November 15, 2004
"So here -- so with a grateful heart -- I leave this campaign with a prayer that has even greater meaning to me now that I've come to know our vast country so much better. Thanks to all of you and what a privilege it has been. And that prayer is very simple: God bless America. Thank you."
(Swans - November 15, 2004) Impulse and reaction were two great forces conspiring to take the 2004 US elections out of your hands. Greed and contempt for democracy was another pair of forces.
I passed by a house in mid-October with two Kerry-Edwards signs. The first said "HELP is on the WAY," the second "A STRONGER AMERICA." I passed by the same house last night, and only the Stronger America sign remained.
I'm not sure a bigger lie than "help is on the way" has ever been uttered in a presidential campaign. Two men who voted for an illegal and immoral war, and campaigned on a promise to run the war better -- laying out a plan for doing so that was nearly identical to the plan of the current war president -- were telling us to sit back and wait for our princes to swoop in on their white horses and rescue us from our deteriorating condition.
Their opposition to the worst president this nation has seen was to project more machismo, more mad cowboy disease, more competent execution of the game plan. Never mind questioning the game plan. How did they counter the shameless P.R. stunts and subliminal messaging of the Republicans? They tried to do them better. But despite their failure to inspire, something pretty extraordinary happened leading up to the elections. A wave of efforts large and small, grassroots and billionaire-financed, bourgeois- and labor-backed, worked together to conduct historic voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. These on-the-ground ventures created hands-on opportunities for people in the United States who refused to sit back while everything they cared about was systematically dismantled. Dozens of celebrities even took to the airwaves and auditoriums to energize non-voters, youth voters, swing voters. Many thousands of people who never so much as held a political sign in their lives, began volunteering in various campaigns as the election drew closer. Notably, this all happened outside of the Democratic Party, almost despite it.
Frighteningly, it is possible that these efforts worked, drawing unprecedented turnout and enough people in crucial states to out-vote George Bush. Doing serious damage to the possibility of ever knowing, John Kerry conceded the election to Bush and called for healing and unity. He did this despite widespread intimidation and suppression tactics in Ohio and across the country, despite the fact that Ohioans committed to defeating George Bush waited in lines for up to 13 hours, despite the thousands of volunteers who were not ready to give in, despite the thousands of people who applied for absentee ballots and never got them, despite the thousands of people who were wrongfully purged from voter lists, despite the uncounted provisional and absentee ballots, and all the chads hanging around to be counted. John Kerry conceded the election despite the serious concerns about electronic voting and vote counting that had been raised over the past few years, and troubling signs that once again, commissioned exit polls underestimated the Republican vote.
Two foundational principles then -- the right of every citizen to vote, and the expectation that the vote will be counted -- have been exposed to be tenuous at best, and that is not acceptable. Everything else can wait; unless, of course, our pursuit of this basic truth is tied in to the larger struggle. For we find now who has our interests in mind. The mainstream media and mainstream candidates didn't want to touch the vibrant vote fraud analysis and theorizing that was mushrooming across the internet. John Kerry, of course, was worried about the hit his political standing would take if he opened some never-healed wounds in the American Psyche. That our election system was ugly, inefficient, and yes, inaccurate, was not something worth confronting. The democratizing effects of the World Wide Web would step in, and with analysis and discussion freely flowing, the idea of possible electoral fraud or vote counting error gained traction. WikiPedia, an open source online encyclopedia, has started accumulating some of the analysis on the election controversies and irregularities. Independent media sources began covering the story, and it finally found its way onto cable "news" thanks to Keith Olbermann. Only then did ABC, NPR, The Boston Globe, and the rest of the gang feel the need to address the VoterGate scandal, mostly in the form of dismissive "debunking." Cal Tech even did an analysis, concluding that "there is no evidence that electronic voting machines were used to steal the 2004 election for George Bush." But as more people hear about the potential for fraud, the concern is growing rather than abating. Six Democratic Congressmen have called for an investigation by the General Accountability Office into concerns raised about electronic voting machines. MoveOn finally entered the fray and set up a call to investigate the vote. But it was the work of Bev Harris and her group Black Box Voting that really saved us from ourselves, by finding thousands of files on the server of one of the biggest voting machine companies out there, Diebold Election Systems. These files pointed to gaping security holes, questionable practices, and a general contempt for the need for people's votes to be counted accurately. Black Box Voting has filed "the most massive Freedom of Information action in history," asking over 3000 counties nationwide for documentation of voting machine problems, audit and access logs from the machines themselves, and more. And while John Kerry sits on the sidelines to avoid tarnishing his run for 2008, Independent candidate Ralph Nader has asked for a statewide recount in New Hampshire, where one of the biggest shifts between the exit polls and the tabulated votes was seen. More recently, Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik have jointly asked for a recount in Ohio. Some people, at least, think that determining the accuracy of the vote and hearing testimony from disenfranchised voters is more important than superficial healing. We may well get to the bottom of the anomalies, the racist tactics by those who actively suppress Democratic votes, and the veracity of our vote counting procedures.
Even if all of these abuses and errors don't end up shifting the election to the Democrats, there was still a theft that took place. A viable anti-war movement, on the edge of stopping the Iraq War before it started, was devastated by the war's start. Anti-war candidates like Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, and Al Sharpton had emerged, speaking at enormous rallies and speaking for a positive direction for America. Propelled by the grassroots nature of this movement, and of groups like MoveOn, Howard Dean became the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and he was taken down. But instead of fighting the forces he was ostensibly opposed to, Dean joined them. Ultimately, they all did. And the countless people who had invested their time as Deaniacs or Kucitizens were now being instructed to shut up and embrace something called "unity." Their voices would supposedly be heard by amplifying someone else's, even if they disagreed. And with paralyzing fear, everyone in lockstep followed. MoveOn started giving John Kerry the hero treatment, and The Nation, Truthout.org, and more, were next. The masses, uninspired, followed as well. But as they recently found out, help was not on the way. All the money that they poured in, wasted in ad-buys on the same corporate media that refuse to cover the voting irregularities, might have instead built an alternative press. All the energy that they poured in might have built an infrastructure of grassroots mobilization that could be used at any time for any worthy cause -- not just on Election Day. Impulsive and reactionary tendencies to line up behind the personality who could save us from doom ended up savaging our ability to save ourselves.
John Kerry may have been right, and a stronger America might be on the horizon, but not in the "I'm going to go out and crush the terrorists" way he meant it. No, an America that will look inside her protective skin and see her ugly truths and contradictions is potentially around the corner. An America that can stop herself, sometime after leveling the city of Fallujah, and before leveling another. An America that is strong in heart, in purpose, in justice. Strong in her tolerance and embrace of the other. But this America is not on her way. We have to build her.
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2004 U.S. Election Controversies and Irregularities
Ohio Recount News
Greens on Swans
US Elections & Democracy on Swans
Eli Beckerman is a Green Party activist.
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