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Utah Phillips: Voting for the First Time This Year

Utah Phillips, a committed non-voter who was taught that his body is a ballot, will be casting a real ballot this year. This is an interview with him about his decision.
Utah Phillips: Spank that Chimp!
Utah Phillips: Spank that Chimp!
Utah Phillips is a folk singer who tours the United States, delighting audiences with his outlandish stories and challenging them with the ruthless honesty of his insights. A veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Korea, he rode the trains for years after coming home in despair from what he'd witnessed overseas. He met Ammon Hennessy in Utah at the Joe Hill House for Transients and Migrants and discovered anarchy and pacifism.

These tenets have since shaped his life and work. Phillips and I live in the same Northern California town, Nevada City, where he was one of the founders of our thriving Peace Center of Nevada County. It was from the community radio station there that he produced Loafer's Glory, a collection of stories, poems and songs set to the accompaniment of Woody Guthrie-influenced guitarist Mark Ross. And it was to that radio station he went in late September to share with his community an important political decision he'd made, which caused him great difficulty and pain.

QUESTION: You surprised many people who are familiar with your work with your announcement that you were going to register to vote for the first time ever.

ANSWER: This is not easy for me. I'm an anarchist and I've been an anarchist many, many years. The anarchy that I've followed and practiced all of that time came to me through Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, through Ammon Hennessy, the great Catholic anarchist and pacifist. Ammond taught me, as he did, to treat his body like a ballot. My body is my ballot. And he said, "Cast that body ballot on behalf of the people around you every day of your life, every day. And don't let anybody ever tell you you haven't voted." You just didn't assign responsibility to other people to do things. You accept responsibility and see to it that something gets done. That's the way he lived and that's the way the past forty, going on fifty, years that I have lived. It's a way to vote without caving in to the civil authority I'm committed to dissolving.

But, we are in a desperate situation here. And it's not just us in the United States. There are people all over the world who are affected by these people who have staged a coup on our government. I can see a shopkeeper in Damascus who's threatened by being bombed out. I can see a schoolgirl who's collaterally killed by the action of these people. There are millions of people in the world who are affected by the actions of this government, and they can't vote in this election. I have no use for Kerry. I have no use for Bush. I don't like either one of them, but these folks can't vote in this election. They have to have people vote for them. And I intend to be one of those. What's the best chance they've got to keep them from being bombed and killed? I don't know. Kerry is an unknown quantity. Bush is a known quantity. A crapshoot, isn't it? But I'm going to stand in for one of these people. And if I'm wrong, I'm wrong by myself.

QUESTION: When you made your announcement, you talked about women who have inspired and influenced your decision. Can you talk a little about that?

ANSWER: I learned a great deal from Judi Barry. I drove and talked with her the day before her car got blown up in Oakland in 1990. She had come around to the idea that direct action and political action are two hands of the same body. I think as an anarchist and when you keep company with other anarchists, as I have in the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, and this is my fiftieth year in the IWW, you develop a great antagonism toward the political process, toward statism in any form. However, many of us have come to realize that political action and direct action are two hands of the same body. We have to learn how to work together: the street and the ballot box. In places like Philadelphia or Boston, Mass., when they put freedom in jail, when they put freedom of assembly and freedom of association and freedom of speech in a bullpen with razor wire around it, they put freedom in jail. In the bullpen on Pier 57 in New York, when my daughter [Morgan Phillips] was jailed for trying to shut down Wall Street in an act of nonviolence civil disobedience.

They're trying to tie that direct-action hand behind our back. If they succeed in that, how long will it be, how long are we going to hang on to the other hand, the political action hand? Every significant social movement in this country - anti-slavery, suffragette, labor movement, peace movement - all started on the street. All of them began on the street. Don't give up the street. The street's where we win. We vote with our feet. That's where it all begins. Made a song about that, "Bodhi Busick." Put a nice tune to it. No, I won't give up the street. But in this instance, at this time, at this place, I think the situation is so dire that yes, I have registered to vote and I am prepared to stand in for one of the victims of the kind of brutality that the people in Washington bring to the world.

QUESTION: You've said that your choice to not vote, to not participate in the system in that way, is one of the most sacred promises you've made. I know what it means to you to make this decision. It's sobering, because I think: Are things really that bad?

ANSWER: Yeah, it is that bad. Now, I am not putting myself forth as an example. I'm not putting myself forth as a role model. Anarchists don't make rules for other people. You make rules for yourself and then people have got to learn how to trust you. And if you blow it you have the courage to change, and you do change and an anarchist is always something you're becoming. I don't need any congratulations for what I'm doing at all. I feel lousy about it. I don't feel good about it all. I'm simply going to do it. And if there are consequences of my act, than I harvest those consequences. That too, is anarchy.

homepage: homepage: http://www.alternet.org/election04/20159/

Unless He Is Voting NO To Skull and Bones... 15.Oct.2004 14:26

Kush/Berry in 2004!!!

