preferences of non-citizens. But the
U.S. government considers it has a God-given right to determine the fate
of the residents of places like Nablus. From the Shia cities in southern
Iraq to the indigenous villages of Bolivia, the U.S. assumes it can
determine who shall live, who shall die, who shall be repressed and who
shall govern, and especially, in what direction shall the money flow.
The U.S. president is the unelected emperor of the planet.
Therefore, when I commit my own symbolic gesture of voting, what is my
responsibility towards these people? When I exercise my privilege to
vote, how do I take into consideration the interests and wishes of those
without that privilege?
As a member of the American consumer class, it is clear to me that John
Kerry would be a better President, for me and for most everyone I know
personally, than George Bush. Not that this is a challenge -- my
doorknob would be a better President than George Bush.
But a John Kerry presidency will not reduce the hardship of life in
Nablus. Israeli tanks will continue to roll there, underwritten by U.S.
financial support and protected by U.S. diplomatic immunity. Nablus will
continue to die a slow, suffocating death, according to the U.S.
approved master plan of the Israeli ethnic cleansers. With Kerry in the
White House, Iraqis will go on dying for the right to be free from
foreign occupation. The war on South American peasants will continue,
perhaps even intensify, whether fought with "Free Trade" legislation,
"war on drug" funds, or direct military intervention, etc., etc.
I cannot stop the tanks. But on my next visit to Nablus, I don't want to
have to lie about my vote. I don't want to have to explain that I didn't
really support Kerry's de-facto endorsement of ethnic cleansing even
though I voted for him. It sounds like a lame excuse and it is. I don't
want to have to admit to my hosts that I voted for Kerry because I
thought about retirement savings and health insurance and personal
security and I forgot all about Nablus and about what they were going
through. Therefore, on election day, I won't forget Nablus and I won't
vote for Kerry.
I know many will consider this a betrayal. There is a deafening silence
regarding Kerry among the progressive leadership, a shameful silence
that stills that familiar argument: this is the time if there ever was
one to vote strategically for the lesser evil; Bush is destroying
America and stopping him must be the highest priority. This argument
would be more convincing if it weren't dusted and deployed every four
It is a self-serving argument for key progressive demographics. The
palpable terror Bush evokes in the heart of many Americans is well
founded. Bush is a direct menace to the well-being and finances of middle
class America. As far as we are concerned, there is a real difference
between Kerry and Bush.
But the farther away one stands, the smaller the difference between them
appears. For 50% percent of Americans, the difference is probably too
small to justify the trip to the polls. For the victims of American
imperialism, there really is no difference. It is a choice between two
different commitments to bomb them into submission.
The next election is not taking the shape of a referendum on the
American empire, but rather a contest in management skills. Kerry claims
he would be a better steward of the empire. He would be better at
pacifying Iraq, better at forcing U.S. solutions on the Middle East,
better at getting the world to submit to U.S. will.
Perhaps he would. But ought we help him? What is our stake in improving
the quality of management of the empire? Many of us do have a stake and
that may be the problem.
The "anything but Bush" argument today is self-interest masquerading as
high-mindedness. When one says that anyone is better than Bush, what is
left unsaid is that we, too, have a stake in the success of U.S. world
domination. Bush's mismanagement is a threat to us because it threatens
to bring down the empire, and with it the relatively sheltered lifestyle
of those who manage to live well inside the beast.
But can we honestly say that a better managed American imperialism makes
the world a better place for others, too? Does it help the people of the
world that most of the huge "research" budget of American universities
has something to do with developing more effective ways to kill people?
Will an American victory in the war in Iraq help Americans who can't
afford seeing a family doctor?
On election day, we have a choice. We can vote our complicity with
imperialism or our solidarity with its victims.
I do not argue that "the worse the better." If I did, I would have to
advocate voting for Bush. All I say is that I do not know whether a Bush
or a Kerry presidency would be better for those who have no rights. I do
not know, partly because this isn't an election issue. Both contenders
are committed to extending and yielding U.S. military and financial
power without consideration to its victims, both at home and abroad.
The "strategic vote" is, therefore, limited to "strategic from the
standpoint of my own narrow interest." The conflict about whether to
vote for "the lesser of two evils" is mis-framed as a conflict between
pragmatism and idealism - "something is better than nothing" vs. "all or
nothing." It is rather a conflict between narrow self-interest and
Let those who support imperialism debate how best to run an empire. The
right thing to do is to use our power to vote, symbolically, to signal
our refusal to contribute to a civic conversation about the quality of
imperial management and domination. It is almost a futile gesture, but
not completely so; it is an act of solidarity with the disenfranchised.
/ [Gabriel Ash was born in Romania and grew up in Israel. He is an
unabashed "opssimist." He writes his columns because the pen is
sometimes mightier than the sword - and sometimes not. He lives in the
United States.] /
Gabriel Ash encourages your comments: gash@YellowTimes.org