My fellow Americans,
Now more than ever our government needs our help. For centuries we have believed democracy to be the best form of government, without ever experiencing true democracy. Greed and corruption have infiltrated our government, and now Democrats and Republicans have become so hopelessly opposed and unwilling to work together that nothing is accomplished. Our “representatives” use their entire term to campaign for reelection instead of doing the work Americans want done. Our government is broken, but we can fix it, and we can fix it through participating in our limited democracy, ironically. There is hope for democracy – a new hope, a liberating hope, a Libertarian hope. The Libertarian Party must be America’s Party now, because a new choice is always more democratic.
Democracy, as defined by Merriam-Webster is “a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority; b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
Free elections are an illusion. For the majority of this country’s history, two parties have held a monopoly over campaign contributions and the vote. Either a Democrat or Republican has won every presidential election since 1852, and since 1804 the most electoral votes a third-party candidate has obtained is just 46 by George Wallace in 1968. That was the year Tricky Dick was elected the first time. Needless to say had we realized then what we have the opportunity to realize now we could have avoided putting a crook in office. But we have an opportunity to change American politics once again and bring about a more democratic democracy.
The United States political scene suffers from what Herbert Marcuse would call one-dimensional thought, which “militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations and objectives that…transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe” (Marcuse 12). This one-dimensional thought allows for greed and corruption to flourish in our government because we, the people, have accepted it as simply a consequence of democracy.
Marcuse’s one-dimensional thought is ever-present in the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act. “The Republican and Democratic candidates who win their parties’ nominations for President are each eligible to receive a grant to cover all the expenses of their general election campaigns. The basic $20 million grant is adjusted for inflation each Presidential election year. In 2008, the grant was $84.1 million…A third-party Presidential candidate may qualify for some public funds after the general election if he or she receives at least five percent of the popular vote.” So the Democratic and Republican candidates get $84.1 million and the third-party candidate gets squat unless they grab 5% of the vote in the previous election. The laws governing these “free” elections are keeping third parties at a disadvantage to install an incumbent, ruling order that “militates against qualitative change.” Changing these laws is not an option at this point, so we must act within the system to bring about qualitative change, which is one-dimensional in itself., but no one in Congress is going to reform campaign finance laws when they’re running for reelection. “In the political sphere…the programs of the big parties become ever more undistinguishable, even in the degree of hypocrisy and in the odor of the cliches” (Marcuse 19). The Democrats and Republicans are false opposites. They clearly have the same goal in mind – to keep the power divided amongst themselves and the money out of the hands of people looking to change the status quo. That’s why it’s important that the Libertarian Party surpass the 5% popular vote benchmark in the 2012 presidential election, or we can expect more of the same from the White House.
“As the great words of freedom and fulfillment are pronounced by campaigning leaders and politicians, on screens and radios and stages, they turn into meaningless sounds which obtain meaning only in the context of propaganda, business, discipline, and relaxation.” We’re in the whirlwind of this media now and we can already smell the stench of propaganda permeating from the camps of Democrats and Republicans, but the Libertarian Party doesn’t have the money to compete on television and radio, and unless the Libertarian Party is able to poll at 15%, they won’t be able to compete on stage either. You see, third party candidates are withheld from nationally televised debates if they don’t reach 15% on CNN’s presidential election poll. Don’t let the propaganda fool you. There’s only one party looking to bring about qualitative change despite what President Obama’s campaign slogan may be.
Marcuse warns us that “the range of choice open to the individual is not the decisive factor in determining the degree of human freedom, but what can be chosen and what is chosen.” Having another choice on the ballot does not make us more free, but having a quality choice on the ballot will if we cast a quality vote. The Libertarian Party takes the social tolerance of the Democrats and mixes it with the fiscal responsibility of the Republicans, which proves to be a strong party in an election year expecting the most independent voters in history. We have a quality choice in the Libertarian Party. Now it’s up to us to cast a quality vote. Though Marcuse again warns, “Free election of masters does not abolish the masters of the slaves.” The American government is a democratic republic, and until we change the entire order of things, a very two-dimensional thought, we’ll have to deal with our “masters” for the time being, but we can operate the machine.
