Harm Reduction

By Alex Collins


“There’s nothing wrong with voting for the sake of harm reduction or a slight boost to basic human dignity.”

Socialists often sarcastically pose the question, “What’s the point of voting?” Usually we assume no answer. In recent weeks Republicans have shown us a crucial justification.

Voting is one of the least effective ways to engage politically. Direct action, community service, education campaigns, donations, rallies, boycotts, writing, striking, filing suits, and holding fundraisers are all more likely to get results than voting — and some of those methods aren’t exactly effective either. Furthermore, the larger the election, the less your vote matters.

Many socialists will tell you that all a “progressive” in office does is make centrists complacent. “Look how much good we did by voting,” they seem to say, while the surveillance state grows, marginalized communities are imprisoned, and workers rights are eroded. At least when a reactionary is in office people are willing to acknowledge how unequal our society is, right?

But this flippant attitude is dangerous. Harm reduction cannot be dismissed outright. The current media circus around Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is proof of that. For many, this isn’t about trying to throw Kavanaugh in prison. Many of us who are concerned are simply suggesting that this person isn’t the best choice for the judicial power to restrict women’s rights on a federal basis.

I understand that even a Democratic Supreme Court justice is likely to advance the interests of big money and erode worker’s protections. The Supreme Court is not only powerful, it is totally undemocratic. The people have no way to prevent Kavanaugh’s nomination; it is in the hands of the Senate. But that isn’t really the issue here.

The issue is that this nominee has been accused of serious sexual assault allegations by multiple women. And, with virtually one exception in the way of Jeff Flake, the vast majority of the Republican Senate is willing to steamroll past these allegations and get this man confirmed to one of the most powerful institutions in the country.

That an accused sexual assaulter is acceptable to right wing senators shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. The release of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, where he confessed to sexually assaulting women, should have cost him the election. But it didn’t.

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Brett Kavanaugh sneers during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on September 27, 2018.

By contrast, when former Senator Al Franken was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior a large number of Democrat senators called for his resignation. Fellow Democrat Joe Biden, who may be running for president in 2020, has begun to face resurgent controversy for not standing up for Anita Hill enough when he was Senate Judiciary chair. In 1991, Hill accused then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual assault. Biden did not call up witnesses, women waiting in the wings to support her testimony. His behavior was better than other members of the judiciary committee that truly savaged her character. Regardless, competing Democrats are still going to hold this against Biden. I think they should.

I was not planning on voting in the upcoming round of elections. I didn’t see the point. The Republicans reminded me about something I should never have forgotten —Democrats are not going to solve any of the fundamental problems of society. Voting will not solve these problems. We need a radical change to our social structure in order to solve this issues.

That being said, evidently the Democrats hold themselves to a higher standard than the Republicans, even if they fail to reach the bare minimum.

I’d like to briefly quote Marxist Feminist Clara Zetkin, writing in 1896, “The economic as well as the intellectual and moral endeavors of bourgeois women’s rights advocates are completely justified”.

Sexual assault does not only affect women, but in this instance it is women’s credibility that is being utterly cast in doubt by a reactionary government and a reactionary press. This incident shows that bourgeois society has not even realized the bare minimum for bourgeois women’s rights.

If I lived in a state with a vulnerable Democratic senator who hasn’t bothered to oppose Kavanaugh yet, I could raise hell to change their mind. If that didn’t work, maybe I’d participate in a primary campaign against them. Maybe not. Neither action equates to endorsing the political system, or prevents me from engaging in the kinds of political engagement which are more effective — base building.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but taking sexual assault allegations seriously is worth one day of voting. One day a year, I can take an hour of my day to vote for someone who will behave with a bit of human decency.

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