By Mark E. Smith
April 2, 2013
Today, while at the organic food cooperative where I do most of my shopping, I ran into one of their founders, a dear man, a good man, and a man I’ve known for many years and happen to like. He and his wife, the co-op’s general manager, helped take the co-op from a hippie storefront thirty years ago, to the multi-million dollar business it is today. But as dedicated as they are to healthy, vegetarian, non-GMO organic food, they are even more dedicated to the Democratic Party. This makes for some interesting conflicts, of which they appear to be in total denial, where they consistently vote against their most deeply held values and principles. For example, not only did they vote for Obama in 2008, in 2012, after he had appointed Monsanto loyalists to high level government policy making positions, they voted for him again. At the same time, the co-op was waging a big campaign to encourage people to vote for a GMO labeling proposition on the California ballot. It didn’t make sense. How can you be against GMOs and vote for a President who is protecting GMOs? Or are GMOs like war crimes in that Democrats only oppose them when they are done by Republicans?
Just before the November 2012 election, the co-op newsletter had a front page banner headline that said, “If you don’t vote, who are you electing?” As an election boycott advocate I was outraged. I requested five minutes to speak to the Board of Directors at their next meeting, and I spent a week working on my presentation and the accompanying handout, which I’ll append below this article. Basically what I said was that I didn’t think they should be denigrating co-op member/owners whose refusal to vote is based on the same moral and ethical values and principles the co-op claims to stand for and which are written into their by-laws. Needless to say they didn’t listen to what I said and I seriously doubt if any of them bothered to read the handout. A couple of months later they voted to authorize voter registration tables in front of the co-op, as long as they were nonpartisan. But what exactly does nonpartisan mean in a winner-take-all electoral system where the only possible winners are funded by the same banks, defense contractors, and multinational corporations? Can you call yourself a people’s cooperative when you encourage voting for a government that favors corporations over people?
Anyway, trouble-maker that I am, and knowing that Obama had just signed the Monsanto Protection Act, I asked this guy if he would still vote for a Democratic nominee if he knew that person advocated making cooperatives illegal. He hesitated a second, and I told him that I knew he would. He might grumble, but he’d vote for the Democratic Party nominee even if that candidate happened to be the CEO of Monsanto. As firmly as he believes that GMOs are bad, he believes that Republicans are worse than Democrats, so no matter how evil the Democrats, he has no choice but to vote for them. The co-op claims to be opposed to the winner-take-all capitalist system, but they appear to be supportive of the winner-take-all electoral system that controls our capitalist economy. If Monsanto told a Democratic President and the Democrats in Congress to make organic food cooperatives illegal, the Democrats would have no choice but to obey. Without corporate funding, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans could compete with each other for the same corporate funding that both require in order to exist, so in the end, they both have the same agenda, to please the big corporations without whom they couldn’t exist.
How can such intelligent, caring, sincere people as this guy, his wife, and the co-op board of directors, consistently vote against their own values? It isn’t ignorance, it isn’t stupidity, and it certainly isn’t a lack of values. I believe it is an identity issue, that they identify themselves as Democrats (some members of the board may be third party voters, but in a winner-take-all electoral system who one votes for is irrelevant) and believe in their heart of hearts that it is better to be a Democrat, no matter what evil their party may do, than to be a Republican. I suspect that even if the Democratic Party did make organic food cooperatives illegal, and in so doing destroyed these people’s lives, they would continue to vote Democratic because that’s who they believe they are. Like many in Cambodia who believed in and swore allegiance to the Khmer Rouge, even as it was starving, torturing, and executing them by the millions for no reason, their faith is unshakeable.
Here’s my 5-minute oral presentation, along with the proposal and an essay that I gave to the co-op board of directors:
Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today. My name is Mark Smith and I’m an election boycott activist, so when the November issue of our Co-op News carried the top headline, “If You’re Not Voting, Who Are You Electing?” it really hurt me.
Would you ask, “If you don’t shop on Black Friday, what are you buying?” Of course not. If you don’t shop, you’re not buying anything. And if you don’t vote, you’re not electing anyone.
A better question is, “If you do vote, who are you electing?” We have a winner-take-all electoral system, and what that means is that when people vote, they are not electing the person or issue they vote for they are electing the person who wins. The winner claims the entire election turnout, including votes for their opponent, votes for third parties, write-in votes for Mickey Mouse, Nobody, or End War Now, and votes cast by voters who voted only for local issues or candidates and left the line for President blank. Whoever signs their name at the polls or on the back of a mail-in ballot envelope, is granting their personal consent of the governed to whoever wins and delegating to whoever wins the power to do whatever they wish in that voter’s name.
Even if you only voted for Prop. 37 and left the rest of the ballot blank, your vote still counted as the consent of the governed in a Presidential election where the only two candidates with any chance of becoming President were both dedicated to war and to environmental destruction.
