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Anti-Bush Marchers May Not Be Pro-Kerry Voters

by Michelle Chen

A so-called protest generation who wavers between apathy and activism

(PNS) NEW YORK -- In the oppressive heat, protesters and curious spectators swirled around Union Square, beating drums, and displaying various anti-Bush slogans, from "Bush Feeds the Rich, Starves Workers" to the more cryptic "But My Bush is pH Balanced," scrawled on the back of a dreadlocked girl's t-shirt. People were winding down at the final destination of the anti-Bush and anti-war rally, rewarding themselves with heaping plates of vegetarian beans and chili ladled from giant water coolers.

The protesters all agreed that Bush had to go, one way or the other. But it was difficult to tell how many of the gatherers would be going to the polls in November. While the activists shared a happy solidarity on this summer day, they were clearly divided on how to work the system.

"This is what I think about voting," said a man in his thirties from an anarchist organization called No Police State. "This is what I think about Bush, Kerry and Nader." Evidently, his extended middle finger was his way of voting his conscience on the presidential candidates. Asked if he predicted many of the other protesters would vote this year, he said brusquely, "Maybe half. I think the other half know better than to do something that stupid."

"We're voting for Kerry," said twenty-year-old Cheyne Levesseur on behalf of his small group of protesters, who traveled from Michigan to New York just to express their antipathy for Bush this weekend. Back in Michigan, a major swing state, he and his brother Brad, are hoping to get as many of their friends to vote as possible. Their small voting pool includes "a couple of Republicans, but we'll change them," said Brad. This election is motivating many first-time voters, they said, because people realize that they have to make their voices heard on problems that resonate in their lives. "I think a lot of people think we should have peace instead of war," said Cheyne. "It's kind of old."

On Kerry's policies, Cheyne acknowledged that Kerry does not differ substantially from Bush on the issue of the Iraq occupation. But his brother believes Kerry's pro-war stance is a little easier to stomach than the current president's because he is "doing it for political reasons. I think he's more or less just trying to get the votes."

But it's equally important that Kerry grab the attention of the activist set, particularly potential voters in the 18-to-24 demographic, only 42 percent of whom voted in the last presidential election (compared to over 70 percent of those 25 and over). Very liberal and anti-war voters might find Kerry's ambiguity on gay marriage and overall support of the Iraq occupation alienating. Yet Kerry's support among youth is likely helped by the simple fact that he is not Bush. For a so-called protest generation whose counterculture wavers between apathy and activism, Kerry is de facto at the top of the alternative charts.

For the Levesseur brothers, and much of their demographic, voting in this election is more about unseating Bush than supporting his challenger, or, for that matter, faith in the electoral process. "I would vote for Nader," said Cheyne, "but I want my vote to count." In four years, he admitted, "I might be voting against Kerry." A vote against Bush shows nothing but their hope for a more accountable government. "It's not exactly about being a Republican or a Democrat. It's just knowing the truth, and getting out (to vote) and winning."

If organizations like the League of Independent Voters, which spearheaded major campaigns to mobilize ordinarily unmotivated youth voters, attain their goal of getting thousands of young people to cast their ballots for the first time, their achievement will be fraught with the ambivalence that colors the politics of this generation. The new optimism about voting has emerged from a sense of desperation, as well as the somewhat cynical wisdom that protests alone are not enough to move the political mainstream forward. Young voters, it seems, are showing excitement about this election only because for now, there is virtually no other form of mass political action to look forward to.

Michelle Chen is a writer, recent returnee from a Fulbright research fellowship in China, native New Yorker in the 18-25 demographic, and reluctant voter.

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Albion Monitor August 30, 2004 (

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