The Press of Freedom: The Election-High Is a Bad Trip
Many of my friends expected to be in concentration camps by the end of summer. Some expected to be gunned down dramatically in the streets of Chicago in August while yippie-ing at the Death Convention. These visions lead to caution, and one sometimes feels like he is living in Russia in the early part of the century.
There is a knock at the door. It could be the agent with our number up, and it could be a messenger bringing the news that Kennedy and McCarthy are going to fight it out for leadership of the anti-war movement! What a fuckedup country — we expected concentration camps and we got Bobby Kennedy.
I am more confident of our ability to survive concentration camps than I am of our ability to survive Bobby. Concentration camps capture our bodies temporarily but set our spirits screaming; Bobby injects a nerve gas into our veins, putting our body and spirit to sleep. The media overwhelm us with the reality of Bobby and Gene, and drug us into identification with THEIR thoughts, arguments, trips, crusades.
Elections in America are a mind-poison.
The energy for a mass, people movement in which we begin to trust our own ideas and impulses, depend on our own strength, face the dilemma of making our own world … that energy is oozed out of us as we become voters, door-to-door vote salesmen, and spectators in the country’s greatest theatrical event: the elections.
Elections are authoritarian, the subjects elect their kings.
What’s wrong with America is that her total institutions overwhelm her people into impotence and isolation. We all live the dream of the celebrity-candidate. Yet only massive populist revolution can liberate the imprisoned soul of the people of America. Revolution is not a result, but a process. In revolution man liberates himself and becomes free, creating and discovering his own identity.
Elections are modeled after the sports world. That’s why they are so mind-capturing. Candidates compete in contests which build up drama and suspense as The Day approaches. We are all baseball fans who vote for our team. The winner! The loser! The front pages read like the sports pages. We the masses do not participate; we give consent; we argue; we root; we take sides; but we are little more than bystanders in a mass athletic spectacle and it’s called democracy.
The twinkles in Bobby’s eye compete with the dark brows of McCarthy’s face compete with LBJ’s large nose competes with the uncompleted sexual act of JFK competes with Dick the Car Salesman competes with Johnny Carson competes with … is this what the Founding Fathers intended?
The most aware action toward the elections is (1) not to vote; (2) to vote for yourself, a national “Vote for Me” campaign; (3) to vote for a close friend. The yippies may nominate a 300-pound pig for president. His program is garbage. After nomination we will eat him and become the candidate. The only answer to an absurd system is absurdity and laughter, followed by anger, and then absurdity and laughter. Anything else is playing by their rules, and their rules are oppressive and fixed-in-advance.
I ran as a candidate for mayor of Berkeley last spring and fell almost unconsciously under the drug of the election-system. In order to answer the streetcorner question: “Are you serious?” — sort of a pre-condition for people listening to you — I had to concentrate on the commodity, soap-disguised-as-votes. I should have said I wasn’t serious. I should have used the election purely as a stage for farcical theatre. I should have dropped out of the race a week before the election and encouraged people to vote for themselves.
The purpose of political life is to free the spirit and energy of man. Vietnam is a symptom of the American disease; the war is a symbol of violence and domination less dramatic. Vietnam is the mirror to understanding Detroit and South Africa. Our goal is to transform the quality of American life, the distribution of power, the content of the culture, the forms of decision-making, the top-heavy organization of institutions, and the tiny influence individuals have over their own lives.
Dealing with repression is far easier than dealing with toleration and sweet bureaucracy. In reaction to the LBJ madness, America may be due for a national regeneration, a new FDR-type period, the end of wild rule by guys like Hershey and Hoover, and the triumph of public relations-liberal parents-dollar-capitalism. This will mean a crisis for the repression-atrocity-oriented movement. For whites the alternative is a national youth underground with new values and life-styles — the pot cigarette its symbol — an underground exploding in creation but badly seeking definition.
In the end, however, reform will lead to revolution. America proposes to us, but she cannot complete her promises. Reform creates hope, widens expectations, and then an inch demands a mile. JFK was a creator of the New Left. Bobby is going to invite us over for dinner and we are going to sleep with his wife, give his kids pot, and steal his money and send it to guerrillas at home and abroad. Today’s shaved nice McCarthy-RFK collegians will be tomorrow’s yippies.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 16, 2020