Tuesday, 9 November 2004

Erectoral Politics

You know, I've been satisfied with bulletin boards for years. So what, you ask, could have been the dynamite that ignited my basically lazy ass to go to the trouble of starting a blog where I'll have to do all the work? I'll give you a hint; its initials are November Second. Or, more precisely, November Second's warping of the minds and opinions of otherwise right-on feminists. Because to my shock and chagrin, I sat in a room full of feminists last night and listened to them dis Andrea Dworkin for telling the truth about John Kerry.

Now I'm not saying this is the best article she's ever written. But her message is clear: John Kerry doesn't represent women. John Kerry is in favor of the war in Iraq. John Kerry demonstrates some awareness of women's concerns in his speeches, but what would John Kerry in office actually do? We can't know that, any more than we knew in the 1992 election that Bill Clinton would sell out poor women and their children in the name of "personal responsibility." But even though I'm still smarting from Clinton's betrayals, I listened to my sisters. I heard the concerns about the importance of voting, about another four years of George W. Bush in the White House, and despite my better judgment I voted for John Kerry. But I did not believe he represented me and I felt pretty sure he'd betray women's trust in the end--which he did without even getting into office. Barely 12 hours after the polls closed on the West Coast, Kerry conceded, tacitly accepting the intimidation and disenfranchisement of African-American and Hispanic voters across the country. So why aren't you angry about the hypocrisy of the Kerry campaign telling voters over and over that they would fight for the counting of all the votes, and then giving in to the effects of racism and intimidation with barely a whimper? When they've had four years since the Florida debacle to come up with some kind of plan to counteract potential Republican vote-tampering? Why aren't you asking what exactly made Kerry roll over so fast? And in the face of all the morning-after moaning, I had to wonder--did I miss something? Wasn't George W. Bush president on November First? Had anything really changed, at the presidential level, in 48 hours, to warrant the degree of depression evinced by so many women of conscience on November Third?

So what about Bush? Sure, he's horrible. I can't stand to watch him or hear him speak; it makes me cringe. But I have a bit of news that seems to have been mostly forgotten in all the fervor over the election: Bush did not achieve the current disastrous state of affairs without the complicity of others in the system. Where were your senators when only one was needed to support the call of the Black Congressional Caucus for an investigation of racist electoral practices in Florida in 2000? Where were your senators and representatives when it came time to vote on the bombing of Afghanistan? The Patriot Act? The invasion of Iraq? If your Democratic representatives in Congress had voted against these things, they very likely may not have happened. And on the flip side, we could probably elect the Dalai Lama president, and given the rampant cronyism, corruption, and corporate money politics that make up our erectoral system, it's pretty unlikely he'd get much of anything done. If he showed signs of making real changes, he'd be set up for some impeachment scandal or even assassinated. Even if Kerry had been elected, we'd still have had our work cut out for us. And none of that is different.

I've listened to feminists talk about the ways a Kerry presidency would have been better for the country, and I went and did my civic duty. But now hear my point of view. The problem with any kind of single-event or single-issue organizing is that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. In fact, where erectoral politics are concerned, it's the intent of the powers that be to manipulate our emotions, to whip us up into a frenzy briefly so that we'll settle back into passivity when the crisis passes. When we focus on abortion, for example, we can forget that abortion is currently necessary as one attempt to level the playing field for women. However, by and large most feminists have stopped talking about our vision of a world in which women are sexually and economically autonomous enough to choose unprotected intercourse only when they truly desire a baby and are able to support one. And correct me if I'm wrong, but huge classes of women in this country as well as women serving in the military overseas already didn't have access to abortion on November 1, 2004. And yet, apparently all a candidate has to do to win feminists' enthusiastic support is to say he supports a woman's right to choose. Not that he will work to improve access to abortion for poor women, or young women, or women on the front lines of combat--let alone advocate for the transformation of the culture that true sexual and economic liberation for women would require. All he has to do is philosophically support a woman's right to choose. But think of this--what if the hundreds, thousands of woman-hours spent canvassing for Kerry went instead to teaching ourselves how to perform safe abortions (otherwise known as "menstrual extraction" in the 1970s and early 1980s), finding sources of necessary equipment, stockpiling it, and creating referral networks across the country? What happened to the feminist commitment to building and living in women's communities? To our determination to create economic alternatives that reflect our feminist values? It would behoove us to remember that what we can do for ourselves, the man can never take away.

If you're hopelessly committed to erectoral politics, have you paid attention to electing senators and representatives from your state who will oppose Bush's nominations of pro-life judges? Will these reps vote against his attempts to gut Social Security? Will you encourage them to, and monitor them to make sure that they do? Will you mobilize the vote against them next time if they don't? I tend to doubt this, when my disbelieving ears have heard feminist women refuse to engage with the investigation of vote tampering in Florida, Ohio and New Mexico--dismissing reported evidence as "conspiracy theories" and "irresponsible journalism."

With regard to November Second, it seems that John Kerry has come to embody our fervent wishes for a better world--and George W. Bush our fears of a worse one. But frankly, my sisters, I question your loyalty to a system which continues to betray us. Let's face it. Men can, and will, say anything to get what they want from us. How long will we continue to project our hopes and desires for change onto wealthy white men, instead of turning our time and energy to our own work? How long do we intend to resist the recognition that the US political system was never meant to represent women, or men of color, and that 80 years later it includes us only at our continued insistence? How can feminists be so willing to return to the abusive husband of erectoral politics, to excuse his failures and betrayals when we who've seen this so many times before ought to know better? This is so frustrating that I believe I finally understand the harsh words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning that have stymied me for years: "If a woman ignores these wrongs, then may women as a sex continue to suffer them; there is no help for any of us--let us be dumb and die."

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