I Do Not Concede

Metroland | November 3, 2004
Kerry, man, what happened? What happened to the promised armies of lawyers, planes waiting to take them where they’re most needed, etc. etc.? What happened to ‘we’re going to count every vote and every vote will count’? From where I sit Wednesday afternoon things look bad, but by no means decided. There are a lot of electoral votes that are very tight.

OK, so it does, at first blush, look less close than in 2000. Bush appears to have the popular vote, and the margin, so far, in Ohio appears to be bigger than 537. But it’ll be a long time before I stop saying “appears to be.”

I’m not a sore loser. I’ve backed plenty of defeated candidates, and lost causes, and I think I know a little bit about gracious defeat. I don’t see a conspiracy behind every loss. If the only difference really out there in this election were the provisional ballots in Ohio, I’d still want them counted, but I’d agree that the statistics seem to favor Bush. But the lists of things going wrong in this election were so large, so numerous, so incredible, that it feels like no stretch at all to imagine they could account for 2 million votes.

The stories are still coming in. Tens of thousands of wrongly purged voters; 60,000 absentee ballots not mailed just from Broward County alone; hours-long lines that parents and working folks couldn’t afford to stand in in Ohio; voting machines in Florida and Texas telling people they’d voted for Bush when they hadn’t; calls telling people to vote between 7 and 9 in Las Vegas—when the polls closed at 7 PM; hackable electronic-voting machines providing no paper trail or way to verify your vote, built by Republican donors who won’t reveal their code; Republican challengers in the Ohio polls; exit polls suspiciously different from election totals. And the list goes on and on and on. (For details, go to www.gregpalast.com, www.blackboxvoting.org, and www.michiganimc.org.)

Given all this, there’s no way I can agree that this election was fair. And those who agree shouldn’t shut up about it. Remember how sick you felt watching the footage at the beginning of Fahrenheit 9/11 when the black representatives from Florida kept trying to protest the ending of the recount, but were forced to concede, one after the other, that no senator would support, and therefore legitimize, their protest? Remember wondering what the hell you’d been doing while that was going on, and why it hadn’t more closely resembled raising holy hell? (OK, maybe I’m projecting here. But I hope others shared that feeling.) Guess what: Here’s chance No. 2.

It’s awfully hard to fight for a candidate who has conceded. But that’s the candidate we have right now. And it’s clear that one of his mistakes was planning to deploy his lawyers after the fact, when the voter roll purges, registration scams, unreliable voting machines, absentee-ballot losing and intimidation tactics were underway well beforehand. If the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party had spent all its energy fighting those things instead of trying to keep Nader off the ballot, maybe we’d be in better shape.

And maybe the huge progressive mobilizations, which put an incredibly impressive amount of work into trying to turn out such an overwhelming majority for Kerry that these problems would be moot, should also have focused a little more attention on making sure their turnout was going to have one of its most basic rights respected. That’s a tough call, since their efforts were clearly bearing fruit in places like Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire and Michigan, and are probably to be credited for a lot of the impressively high turnout. They should be given major props for an amazing job in any case.

But meanwhile, every lost, spoiled, intimidated, wrongly recorded and purged vote should still be fought over. Even if there’s no chance of getting Kerry in office (which I don’t yet fully believe), even if in the final count Bush would have won fair and square, they should be fought, every last one. Every shenanigan should be exposed, condemned, and protected against, because otherwise our democracy becomes a mockery.

Former President Jimmy Carter told NPR recently that the Carter Center, which monitors elections in dozens of countries around the world, including some pretty poor ones, wouldn’t monitor the United States if it were a foreign country because we don’t meet the most basic minimum standards of fairness that the center requires before it agrees to help. How pathetic is that?

It will be easy to forget this issue: No one wants to drag this out, to have the constant reminder of disenfranchisement and a lost election, to fight for what may be merely a smaller margin of defeat. It is a natural impulse to want to mourn and move on, trying to gird ourselves for the battles ahead. And they will be important battles. But if we don’t fight for the integrity of our democracy itself, the rest of the battles will get progressively harder and harder, and less and less meaningful. (Find other people who aren’t giving up at This Time We’re Watching, www.ttww.org.)

I’m not saying don’t mourn. I’m not saying don’t look ahead. All I’m saying is I’ve got Carl Shurz on my mind: “Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.” We’ve got some serious putting right to do.


Metroland was founded in 1978 as a monthly entertainment guide; a year and a half later it went weekly, continuing to focus primarily on arts, entertainment and lifestyles. In September 1986, Metroland reinvented itself as a full-fledged alternative newsweekly, offering...
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