16J: Putting Meat on the Bones of Civil Disobedience

The popular consultation the National Assembly has called for tomorrow, July 16th, could mark an inflection point in the Venezuelan crisis. Organized without the participation or recognition of the regime-controlled National Elections Council, the vote tomorrow is aimed at a kind of mental emancipation: the moment when the large majority of Venezuelans who oppose the Maduro dictatorship break decisively with the fake democratic institutionality that regime has set up.

This matters.

For many years now, Venezuelan opposition figures have been in a bit of a muddle about what “disowning (desconocer) any authority that counters democratic values” might actually mean in practice.

For a very long time we were stuck in a cycle of continually appealing to the same institutions we claimed to be disowning. We protested the executive’s control of the Supreme Tribunal through suits filed at that same Supreme Tribunal. We’ve petitioned the government-controlled National Elections Council to try to recall the government that controls that Elections Council.

I don’t regret having done so, even though at the time we knew it was basically insane. Still and all, it was our responsibility to go that extra mile, to squeeze every last bit of protest space this rigged institutionality afforded us. And for a long time, that rigged institutionality did afford us some spaces to protest — spaces it would’ve been unconscionable not to exploit.

Putting this vote together ourselves, outside the reach of the government’s rigged electoral authority, isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. It’s the feature. It’s the whole point.

But little by little those spaces became smaller and smaller and then last year, with the regime’s refusal to hold a Recall Referendum, disappeared entirely. Even then the democratic opposition kept jumping through hoops. It’s easy to forget now that as late as March this year our parties were putting themselves through the absurd and illegal humiliation of rounding up tens of thousands of their members nationwide to sign arbitrary forms on randomly regime-determined weekends just to keep notional access to CNE ballots.

The protest movement that began at the end of March — and the brutal repressive reaction it has met from the regime — has brought at least clarity on the senselessness of this approach. And tomorrow’s vote —carried out in defiance of the regime’s rigged institutions— puts organizational meat on the bones of the oft-repeated vow to engage in civil disobedience.

And that’s why I’ve come to see the tendency to dismiss tomorrow’s vote as “merely symbolic” as subtly but deeply misguided. Putting this vote together ourselves, outside the reach of the government’s rigged electoral authority, isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. It’s the feature. It’s the whole point.

Disowning illegitimate authority has to be about more than announcing you no longer recognize it. It has to be about acting differently in the world. It’s taken the opposition a long, long time to figure out how it could do that, precisely. Tomorrow, that process begins in earnest.




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