One of the most hostility-producing actions I’ve taken in recent years was to raise questions among my fellow faculty about the primacy of voting for federal offices. One colleague had proposed a “get out the vote” drive among students, to which I replied, “Maybe we should be inviting them to ask, ‘is voting a civic duty or a corporate scam?’” The rolling eyes, shaking heads, and downright anger took even a seasoned veteran such as myself by surprise.
We can question the reality of God, the importance of Jesus, and the integrity of religious institutions, but dare at your own risk to challenge the civic sacrament! But I do dare to challenge it, both in the classroom and here. Would Moses have us vote for a “kinder, gentler” pharaoh, or Jesus for a better emperor?
We all know that our federal system has been taken captive by corporations and the 1%. I need not lay out examples of the systemic control that the wealthy exercise over our national politicians and regulatory agencies. As a young Senate counsel 30 years ago, I saw up close the reality of the single, over-arching rule of national government: whoever has the most money wins.
Countless analysts, such as Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, and Chris Hedges, have documented the course of our imperial, corporate government brazenly serving the interests of the few at the expense of the many. What we see now is not different from the past, except in its open contempt for the real needs of ordinary people for health care, meaningful work, and a healthy planet for our children’s children.
This can lead some to cynicism that gives up not only on politics but on the possibility of real change for justice and peace. For me, though, it has been clarifying. I no longer put any hope in a system that was founded by and for the 1% and has always acted on their behalf. Rather, I put all my hope in God’s vision of an alternative social order. The covenant at Sinai called an enslaved people out of empire to live a radically different way in deep communion with the Creator and one another. Similarly, Jesus called his disciples not to reform the empire but to abandon it, and live instead in local community where all is shared in common, empowered by the presence of embodied Love.
Things can be different at the local level, as activist Paul Cienfuegos has shown. Corporations can’t control each local town council, and citizens can more effectively organize resistance when the rich seek to exert their power. But at the national level, this is virtually impossible.
I urge us to consider, in the face of the banal predictability of the national election campaigning, to discern whether voting is an expression of civic duty or is a form of collaboration with a corporate scam. Our future and the future of our planet are at stake.