The fact is that if you voted, you were part of the total voter turnout that elected the winner of the Presidential race, who you knew would be either Obama or Romney, who you knew would appoint Monsanto executives to government agency positions, who you knew would continue the nuclear and environmental pollution that is driving climate change, who you knew would continue to protect and bailout corrupt banksters and cut social programs to reward them for their crimes, and who you knew would continue the wars of aggression based on lies–the worst crimes against humanity known. If you voted, you elected the winner. Is it right to use Co-op resources to falsely allege that nonvoters were doing what voters actually did?
Governments derive their just powers, as the Declaration of Independence states, from the consent of the governed. They demonstrate that they have the consent of the governed by holding elections. Your vote is your consent. If a substantial percentage of the electorate votes, the government can claim to have been democratically elected, to have the consent of the governed, and therefore to represent the will of the people. If people don’t vote, the government cannot claim to have been democratically elected, cannot claim to have the consent of the governed, and cannot claim to represent the will of the people. That’s why I don’t vote and that’s why I urge others to boycott our elections.
I’m not withholding my consent because I’m apathetic. I was a conscientious voter for decades and then, as Nancy can tell you, I was an election integrity activist, trying to find some way to ensure that our votes would be counted. It took me six years of monitoring elections, doing research, filing Public Records Requests, and bringing litigation to understand that the Supreme Court was correct in 2000, that due to the way our Constitution was written, our votes do not have to be counted, and that not even a Constitutional Amendment could change that. That’s when I stopped voting. I care. I am morally and ethically opposed to crimes against humanity and environmental destruction, so I won’t vote in any election where the known and only possible result of the election will be continuing genocide and environmental destruction. There is no right, privilege, or benefit so precious to me that I will knowingly sacrifice the lives of innocent people and the survival of the planet to get it. There are moral and ethical reasons for my refusal to vote and I don’t think co-op resources should be used to criticize owners for having values and principles, or to help get out the vote for an amoral, unethical, and undemocratic form of government.
I understand that the co-op was trying to encourage better nutrition through legislative reform. In the essay entitled, “Legislative Reform School” that I’ve passed around to the board, I explain why that isn’t really a good idea. I also have a proposal I’ve passed around to the board members, suggesting that we no longer use co-op resources to promote genocide and environmental destruction, or to disparage owners opposed to genocide and environmental destruction, and I ask that the Board please consider it.
Proposal to the Board of Directors of Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Cooperative:
No Co-op Resources Be Used to Help Get Out the Vote
Whereas governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence), and
Whereas governments demonstrate the consent of the governed by holding elections, and
Whereas the United States has a winner-take-all electoral system, so that the winner of an election claims the consent of all voters, not just those who voted for that candidate, and
Whereas, if people vote, the government can claim to have been democratically elected, to have the consent of the governed, and to represent the will of the people, and
Whereas, if people do not vote, the government cannot claim to have been democratically elected, to have the consent of the governed, and to represent the will of the people, and
Whereas the US government has been and is engaged in wars of aggression based on lies, crimes against humanity, the worst war crimes known, in which many innocent civilians are killed, and
Whereas the US government is one of the biggest drivers of global climate change, and
Whereas People’s Mission Statement includes the following vision: “The Cooperative is dedicated to helping people live in ways that are ecologically sustainable and that promote personal health and well-being,” and
Whereas genocide and climate change are not ecologically sustainable and do not promote personal health and well-being, and
Whereas People’s Mission States includes the following values: “We believe that informed choices made by all consumers have far reaching impacts on the local and global community, and are committed to providing education and information to enhance nutritional and environmental awareness,” and
Whereas genocide and climate change do have far reaching but negative impacts on the local and global community, and have an extremely negative impact on the global environment, and
Whereas the Fourth Principle of Cooperative Business Principles is: “Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy,” and
Whereas the United States has a hierarchical form of government, and
Whereas voting in federal elections does not ensure democratic control, and indeed is a contract between the voter and the government that the voter delegates their authority to the government, and
Whereas it is inappropriate for People’s to encourage owners to enter into a contract that cedes control to the federal government and grants the federal government the undemocratic right to make policy decisions without regard to public opinion, and
Whereas even the most benevolent local candidates and issues on a federal ballot come at the price of the vote being counted as part of the turnout granting the consent of the governed to the federal government to continue committing genocide and driving climate change, and
Whereas the continuing genocides and environmental destruction by the United States federal government threaten the survival of the planet and are contrary to cooperative principles and values, and
Whereas it is inappropriate for People’s to actively seek to gain benefits for some at the cost of genocide against others or global environmental destruction, and
Whereas big corporations spend billions of dollars to finance Presidential and Congressional election campaigns to ensure that they will control policy and that their executives and attorneys will be appointed to head and staff federal regulatory agencies, and
Whereas it is not in the interests of an organic cooperative to encourage people to delegate supreme power to a government opposed to cooperative principles and values,
Be it therefore agreed upon by the Board of Directors that no resources of the Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Cooperative be used for the purpose of encouraging owners to vote for candidates or issues on any federal ballot or to disparage owners whose refusal to vote is based on ethical and moral values and principles.
Essay included in handout: Legislative Reform School