“We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people sit there — all of you — day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds — we’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We’re the illusions! So turn off this goddam set!” – Howard Beale, “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves,” from the movie “Network,” by Paddy Chayefsky (Sc. 122)
Welcome to the media helicopter. Join us, as we fly over the political landscape. Below, to the right, you see the mountain that the Republicans have constructed, that if you were standing, with your feet on the ground, you would notice is actually a molehill. But don’t worry. Up here, we’re not afraid to blow everything out of proportion. Their memes make it so easy, and it seems the rest of the country takes to our words like pigs to slop.
You can track the landscape beneath us like a map. That’s President Obama’s motorcade on the road to the left, driving on what is, for sure, a bumpy trail that leads back to the White House. The DNC work crew is busy filling in the potholes with Obama’s patchwork accomplishments. They want the road to look good, at least, as they are counting on a convoy of support to fall in line, nostalgic music blaring “Yes, We Can,” the New Day “O” logo flying from banners, bumpers and car antennas.
There remains something strange about the landscape we tour from the helicopter. It maintains a certain sameness, where light and shadow seem never to change, no matter which direction the activity below us seems to be moving. It’s like, if you zoom in to Google Earth, and change the axis on your neighborhood view, there comes a point when all you get is a stretching out of roof lines, because the satellites are presenting only the tops of the houses, and not what goes on beneath the eaves.
The more you stretch it out, the closer you get to a single, thin, nearly invisible line. It is along that line our national politics play out, merely moving back and forth, side to side, or up and down. In its reluctance to embrace the texture of our varied and difficult lives, it seeks to flatten us, compress us, force us into the assimilation of a single political continuum: left, left of center, center, right of center, right.
And while there is plenty of blame for the dysfunctional breakdown of the engine of government that can be laid at the feet of Congressional Republicans, the executive branch is deep under the hood, up to its elbows in gears and grime, and the president cannot show his face as if it is clean of grease smears. Plouffe and Axelrod can dump a cooler of Go-Jo over the commander-in-chief as if he just won the Superbowl, but there’s still that puddle of dirt at his feet. Between now and November, every step he takes tracks damp and dingy traces of the mistakes and missteps of his presidency.
Americans, then, abandon the government issued vehicle at the garage, where they expect nothing good to happen, walk next door to the Greyhound station, and take a bus on a journey through the political wilderness. At least that way, they can chart a course that’s not as one dimensional as the one in which, the system insists, we are participants. Instead, they call for a new ideal, a new set of tools, a new “shining city on the hill.”
There are serious activists in this election cycle who are calling for a boycott of the presidential ballot. Their dissatisfaction will not even be placated with an idyllic third party run – it’s just putting questionable oil into the same engine, and there is no confidence it would go smoothly because, their Facebook event page declares, a third party has “no possibility of winning the Presidential election due to corporate control over the media and the electoral process.”
“Third parties and third party candidates are unable to establish an alternate party or see a candidate to victory,” explained political activist Terri Lee, in an interview with Political Context’s Matt J. Stannard. “We know it, the third party candidates know it and The Establishment knows it too. Boycotting presidential elections does no harm to them because there was no chance for victory from the onset.”
“I can’t believe people are talking about voting,” one recent Facebook commenter wrote, in referring to the bias with which Americans react to news about the inappropriate and unethical behavior of their political enemies. What does it take to go that far in one’s mind, to imply that not voting will send any signal at all?
“It’s desirable to The Establishment to have us follow these silly elections,” Lee said, “to have us believe in the illusion of choice, and to have the public think ‘that’s politics’ and busy ourselves with phone banking, fundraising, canvassing, etc which is all FOR THEM! Intentionally, purposefully, and loudly not-voting is an act of defiance.”
“We do not struggle for control of organizations, social circles, and government,” declares the Vote for Nobody Campaign, on its website. “We do not lobby the State for favors or permission to control those with whom we disagree. Rather, we advocate freedom.”
The question remains, though, by giving up your vote, are you not abdicating that very freedom to the forces you eschew? This may be one tool in the belt, but the only way to create change in this country is to “lobby the State.”
Even if you want to change the entire government system to, say, a parliamentary one, as Ms. Lee advocates in her interview, a Constitutional Convention is necessary. To convene one, you have to lobby for it. One must distinguish, then, between inaction, as “an act of defiance,” and action, as an act of engagement.
Ignoring the November ballot, or even just the presidential sections (and I am not advocating that, yet) is not and cannot be the only solution one chooses to create real change and “freedom” in our country. It can, though, be a catalyst to get activists moving to produce the right kind of revolution, one that serves our social, economic and diplomatic future.
“You say you’ll change the Constitution.
Well, you know, we all want to change your head.
You tell me it’s the institution.
Well, you know, you better free your mind instead.”
– Revolution, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
It’s the irony of revolution, that to change it on the outside, we have to change it from within; to move the surface, you have to start at the core. In our country, that’s the Constitution. I haven’t given up on that process, yet. Maybe Howard Beale and the Beatles are right – the media want to change my head, want me to free my mind and go along. They want to give dimension to the illusion of choice. I get that. But the real choices, when you get down to it, are either follow the Constitutional process, or engage in forceful, possibly armed, resistance, and if that’s in the mind of any of these movements, as The Beatles sang, “you can count me out.”