In Which I Accept a Challenge
A version of the following article by Charles Johnson was published on his blog Radgeek People's Daily, August 13, 2015.

So, just a reminder as electoral season resumes: If you want to say that I am obliged to support Bernie Sanders’s campaign on the grounds that, however much it may offend my purist sensibilities, I need to speak to real-world practical gains, then you need to show me how, practically, me being invested in this campaign is going to advance any of those real world goals, under realistic political conditions, before you can claim the high ground of practical politics.

I’m not even going to worry you with explaining how we can be confident that a Bernie Sanders presidency would be significantly better than the status quo. That’s a tedious argument and one that is actually a lot harder to sort out than it might seem.

So let’s set that aside, for the sake of argument. Take it for granted. But now at a minimum, it is still actually on you first to demonstrate how my “supporting” Bernie Sanders is even going to contribute to Bernie Sanders being elected president in the first place. I don’t think anyone doubts that that outcome is still a long shot at best. And whether it is a long shot or a sure thing, once again, I live in Alabama, and no matter who I vote for I can predict with 99.989% confidence right now that this state will break 60-40 in favor of whomever the Republican Party happens to nominate, and all of the electoral votes will go to that Republican. If Bernie Sanders has a shot at winning, I cannot possibly improve that shot by swinging my vote. Even if I convinced 100% of my neighbors in a fifteen mile radius to vote for Bernie Sanders, I still couldn’t improve that shot. If Bernie Sanders has no shot, I certainly can’t do anything to chip away at that impossibility from where I am.

Telling me to support the Sanders campaign is not, as far as I can see, practical politics in any way. It is only a fetishistic imitation of “practicality” which cones from the ritual form of electoral participation. In real-world terms it doesn’t matter how great you think a Sanders presidency would be; it is not an outcome I can practically contribute to by my actions. What you are asking for is a futile, purely symbolic gesture from me in support of an idle hope.

And hey, I am an anarchist after all. I have no problem with futile, purely symbolic gestures for the sake of unrealistic idle hopes. I indulge in them all the time. But if I am going to hold out for an unrealistic, utopian dream, I would like to at least hold out for an unrealistic, utopian dream that I actually believe in, not the hypothetical lesser-disaster of another Progressive Democrat presidency.

Until you have some concrete way of improving on those odds, my view is going to remain that social protest, direct action, honest debate and day-to-day little pushes on the margin towards radical cultural change are not just more idealistic or “pure,” but more immediate, immensely more practical outlets for whatever activist energy I have than cheerleading for yet another long-shot presidential campaign. Practicality doesn’t come for free with a ballot. Ignoring that doesn’t make you a hardnosed realist, it just makes you another dreamy devotee of American civic religion.

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