“We are neither in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves since we are part of its mechanism” (Foucault 217). Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish insists that power is everywhere and we all can wield it. And he’s right. Despite our panoptic society, we are still the fuel that drives the machine. Under the current administration, the panoptic surveillance has only increased, as President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the US government to detain its own citizens indefinitely and without trial if they are suspected terrorists. All of this after our President said during his campaign that he’d close Guantanamo Bay. A clear example of Foucault’s power relations occurred quite recently, when only public outrage kept bills SOPA and PIPA from criminalizing file sharing and destroying the communicative, free structure of the Internet. We do have power, “against an extraordinary evil, power is mobilized; it makes itself everywhere present and visible” (Foucault 205). Internet activists used the best tool they had to defeat SOPA and PIPA – the Internet. They flooded Congress Twitter accounts with pleas to stop the bills. They shut down Wikipedia in outrage of the bills. And yes, some people hacked into bank websites and shut them down, but it was ultimately a success for the American people, though many people believe CISPA, a cyber-security bill passed by the House on Thursday, to be a way for the government to further monitor its own citizens. The oppressors always comes back with a power play of their own, but the Libertarian Party is strongly opposed to any legislation that allows our government to monitor our web practices. It’s a clear invasion of privacy and that’s why we need to keep fighting because “there is no risk…that the increase of power created by the panoptic machine may degenerate into tyranny’ the disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible ‘to the great tribunal committee of the world’” (Foucault 207).
The actions of Internet activists are also a great demonstration of communicative action. “In modern, secular societies social order rests chiefly on the basis of communicative action (action coordinated by validity claims) and discourse, which together help establish and maintain social integrity – that is, they provide the glue that keeps society together.“ Jürgen Habermas is my kind of guy – a democratic socialist in the best sense. “Habermas argues that we can establish an ideal speech situation – a set of conditions under which democratic discussion optimally takes place – that can guide the way we set up group conversations on important community issues and decisions” (Brookfield 63). He would urge us to organize at a local level and discuss the issues of the day and arrive at a consensus that neglects no one and is not self-serving, which is difficult given Habermas believes human beings to be “essentially self-interested,” though the Internet has provided an opportunity for humanitarian efforts, as Clay Shirky makes clear in his book Cognitive Surplus. “The Internet is an opportunity machine, a way for small groups to create new opportunities, at lower cost and with less hassle than ever before, and to advertise those opportunities to the largest set of potential participants in history.” (Shirky 128-129). The Internet allows us to organize our efforts and communicate effectively, and I think Habermas is wrong to think “the electronic mass media of today is organized in such a way that it controls the loyalty of a depoliticised population” (qtd. in Brookfield 232). “For Habermas democracy is all about communication – the freest, least-restricted communication possible. In his view the greater the freedom of conversation that people enjoy, the higher the chance that true critical reason – reason employed to create a just, humane democracy – will emerge.” (Brookfield, 230). If the Internet is not the freest form of communication, I’m a little scared of what might be. I think now that Habermas knows Twitter is capable of keeping bills off the Senate floor, he may change his tune and urge us to use this “opportunity machine” to organize communicative action for liberty.
In organizing communicative action, Paulo Freire would urge “the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity…become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both” (Freire 46). When the Libertarian Party does rise up and overcome our oppressors, it’s important to embrace those oppressors and help them to regain their humanity. We can’t simply leave the Democrats and Republicans in the dust. That would be selfish and ineffective. When the gay community finally achieves marriage equality, they aren’t going to live their lives oblivious to heterosexuals. We must help Democrats and Republicans realize their oppressive ways and install an active dialogue between the oppressed and the oppressors, and if we are to move forward, we must not fear freedom.
“The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest of human completion” (Freire 48).
