Home > Uncategorized > …a brief digression into broken politics…

…a brief digression into broken politics…

from The Port Huron Statement:

The apathy here is, first subjective — the felt powerlessness of ordinary people, the resignation before the enormity of events. But subjective apathy is encouraged by the objective American situation — the actual structural separation of people from power, from relevant knowledge, from pinnacles of decision-making. Just as the university influences the student way of life, so do major social institutions create the circumstances in which the isolated citizen will try hopelessly to understand his world and himself.

The very isolation of the individual — from power and community and ability to aspire — means the rise of a democracy without publics. With the great mass of people structurally remote and psychologically hesitant with respect to democratic institutions, those institutions themselves attenuate and become, in the fashion of the vicious circle, progressively less accessible to those few who aspire to serious participation in social affairs. The vital democratic connection between community and leadership, between the mass and the several elites, has been so wrenched and perverted that disastrous policies go unchallenged time and again.

from Michael Hauben’s “Participatory Democracy From the 1960s and SDS into the Future On-line”:


The Port Huron Statement called for the implementation of participatory democracy as a way to bring people back into decisions about the country in general, and their individual lives, in particular. (…)

Miller writes that in a 1960 essay, “Participatory Democracy and Human Nature”, Kaufman had described a society in which every member had a “direct responsibility for decisions.” (…)

“Participation” explained Kaufman, “means both personal initiative — that men feel obliged to help resolve social problems — and social opportunity — that society feels obliged to maximize the possibility for personal initiative to find creative outlets.” (Miller, p. 95)

A participant at the Port Huron Conference, Richard Flacks remembers Arnold Kaufman speaking at the convention, “At one point, he declared that our job as citizens was not to role-play the President. Our job was to put forth our own perspective. That was the real meaning of democracy–press for your own perspective as you see it, not trying to be a statesman understanding the big picture.” (Miller, p. 111) (…)

Tom Hayden, Miller writes, understood participatory democracy to mean:

“number one, action; we believed in action. We had behind us the so-called decade of apathy; we were emerging from apathy. What’s the opposite of apathy? Active participation. Citizenship. Making history. Secondly, we were very directly influenced by the civil rights movement in its student phase, which believed that by personally committing yourself and taking risks, you could enter history and try to change it after a hundred years of segregation. And so it was this element of participation in democracy that was important. Voting was not enough. Having a democracy in which you have an apathetic citizenship, spoon-fed information by a monolithic media, periodically voting, was very weak, a declining form of democracy. And we believed, as an end in itself, to make the human being whole by becoming an actor in history instead of just a passive object. Not only as an end in itself, but as a means to change, the idea of participatory democracy was our central focus.” (Miller, p. 144)

from CrimethInc’s The Party’s Over!:


If the freedom for which so many generations have fought and died is best exemplified by a man in a voting booth checking a box on a ballot before returning to work in an environment no more under his control than it was before, then the heritage our emancipating forefathers and suffragette grandmothers have left us is
nothing but a sham substitute for the liberty they sought.

For a better illustration of real freedom in action, look at the musician in the act of improvising with her companions: in joyous, seemingly effortless cooperation, they create a sonic and emotional environment, transforming the world that in turn transforms them. Take this model and extend it to every one of our interactions with each other and you would have something qualitatively different from our present system – a harmony in human relationships and activity. To get there from here, we have to dispense with voting as the archetypal expression of freedom and participation.


No one can represent your power and interests for you – you can only have power by wielding it, you can only learn what your interests are by getting involved. Politicians make careers out of claiming to represent others, as if freedom and political power could be held by proxy; in fact, they are a priest class that answers only to itself, and their very existence is proof of our disenfranchisement.

Voting in elections is an expression of our powerlessness: it is an admission that we can only approach the resources and capabilities of our own society through the mediation of that priest caste. When we let them prefabricate our options for us, we relinquish control of our communities to these politicians in the same way that we have ceded technology to engineers, health care to doctors, and control of our living environments
to city planners and private real estate developers. We end up living in a world that is alien to us, even though our labor has built it, for we have acted like sleepwalkers hypnotized by the monopoly our leaders and specialists hold on setting the possibilities. But we don’t have to simply choose between presidential
candidates, soft drink brands, television shows, and political ideologies. We can make our own decisions as individuals and communities, we can make our own delicious beverages and social structures and power, we can establish a new society on the basis of freedom and cooperation.

from CrimethInc’s Don’t Just Vote:

Voting for people to represent your interests is the least efficient and effective means of applying political power. The alternative, broadly speaking, is acting directly to represent your interests yourself.

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