A few months ago I received my first "please explain your apparent failure to vote" letter from the Australian Electoral Commission. In the process of writing a letter of response and during a conversation with Jennifer Tuke, I have come to a much clearer understanding of my decision not to vote and have also realised more about how this type of action contributes to creating a nonviolent world. I have written down some of my thoughts and included a copy of the letter, hoping it might be useful to others thinking about similar issues.
Although I have decided not to fill out the form you sent me about my apparent failure to vote, I would like to let you know why I did not vote in the Federal Election held on Saturday 2 March 1996.
It was an act based on my love and caring for people and for the world and my unwillingness to participate in a system which is harmful, in fact violent towards us. It was an act of conscience.
I have felt sad and angry and scared as I started to realise that the political system that I grew up believing in will never lead us to achieving a just and caring society. That in fact our system of government and all current systems of government are violent to people. By violence I do not just mean physical violence. I also mean people not having enough to eat, not having adequate housing, not being safe, not having clean air or water, destroying our environment, not having meaningful things to do, not having control over what they do and many other things as well. Violence is about one person or group having power and control over another - it happens in many different ways and often we do not see it, or we accept it as a part of life because we are so used to it and because we feel powerless to do anything about it, it feels too big.
I do believe that it is possible to create a society which does meet people's
needs and which is nonviolent. However I am now sure that it will not be by voting
politicians in the hope that they will do it for us. There are too many reasons why they cannot do it - and these reasons are about the whole system, rather than particular politicians. We, all of us, will be and are already part of recreating our society. My vision is long term, real change is a slow process. It is about how we relate to each other, how we feel about ourselves and how we care for our planet earth. It is about how we raise our children and about how we work and live together. And it is about each of us feeling powerful enough and loving enough that we know that we can create change.
It has taken me a while to realise this because I really believed that if we could just elect the right party or the right politicians, things would get better. I believed that when we vote we are exercising our power - I now see that we are actually giving it away. The illusion that we have real power to make the world better for ourselves because we vote, helps to keep us complacent. It helps to stop us noticing that we, each of us separately and all of us together have real power to make a difference. To create for ourselves a world that we want to live in. I am sure that it is possible!
Some thoughts about how not voting makes a difference
I have felt proud and empowered by my act of not voting. I see that the more I make choices in my life that are in line with my conscience, the less scared I feel, and the more I notice choices that are there to be made in situations where previously I did not even see that there was a choice. Also, the more I act according to my conscience and make free choices, the more clearly I can see how the oppressive systems work. Though I've still got a long way to go in being really free and seeing really clearly, I notice that the difficult choices I have made in recent years and the fear that I have faced in making them have made a real difference in what I see as being possible for me and for all people.
Some questions people have put to me are: "But how will not voting lead to changes in society?" and "Won't it just lead to chaos or more right wing governments?". In the past I could not really see how the acts of a small number of people not voting could in itself help to create a nonviolent world, except by helping those around us to stop and question the system. And I actually felt scared about the outcome of large numbers of people not voting, because I did not trust that we would be ready to use alternative systems of decision making. However I knew that I could not vote any more (for reasons that I outlined in my letter). I now see that each act of withdrawing cooperation from violent systems is in itself part of creating a nonviolent society now. It is about each of us learning to act fearlessly, openly and truthfully, thinking for ourselves and making our own choices. It is a radical way to be in our society and I think it is an important basis for creating and using alternative systems and processes. Also, because acting in this way is empowering and helps us to see how the world works more clearly it helps us to continue working for change. For me the power of openly not voting, of refusing to cooperate with something I disagree with on moral grounds is about reclaiming my power to make my own choices, being honest and being true to myself and reducing my fear of authorities and of what people might think, say and do.
Being open about my actions feels very important. When I am open it seems
that I step outside the system and it is easier to treat people whose roles or actions I
do not like with respect and friendliness. By
doing this I am working towards building a world where openness is normal. When I am fully open and honest I feel at peace with myself, and can take full pride and responsibility for what I do. If I am not open then the system has still got me; there is still the fear of being caught, the unfaced fear of consequences.
Mainstream society encourages us to be untrue, unreal, to shut off our feelings
to the extent that we do not even realise that
we are being untrue and do not notice that we have a choice. We are encouraged to stay numb and scared and cooperative, to fit in and not risk being seen as weird or crazy or bad. I think that doing our own emotional healing, getting to know ourselves well and dealing with the fear in the way of becoming our true selves is a very radical act which challenges mainstream society and is very linked in with being able to see and make different choices.
What I see as important is helping more and more people to see the oppressive systems clearly and to see alternative ways of doing things, to do their own emotional healing and to make choices in line with their own truth. How to do this well is something that I'm learning about at the moment - but I know that listening to people is a vital part of it.