The Coastal Post - November, 1996

Cancer or Polio?

"spare a thought for the stay at home voter

empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows

a parade of the gray suited grafters

a choice of cancer or polio"

The nation will be lucky to get a fifty percent turnout on election day, and only the most idealistic or naive can fault those who don't bother to vote. A list of the important issues that have been unmentioned in the national campaign would fill more than this page, let alone this column. Still, those of us with something to vote for or against, will honor the process with our participation, but we should be sensitive to those who feel that no difference will come to their lives as a result of the electoral process.

The privileged among us can vote for future supreme court justices, but the less than privileged will still fill the prisons unless we do something about repressive drug laws and the racist ignorance they are based on. Whether from Wall Street or Main Street, beneficiaries of corporate policy will flock to the polls and choose lesser evils or greater profits, while victims of those policies stay home. Members of ever more isolated single issue groups will show up to vote for-or against-candidates and policies that do little for the nation, and even less for them. But the overwhelming majority will not vote for the winner of the presidential election, and they will not be the only losers in this process.

The poets quoted above were speaking for the ages, not just their era, and the metaphor of disease was never more apt. The candidates, for the most part, are bought and paid for in a marketing process that is making Americans sick. Well, there is some hope to be found in the mass which rejects the process. When it is combined with all those who vote against, and the others who vote in self-defense, it makes up a truly great majority. Once that enormous group becomes represented in the political process, we may approach something never before achieved in the history of the race: real democracy. Maybe next time, but certainly not this year.

Enormous and growing income inequality was unmentioned in this electoral circus. Poverty, wealth, corporate power, disintegrating social standards and a host of other matters were dealt with in sound-bite fashion, if at all. A seriously endangered natural environment and global breakdowns of frightening proportions were also left to the consciousness of tiny groups on the fringes of political power. None of the silly slogans or mud slinging of the presidential sit-com will do anything about these problems for the immediate future. It is up to the people to bring about change, despite the lack of leadership in the nation.

People have already shown that they are far beyond their leaders. The Million Man March in Washington, for one example, was not supported by established civil rights leaders until it had become something they could not afford to avoid. It may stand as the most important act of affirmative action for black America, taken by black America. The steadily rising number of alternate parties and citizen action groups expressing organized disgust with the status quo is another sign that leaders have to catch up with the people. There is a necessity for leadership, but it cannot be locked into patterns of the past, almost all of which have been found wanting. And they are wanting because they usually do not address the biggest problem we face.

The new movement must be one of unity among the great majority of citizens, the ones who work and are bearing the full brunt of economic and social malfunctions. That unity means moving beyond ever more isolated categories that make us an easily divided-and conquered-nation of people fighting over crumbs, while our fantastic wealth is squandered by capital in its globalization phase.

When Clinton said that the era of big government was over, most Americans applauded. But as long as Big Capital rules the nation and the planet, the people need big government. The problem is that big government has been

a creature working against the interest of ordinary citizens, and for the interest of an investor class that benefits from corporate policies. These policies support capital flight to foreign countries that reduce American jobs, then bring in cheap labor from those foreign nations, where it has been pauperized and thrown off the land. The process drives wedges between people who should work together, but instead are driven apart. They are not helped by single issue, identity politics that offer retail tokens to a few members of a group, while delivering wholesale garbage to the great majority.

As the world becomes a playground for international capital, the nations become a compound of divided populations, some walled into affluent ghettos, others barb-wired into slums and prisons. In between, a steadily declining middle that is manipulated into seeing the bottom as a threat, when it is the top which represents the deadliest menace to all. The process of identifying the problem and its ultimate solution will come hard on the

heels of this nearly meaningless election. The next one cannot be as insignificant, especially not if the human race is as significant as most of us believe. Our future democratic actions will determine whether the pessimists or the optimists are correct about humanity.