“Politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.” – Frank Zappa
There is a dust cloud on the road and I can hear truck wheels agrinding. This can only mean one thing: the carnival is back in town! Every four years the branding changes a little, but never the discourse. One common feature during election season in democratic America is the “hot-button issue”—a relatively high stakes issue that the two ruling capitalist parties take sides on. This tactic is used to displace popular focus onto a single issue that the system can resolve while drawing attention away from the flaws inherent in the system itself.
How does this politic tactic work? First a group is defined and the disciplined by legislation, which seeks ultimately to control their bodies and freedom in society. The hot-button issue must be too important to ignore the legislation on it (like with marijuana) and too localized to actually deconstruct the power relations in our society. As the issue is debated around and legislated on, the group in power that does the legislating (the US government in this case) becomes legitimated and leads the discourse.
Russia was able to pull this diversionary strategy during WW2, focusing the major battle of the Russian front in and around the frontier city of Stalingrad. The capital city, Moscow, the center of Bolshevik power, was thus saved from total destruction and the Nazi’s were eventually defeated. In light of this model, it becomes clear that the current electoral discourse is preventing an overthrow of systematic exploitation and oppression as the people scramble for a token victory in mediated civil rights. In the 2012, it is women, their bodies, and the rights and laws around them that are at embattled.
The political focus on women’s bodies and rights has a twofold purpose. The first is to allow politicians cloud over other socio-political issues that may enter the election discourse—especially one’s critiquing violent, industrial capitalism. They generate the perception that voting is effective in securing rights, thus misdirect people’s energy from fighting for greater systematic change. The second is to make visceral the social control over the female body, to enforce that control through a discourse of power that always poses a woman as an object. This enforces an oppressive hegemony that frustrates any effort to deconstruct the power structure that marginalizes and disciplines.
We saw this during the 2008 elections with the countless pro and anti-marriage equality movements across the US. The anti-marriage equality referendum Prop 8 was proposed in California and Utah, forcing the public to fight back against legislative victory. Because all current liberation struggle in the US have been reduced an endless line up of “special interests” alienated from the communities they claim to represent, beholden to bureaucracy, gay rights was able to surface as a centralized discourse. And everyone was able to form an opinion about it. Radical queer people and allies found themselves embattled on all angles: running from body-controlling Republicans and avoiding the lure of Democratic faux-populism that would support marriage equality in name, while never pursuing positive legislation.
At the end of the day, Prop 8 was passed, then eventually repealed. Some state/capitalism-friendly gays found themselves a little more empowered. But most LGBTIQ people people didn’t find themselves more free, only poorer thanks to the economic measures of the gay rights-friendly politicians. Discrimination based on (both perceived and asserted) sexuality remains at large in America, both culturally and institutionally, but at least a gay soldier can now call themselves gay. Thus the queer body is legislated over and disciplined to accept that legislation as legitimate. Our energy for effective social change has been against thwarted: co-opted into farcical reformism.
This year its women’s rights on the proverbial chopping block. The climax of the toxic discourse so far has been Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” (an absurdly misogynistic belief that over a hundred elected Republicans subscribe to as well), and the CNN article about menstruation cycles and marital status affecting women’s voting habits (which was removed from cnn.com within two hours of being posted by a known misogynist).
Backgrounding these outrageous instances of openly anti-woman propaganda are a string of legal changes that affect women’s bodies. Various states have passed laws further regulating abortion and birth control availability. One Arizona law proposed that female-assigned employees who use company health insurance to obtain birth control must prove that it is required for non-contraceptive purposes.
It is pretty clear that women’s rights has become the hot-button issue used to bait the public this election season and that women are the enemies in the eternal war waged by hegemony. The point of these spectacle is not to progress these issues to new heights of social freedom. It is to engage the energy of the American public in an issue that is non-threatening to the expansion of corporate power and the security state. Women have been defined as a special interest group and disciplined through legislation. When this legislation is threatened by reactionary forces, the medium of the vote is posed as a legitimate source of power for the people to defend their rights. No matter who wins the 2012 election or how women’s rights are legislated on, the US will remain a belligerent neo-imperial surveillance state.
Vote in the election if you think it will help, certainly women’s rights are worth defending by any means necessary, even those mediated by state power. This is not a call to silence the struggles of a marginalized groups in favor of some greater revolution in the way that cultural nationalism did in the 1960s. But, beyond individual beliefs and the institution of the state, a cultural change is possible. Talk to the people around you about the issues and develop a dialogue in favor of autonomy. This is where the true power of the people lays.