...then this is further evidence of the self destruction of the opposition.

oh, wise one, 15.Oct.2004 19:30

utah fan

Oh, wise self-righteous one. It is true. The rest of the progressive community is wrong, and only YOU are right.
Utah is the genuine article, his actions speak much louder than your words. Go away.

From little acorns 16.Oct.2004 00:09

Ilkly moor

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
As live as you and me,
Says he to I
Kerry is a war monger just like old bushie.
When workers stand up for their rights
That's where you'll find Joe Hill.

I think Joe would be supporting the resistance. Kerry is not an 'unknown'.
How many more times do we have to hear him say
"I'll do it better", which means more US troops, more war planes, more bombs, more death.
Send a message to the rest of the world that US workers are sick of the two old war parties, really just one party who are only interested in retaining the wealth of the rich.
Say no to Bushism in all its forms.
Build a war movement that will also take on all the social issues that American workers face, which means questioning the capitalist system who are the only ones to benefit from this war.
From little acorns big oaks grow!

I am a Utah Fan 16.Oct.2004 01:14

Migratory Bird

I understand him and I don't. I guess the hardest part of all this is that we have to decide for ourselves ultimately. This is such a solitary descion but everyone wants to gather around and talk about it, huh.

This is my fear. What if I vote for Kerry then Bush gets into office and I have to live with the descion to wasted my vote? I threw it away, essentially condoning the last 4 years of the reublicans and democrats stripping me of my civil liberties. The democratic party was the party that voted in the patriot act, ok'd the iraq war. So I vote for them, they lose and then I signed my name saying OK to that crazy shit, ya know, like I condoned it?

I guess I am afraid of wasting my vote.

However, I too feel the fear that now seems to touch every American life, and every global life with this election.

However, I can not forget and will never forget, those black votes sitting on the side of the road as token paid white republicans demanded a recount. I feel like all of our votes are sitting there, unable to be picked up, hidden by choice point, diebold, and others.

It is my descion and ultimatley I have to live with it.

Interesting that Utah is this afraid. But I think it is too late.

-=-=-=-=- 16.Oct.2004 02:25


They don't care if we abstain. Nothing magic happens if 55% of the people stay home. Republicans like it when fewer people vote. That shit pretty much speaks for itself.

Kerry is a regular establishment pig, but the current cabal in power is the fuckin' cartoonishly evil "shadow government" from the '80s, now operating out in the open with no check on their shit whatsoever. Fuck Kerry. Kerry can go to hell in January. But I'll probably vote for his sorry sick sell-out piece-of-shit ass in November like most other people reading this.

And if he "wins" but doesn't get the message -- the message is "change things a lot, right fucking now" -- then this country is going to get very very weird next year. And if Bush wins this time, then that's another message, isn't it. From America to us. And the message is "fuck the world and fuck you."

'you've got to be a pacifist..." 16.Oct.2004 08:48

utah fan.

You guys/gals must not be too familiar with Utah's work, or capable of digesting what he's saying. Maybe you're just posting here because nobody wants to listen to your "cut off the nose to spite your face 'logic'" anywhere else.
It's one thing to follow badly, it's another thing to lead badly. Kerry acquiesed to this bullshit, but bushco started it. Heap of shit that he is, left to his own devices, kerry would be less destructive to the environment and supreme court than the unelected abomination presently at the helm.
Life is like a shit sandwich. The more bread you've got, the less shit you have to eat. If you want to stand by in your self-righteousness and do nothing to get bushco out of office and wind up with the larger of two shitpiles on your dinner plate, well, you're welcome to eat it. However, you'll never convince me to sit down at your dining room table. Nor will you convince the 95% of former nader voters who, like me, have abandoned him.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good persons to do nothing. The sane alternative to the capitalist cabal, the greens, did the right thing by ditching nader and and endorsing the lesser of two evils where it matters.
As with computer language, you don't show up unless you're a zero or a one. This is not the time for protest votes or protest non-votes.
If somewone with Utah's lifelong committment to anarchy sees this, and you don't, you're extremely myopic and not very open-minded.

"Migratory Bird" and "+|+|+|+|+" 16.Oct.2004 09:05

also a Utah fan

"+|+|+|+|+" - if you want to adopt the 'fire Bush' - 'kick Bush out' strategy with a Kerry/Edwards vote, I have no problem with you, Utah or anyone else doing that.

just as Migratory Bird says - don't have any illusions about what your 'vote' - if effective in ousting Bush at all, given Florida, voter registration trashing, Diebold + ES & S, etc. - is actually going towards.

