Peace Newsletter

Elections Are Just the Beginning

A Syracuse Peace Council Statement

The Peace Council believes that voting can never be the primary vehicle for social change. To suggest it can buys into the mythology designed to disempower us.

When election time rolls around, we hear the civics lessons about the importance of voting and the wonders of US democracy. Indeed, some changes can be made to improve life locally, nationally and internationally through the election process. The recent extension of the Voting Rights Act and protection of the Alaska Wildlife Refuge from oil exploitation are examples resulting from a few "less bad" politicians in office.

But overwhelmingly we get to choose from a very narrow range of candidates. The Syracuse Peace Council believes that democracy means much more than occasional voting, particularly when our political system is stacked so heavily in favor of candidates representing corporations and other affluent minorities.

As a grassroots organization working to empower our community, we see the dominant role money plays. Those with enough of it can literally buy the candidates and therefore the policies and legislation and regulation they desire. As a result, the US "democratic process" is grossly undemocratic. Many who stay home on Election Day are making a political statement: the choices offered by our two-party system simply aren't meaningful.

The Peace Council believes that voting can never be the primary vehicle for social change. To suggest it can buys into the mythology designed to disempower us and force us to accept limited progress toward peace, social justice and genuine democracy.

Unfortunately, voting and democracy are synonyms in US culture, with the added dogma that democracy equals a free market economy. For SPC democracy is self-government: people shaping the decisions affecting our lives.

If democracy were functioning well, elected officials would roughly resemble the populations they "represent." Currently, white men (about 37% of the population) hold over 70% of the seats in Congress. Women, over half the population, make up a measly 15% of Congress.

Real democracy requires a living wage, strong social networks, adequate healthcare, social service supports for all and more. People, overwhelmed by caring for children, paying the bills and coping with personal crises, can't participate meaningfully. Our current economic and social system relegates too many to the electoral sidelines.

Voting is a fixture of various governments, including totalitarian ones. Voting and democracy are hardly Siamese twins. As Josef Stalin said, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." This quote has gained increasing relevance with the push for computerized - and hackable - voting machines.
Components of an Electoral Overhaul
create publicly-financed elections to minimize the power of monied and corporate interests to choose candidates, purchase access and determine policy;
use voting technology which is transparent and includes a voter-verified paper trail;
use proportional representation, instant run-off voting and other tools to promote the inclusion of more diverse perspectives in governing bodies;
eliminate the need for advanced registration of voters;
restore voting rights for citizens with felony convictions;
guarantee equal access for smaller parties;
provide paid leave time for people to vote (or holding elections on Saturday - not on a weekday);
establish sensible Congressional districts rather than the current incumbent-protecting system;
abolish the electoral college.

While we do not endorse candidates, there are three primary ways SPC relates to the electoral process:

(1) We seek to broaden and even reframe peace and social justice issues as they are presented - or ignored - during election campaigns. We use campaign season as an opportunity to provide information and analysis, recognizing that with all the hype, people are paying more attention.

(2) We encourage people to get involved in other forms of activism beyond voting so we can build the power base necessary to create more fundamental change. Indeed, without powerful grassroots social movements, voting would still be limited to white men who own property.

(3) SPC calls for an overhaul of our electoral system. Despite the vast change brought about by activists in the 20th century, access to the ballot remains restricted. The power of the peoples' vote remains severely limited as well. (See 'Components of an Electoral Overhaul' for specific suggestions.)

Creating peace and social justice, establishing true democracy and building a fair economic system require many different kinds of actions, from voting to nonviolent direct action, from workplace organizing to consumer boycotts, from marches and demonstrations to vigils and civil disobedience. Voting is just the beginning

Published by the Syracuse Peace Council – Founded in 1936


This statement is the product of extensive discussion and input among the Peace Council Steering Committee and other core activists. This is draft number eight.