It’s Not About Winning the Election-It’s About Winning Our Democracy

Due to illness, Sonali was unable to attend a panel discussion on the US Presidential elections held in the Inland Empire, and asked that this message be read out on her behalf.

I would like to profusely thank Theresa Hernandez for organizing this event and deeply apologize to her and all of you for not being present today.

This year’s presidential election is not going to change everything. If John Kerry wins, it doesn’t mean that the US and the world will face a drastic difference in policies.

This is a reality we have to face. If we don’t face it, we will remain inside our protective cocoons, and do ourselves and the entire world a disservice.

We know what George Bush is all about. I don’t have to tell you the damage he’s done. We also know what John Kerry is about-he’s willing to tell us each time he speaks that he plans on being as war-like as Bush. True, Kerry’s health care plan sounds much better than Bush’s policies on health, but we know that politicians will say anything to get elected. Remember Clinton’s “Universal Health Care” plan?

The main function this election serves is to ratify the status quo. Does that mean that this election is pointless? No-this election should highlight the poor state of our democracy and to remind us how much work there is to be done. If every single one of us has not dedicated a portion of our lives to social justice, we need to start right now. Because, given the trend in this country, our vote, as people who believe in social justice, matters little.

Bush and Kerry are both vying to win over the same constituency-a pro-military, God-fearing, largely white rural middle and working class, in addition to multinational mega-corporations. They are not interested in the anti-war electorate or the urban poor and middle class, especially not those of us who believe that patriotism is an irrational affliction; those of us who believe that the well-being of the world depends on our ability to rein in the US military, coupled with the world’s ability to resist.

If we want to work through the electoral system, our task is to increase the size and might of this latter constituency to such a degree that neither Bush nor Kerry can afford to ignore us. Bush and Kerry know that they cannot ignore multinational corporations if they want a chance of winning. Our goal is to ensure that they cannot ignore progressive forces in this country any longer. The only way to accomplish this is to make our organizing independent of the election cycle. We have to build a movement that can’t be ignored-this is impossible if we work at it only once every four years. Corporations don’t reward politicians once every four years and take a break in between-“corporateering” is an ongoing process whose foundation is strong and whose power is undeniable.

Our power has to be undeniable. We have to expand and strengthen our constituency so that no future candidate, whether running for local office or for president can ever ignore us again. “Get out the Vote” campaigns will do little to mobilize voters unless voters are part of a larger, year-round struggle.

The least of our actions should be to vote. Voting should be to organizing what wearing clean clothes is to maintaining a healthy body.

As I lie here, writing this message on my bed, I am painfully aware of the work required to heal my body. Occaisional quick fixes may result in short term gains, but if I want a long, healthy, pain-free life, I have to devote myself to fixing my body in a variety of ways. Just like we have to work at fixing our democracy in many different ways, whether it’s organizing a union, creating an alternative media, campaigning against the war or against military recruitment in schools, or organizing a panel like this to create dialogue, etc. Doing this type of work all year round and intensifying it every year is a requirement for building a healthy democracy.

We vote simply because we can, but if we vote as we build our democracy, our votes will be that much more meaningful. Voting in isolation is like dressing up a broken body in clean clothes. This is an act that is an obligation that we must fulfil, but which by itself does little to address the deep wounds.

So if we pick a strategy to vote for Kerry, or Nader, or Cobb, let that be only a small part of our larger struggle, because the day after the election, our work will have just begun.

Thank you very much,
Sonali Kolhatkar
19 September 2004