Friday, January 14, 2005

Jumping Off the Bridge

Today I received an email--one of those "pass it along" types--that suggested, at great and passionate length, that "we" protest Bush by not spending one damn dime on inauguration day. Out of curiousity, I Googled it. Snopes (frequently reliable, especially when it comes to BE VERY AFRAID OF THIS!!!!! emails) says, eh, don't bother, it's not very effective. The guy in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal says, eh, don't bother, it's pretty weak and lame, and no one's really going to do it anyway. Someone else says that the media are more interested, apparently, than the general public.

Oddly enough, though, all of those articles saying that it won't amount to anything and it's pointless are bringing attention to it that it might not otherwise receive . . . thereby informing more people who might actually participate. And, really, my parents were right about this one.

That is, we learned early on not to try to convince our parents to let us do something by saying, "But EVERYONE's doing this!" or "But Soandso are going! And Thusandsuch, too!" Their response, of course, was, "If they jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?" We dropped that line of reasoning pretty quickly.

it turns out the reverse is true, though, too: just because no one else is doing it doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. I don't care if it's only me, or only me and ten people I know. We can't all go to Washington, and we all voted, and at least some of us (not me, but some of us) work in local politics or activism of one kind or another--but we still don't feel particularly represented. So, really, I don't care. I'm not spending one damn dime on Coronation Day.


Blogger Ann said...

Great point. Do you think this kind of principle--just because everyone's doing it versus even if no one's doing it--also applies to voting? That is, many people (including me) voted for Kerry because he had the best (only?) chance of beating Bush, regardless of how we felt about Kerry personally.

(I wish I had time to stop by more often; I love reading your posts.)

4:49 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Yeah, I think I do. I think there are probably situations when a "protest" vote is fine--if you're in a state that is overwhelmingly going your way, but you don't like your candidate much, for example--but even that case seemed problematic to me this election. I took heart from the fact that nearly as many people voted for Kerry as voted for Bush--that is, they voted to unseat an incumbent wartime president, which is unheard of in this country. If that vote had been splintered, it'd have been more demoralizing. I also think it actually gives Democrats more of a mandate than it gives Republicans, and serves as proof that we don't have to pander at all, but I realize that's a minority opinion, and not one the big dogs in the Democratic party are even willing to hear.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

And, hey, come by any time!

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a lot of things (like protesting Bush by not spending money on inauguration day, or voting for a candidate when you know your individual vote won't have any effect on the outcome) are worth doing. But they're not worth doing for the simplistic reason that they'll actually bring about a particular effect in the outside world. They're worth doing because they have the potential to bring about an effect in the person performing the action.

I know that my vote for Kerry was largely (heck, completely) symbolic, because California, where I live, was a safe blue state from the beginning. When I donated $100 to tsunami-disaster relief, that was largely symbolic; that amount of money wasn't going to produce a big difference in and of itself. If I choose not to spend any money on inauguration day, that will be largely symbolic, too.

But I do lots of things, some of them actually fairly costly to me personally, for symbolic reasons. I operate a weblog, and sometimes spend an hour or more crafting and posting a new item for it. There's no real compensation for that time, but it matters to me. I like the feeling I get when I publish those thoughts, even if I know that they will have very little, if any, effect, on the outside world.

I think that's okay. Our symbolic actions define us. To a significant degree, they tell a story about what kind of people we are. People who refuse to vote on the grounds that their individual ballot will never determine the outcome of an election are saying something about their values, and that statement's biggest impact may be on their own view of themselves.

If you pass someone on the street who's in trouble, do you look away and keep going? Or do you stop and try to help? I think that decision comes down to what kind of person you see yourself as. And your history of symbolic behavior is a significant factor in your determination of that. So at least in that sense, your previous choices to do things or not do things, even when you know they won't produce a noticeable outward effect, can turn out to be very significant.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Thanks for stopping by--and for that thoughtful comment. It reminds me of an old Kurt Vonnegut line: "We are who we pretend to be." That is, I think that "symbolic" acts aren't always/only/merely symbolic, i.e., a stand-in for something (perceived as) more real, somehow. Which is what you meant, I think, by symbolic acts affecting the person who performs those acts, by helping to shape the person's notion of who s/he is, and by helping the person make the Good actual and real in the world. Which is non-trivial, if you ask me.

9:28 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

I have an alternate propsal: what if you took the money you would spend on Inauga..Inaugaration...Inaugu--However the HELL you spell it--Day and gave it to, say, the ACLU? Eh?

8:43 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

I've seen a number of people suggest donating to an organization that supports reproductive choice for women, for example--and i think a donation to the ACLU fits in nicely with that thought!

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here!

I have a washington state secretary of state site. It pretty much covers how a lot of us feel in Washington State.

Come and check it out if you get time.

8:44 AM  

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