It’s true enough. Your vote really is your voice, and in the modern era, every government on earth claims to rule with the consent of the people. This bestows upon the vote a unique kind of legal and symbolic power. The gap, however, between this legal, this symbolic power of the vote and any real ability to change things for the better is a vast one. The authorities rightly fear the people’s voice, and so have contrived law and custom to ensure that we are seldom heard and almost never heeded.

They would never dream of allowing us to vote on the price of gas, food, housing, credit or college tuition. But they don’t mind at all letting us choose between corporate-funded Republicans and corporate-funded Democrats. The powers that rule our economy, our media and our politics won’t let us vote on whether to bring the troops home from 140 countries and the seven seas, or whether to continue spending more on weapons of death and destruction than the other 95% of humanity combined.

But they will let us choose between an ignorant, crazy or racist Republican who promises to give banksters, polluters and corporate criminals a free pass, and a sane, smart, level-headed free market liberal Democrat who does exactly the same thing, no matter what he promised.

The authorities won’t let us vote on whether the broadcast spectrum should be privatized, whether we should have the right to start and join unions, whether to create millions of good-paying green jobs. They won’t allow voters to decide whether corporations deserve more rights than flesh and blood people, or whether the president should be able to kidnap, torture, imprison and murder people without trials or even charges. But they will let us choose between a white guy and a black guy. As long as it’s their white guy, and their black one as well.

This imposition of false and meaningless choices is how, in these United States, our voices are suppressed, our votes wasted and made irrelevant, with the black vote rendered most irrelevant of all.

The gaps between black and white employment and household wealth are greater, and expanding faster than at any time in the last six decades. But the black vote will go to a man who doesn’t believe black unemployment or dispossession or even black mass incarceration merit any special attention.

Though black voters are historically more opposed to foreign wars and military intervention, their votes this time are pledged to a president who made a war speech while receiving a peace prize, who invaded Arab and African countries with drones and special forces, and who heartily endorses Israeli apartheid.

This is how the game is played. This is how the legal and symbolic authority of millions of our wasted votes is hijacked every election cycle, making possible wars we do not endorse, ratifying policies we never wanted, and pretending to believe promises we know, or should know will never be kept.

This is what Eugene Debs referred to a century ago, when he declared he would rather cast a meaningful vote for what did want, and not get it, than a fake and hollow one for what he didn’t want, and get that.

And so, a hundred years later, the game is still the game. If we want our votes to have any meaning, it’s time to reject the fake choices between the two corporate parties. It’s time to wise up, to grow up and like adults, to take a view longer than dessert, or the next two or three elections.

January 19, 2012

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works in Marietta Georgia, where he also serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party.