A heavy burden of responsibility is awaiting the Libertarian Party at the end of this election, regardless of outcome, and we must not shy away from this responsibility as the Tea Party movement has done. We must accept this responsibility and go about restoring legitimacy to our government through love, because bipartisan bickering and political pandering is how we got here in the first place. Paulo Freire, a civil rights activist himself, would be appalled by the unwillingness of both Democrats and Republicans to recognize the marriage rights of gay human beings. The Libertarian Party won’t allow Democrats and Republicans to continue ignoring the gay community. Marriage equality cannot be denied to these Americans simply because they’re not conducting a traditional, religious marriage. Marriage used to be as strong a social order as evangelical Republicans still believe it to be, but we all know marriage doesn’t mean the same thing it did 20 years ago. Marriage is a human right, a civil right, a right that shall not be denied to any human regardless of race or sexual preference, and the Libertarian Party will fight for those rights.
It’s clear the Libertarian Party has a unique opportunity to change American politics forever, but how can we bring about this communicative action? Well, by taking a page from Augusto Boal’s book we can “practice how the theater can be placed at the service of the oppressed” (121). Boal’s main objective, and this is the main objective of the Libertarian Party as well, is “to change the people – ‘spectators,’ passive beings in the theatrical phenomenon – into subjects, into actors, transformers of the dramatic action” (122). Boal’s Peru experiments provide a model for Americans looking to become more aware of other people’s hopes and “one will be able to physically ‘interpret’ characters different from oneself” (128). Only through understanding each other can we effectively govern ourselves. A thorough understanding of our fellow citizens isn’t all we’ll need to bring about change, though. They must also have a thorough understanding of us, and Boal offers an effective way to invite people to live in other people’s shoes. The medical marijuana debate is a perfect opportunity for Boal’s theatric experiments to be put to the test. Consider a hypothetical situation: a Libertarian who happens to be a medical marijuana patient in favor of legalizing marijuana meets a Republican or Democrat staunchly opposed to medical marijuana and legalization of any kind. Boal gives us a model for reshaping people’s subjectivities by allowing them to step out of their own heads and into someone else’s. The Libertarian calmly explains why she supports marijuana legalization and listens attentively to why the new friend is opposed to it. Aware of their new friend’s subjectivities, the Libertarian invites the new friend to step into her shoes. “I suffer from (cancer/post-traumatic stress syndrome/multiple sclerosis/degenerative disc disease/etc.), and I use marijuana to deal with the (pain/nausea). Without it my life is a living hell, and now my provider has been arrested by the DEA despite following the state medical marijuana laws, so I can’t even get the medication I need. Now, if you found yourself with (cancer/post-traumatic stress syndrome/multiple sclerosis/etc.) and a doctor told you this plant could help you live more comfortably, would you still support DEA raids of providers just looking to make a living?” Most folks can’t help but feel empathetic because they have actively experienced what the other person is going through. They were invited to consider their subjectivities in an alternate reality. They are no longer a spectator, but a “spectactor.”
Without action there is no theatre, and the show can’t go on without action. Boal urges us to get off our asses and act rather than watch, and the Libertarian Party urges you to do the same. We find ourselves in a participatory democracy in which the participants are unwilling to participate, whether it be due to poor choices on the ballot or simple laziness. We cannot allow this lack of participation define our democracy.
“The spectator is less than a man and it is necessary to humanize him, to restore him to his capacity of action in all its fullness. He too must be a subject, an actor” (Boal, 155). We must become actors, for without action we are forever stuck in constant oppressiveness. Volunteer to register voters in your community or on your campus and inform them of the Libertarian Party and where it stands on the issues. Don’t just register them. Educate them. Discuss these issues with your neighbors, and inform those who may be misinformed. Distribute informative election materials and signs around your community. There is so much more to a participatory democracy than simply voting, and in order for the Libertarian Party to be America’s Party we all have to participate more. “The poetics of the oppressed is essentially the poetics of liberation: the spectator no longer delegates power to the characters either to think or to act in his place. The spectator frees himself; he thinks and acts for himself! Theater is action! Perhaps the theater is not revolutionary in itself; but have no doubts, it is a rehearsal of revolution!” Life is all action, too, and until we act together we’ll accomplish nothing.
Brookfield, Stephen D. The Power of Critical Theory. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
Boal, Augusto. Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1985.
Finlayson, James. Habermas: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford, 2005.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage Books, 1977.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1960.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1964.
Shirky, Clay. Cognitive Surplus. New York: Penguin, 2010.