I tend to agree with "Migratory Bird" . . . it is, in fact, too late - for the nationwide pResidential Selection, at least.

proof of it is how the current White House occupant ascended to that office: by SCOTUS decision (with VP Cheney's duck-hunting pal "The Fixer" Scalia in tow).

and pleas from the Congressional Black Caucus to United States Senators to sign on to a protest of the Florida districts' 2000 vote count falling on Al Gore's deaf ears [see the first 10 minutes of the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" for details].



i won't be voting for kerry 16.Oct.2004 09:07


voting with our fear is senseless. voting for someone that we know is a part of the corporate machine is contributing to the problem. just because so many others are being dictated by their fear and the rule of the majority does not mean that we all must cave into that. vote like you want to. if we all did that, things would turn around in a heartbeat.

kerry has been courageous and taken unpopular stands 16.Oct.2004 15:21

on lots of issues

So, our little president Select, was a partying good 'ole boy, now with a deteriorating brain (all those twitches and grimaces?).
Who would you rather vote for? The choice is clear- Kerry.
I want to keep women's ability to choose an abortion, we fought hard for that right. I want those damn right-winger hands off my body.
Bush is just plain creepy in how he says he was 'born again' and values life, then condenms countless people to their deaths.
First when he was Gov. of Texas, now as President sending our youth into Iraq to die and to kill.
And if Kerry is the way to do that, then I am willing.

Nader is the ONLY Credible Candidate 16.Oct.2004 16:39

Stars and Stripes-repost

Nader: Democrats' scapegoat

I am getting sick of hearing people say it is stupid to support Ralph Nader because he has no chances of winning. It is stupid to vote for a candidate who is considered the "lesser of two evils." Saying that if you vote for Nader you are "throwing" your vote to President Bush does not make sense to me, considering that if I did not vote for Nader, I would most likely vote for Bush. It is not because I like him, but because I am disgusted by the dirty tricks used by the Democrats (such as swelling Nader's convention then refusing to sign his petition), and their attempts to use minor technicalities to keep him off the ballot.

The Democrats should work on improving their campaign, so people do not feel the need to vote for a third party. If Sen. John Kerry was a capable candidate, he would not have to worry about losing votes.

Kerry is hurting Nader's chances, not the other way around.

Cpl. Mike Curt
Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, Okinawa

why do I read this stuff 16.Oct.2004 16:47

electoral politics attract all the nonsense mongers

> if we all did that, things would turn around in a heartbeat.

This is utter, complete bullshit. "We" do not have the numbers to turn "things" around in a heartbeat, period. You're living in a fantasy world.

you may say i'm a dreamer... 16.Oct.2004 19:40


you underestimate the power of fearlessness. we do not have the "numbers" because people are cowering in fear. look at all of the anti-war people out there. if they voted for someone who would pull the troops out of iraq now they would not be voting for kerry. it all could be turned around in the blink of an eye, if people were not dictated by fear.

Tired of Blackmail 16.Oct.2004 20:20

alsis38 alsis35@yahoo.com

"...I want to keep women's ability to choose an abortion, we fought hard for that right. I want those damn right-winger hands off my body..."

Too bad that by some estimates, over 80% of America already has no access to safe, legal abortions, thanks to Clinton being more concerned with having not-sex for eight years than he was with doing diddly-shit for his base. He stabbed feminists in the back, just like he stabbed the rest of his base in the back, and the calcified, entrenched Democratic lapdogs like Gloria Steinem and NARAL still went out on the trail to trash Nader. All for nothing more than another pat on the head and another DLC shithead who will stab them in the back again: Kerry.

But I guess if Bush gets elected and Roe is overturned, lots of us "nice", middle-class women will finally have to get up off our asses and fight for our lives and choice at the state level. Fine, I'm ready. But let's not mince words here: Things have long been difficult for women in this country seeking abortion, while Democrats did nothing for them (aside from pocketing our money and votes)... unless you count welfare "reform," which punished women who couldn't or wouldn't abort by screwing them and their children, making them little better than serfs.

What's saddest to me whenever subjects like this come up is the tacit understanding of the liberal-left that it is pointless to expect Democrats to provide adequate defense against Bush and the Right wing, much less a real offense. Kerry, after all, voted for Scalia. How many Democrats voted for Ashcroft ? So there is no hope that the people we blindly mark the ballot for will do their job of protecting us. They know this. We know it. The more loyalty we reward them with, the more they treat us like shit.

So how can things ever change if none of us have the guts to break the cycle, to withdraw, to start saying "NO !" It's the only power we have at the moment. So why do so few of us have the guts to use it ?

When I bring this up in Round #5,837,126 of the Democrat-Vs.-3rd-Party Wars, I will no doubt be met with silence or the supposedly foolproof mantra that "Any Democrat is Better Than Bush." Again. As if this resolved our entire dilemma. But it doesn't. We are being skunked and blackmailed and held hostage again and again by elites who use us and throw us away.

I don't want to breed against my will. I don't want to die of a botched abortion. But I also don't want to live in fear. I don't want to live devoid of self-respect, meekly throwing all other rights and goals for this society and for my own life over the side to try and save one right that now only exists on paper for most American women in any case.

So I won't be voting Bush or Kerry.

Thank You, alsis38 16.Oct.2004 21:08

Kush/Berry in 2004!!!

Very nicely put!

i second that emotion 16.Oct.2004 21:53


thank you alsis38 for your fine articulation of the Truth. this is what we need a whole lot more of in order to effect a real change.

"95% of former nader voters who, like me . . ." 17.Oct.2004 12:11

oregon voter

oh boy, "utah fan." must really enjoy the taste of shit sandwiches to come up with a totally unsubstantiated statistic like that.

it's not as much about the *candidate tickets* necessarily, as it is about the integrity of the system itself: there is less assurance than ever before that a Kerry/Edwards 'eject Bush' [or any other slippery-slope rationalization you choose] vote will be counted or even honored (the current White House occupant was appointed by SCOTUS, unopposed by Democrats even when US Senate-Al Gore was implored by Congressional Black Caucus members - see the first 10 minutes of the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" for details). If BushCo. wants or needs to retain their existing position, they WILL by ANY MEANS NECESSARY.

FWIW here is my decision rationale for casting a write-in Nader/Camejo today:

nothing to fear 17.Oct.2004 15:32

but the facts

> you underestimate the power of fearlessness.
> we do not have the "numbers" because people are cowering in fear.

I saw ALL of US in the streets, burning shit and blocking bridges, during the first few days of the FIRST Gulf War. It didn't "turn things around in a heartbeat." It didn't change ANYTHING. Such exaggerated expectations and myths about how the world works just contribute to frustration, disillusionment, burnout and disempowerment. All those people, and everybody doing the same sort of thing across the country, only add up to a few hundred thousand people. That's a voting bloc, BUT IT CAN'T PUT A MARGINAL CANDIDATE IN OFFICE. It only has electoral power AS A SWING VOTE. Use your fucking brain.

> look at all of the anti-war people out there.

They're not reading this. They're a faction of "them," and they'll have different opinions next week if CNN wants them to. They're not "us." You're not reaching them by posting here. If you've got some scheme for changing their behavior in the next two weeks, feel free to clue us in about what it is.

Don't Blame Nader 17.Oct.2004 15:47

The Election

is down to three weeks only two candidates have any chance of winning. Nader can not get enough votes to win Delaware. So don't blame Nader if Bush wins. Nader has made his decision about his future. He has shown us all it is more important for him to run than for us to fear Bush for four more years.

So Simple... 19.Oct.2004 15:29

alsis38 alsis35@yahoo.com

"...I saw ALL of US in the streets, burning shit and blocking bridges, during the first few days of the FIRST Gulf War. It didn't 'turn things around in a heartbeat...'"

Why do you ASSume that everyone who opposed the war had the time, means, and opportunity to get out and protest, to "burn shit and block bridges" ? That's rather a simplistic ASSumption, nbtf. Almost as simplistic as ASSuming that everyone who DID protest in public was "burning shit." Yeah, right. The whole town was in flames. I saw in FOX. [yawn]

"...That's a voting bloc, BUT IT CAN'T PUT A MARGINAL CANDIDATE IN OFFICE. It only has electoral power AS A SWING VOTE. Use your fucking brain..."

[Snort.] Heal thy own brain, Mr./Ms. "facts." If this group had power as a "Swing vote," and Kerry wanted enough of it to decisively "swing" the campaign in his favor, maybe he should've offered us something other than the same old B.S. Bush was offering. Otherwise, maybe you (and his other apologists) should go out in the "real world" you claim to care so much about and leave us the fuck alone. Better yet, maybe you should email Kerry and ask him what right he has to have his cake and eat it, too: To run as "opposition" and to receive "opposition" votes while offering no real opposition to Bush's policies. That's what I would ask him, if I deluded myself into thinking that he and his handlers gave a shit about my "swing" vote.