There were several letters in the Inquirer's letters column that advocated that, rather than take part in protests like Occupy Philadelphia, people should vote instead and thereby toss out the bad politicians and put better politicians in. Great idea, in theory anyway. Let's review the last dozen or so years and voting.
2000 - Those reviewing the history of G.W. Bush's administration like to pretend that he didn't start doing anything radical until after 9-11. But there's evidence that his warrantless surveillance program began well before that. The telecommunications company Qwest claims that they were approached by the NSA to conduct such surveillance over six months prior to 9-11. There's some evidence AT&T was collaborating with the government as early as February 2001, but the very broad use of the state secrests privilege make any real knowledge of the deeply intrusive surveillance very difficult.
Was Bush also planning to invade Iraq before 9-11? Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said in "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill," by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind that Bush entered office determined to invade Iraq. The question on January 21st of 2001 was simply one of how he'd justify it.
And, of course, Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in plans to invade Iraq well before even taking office.
So, did the desires of voters have a decisive impact on the actions of the G.W. Bush Administration? Doesn't look like it to me. Looks to me like Bush had his presidency all mapped out long before 9-11 occurred and that that event just provided him with the excuse to do things that he wanted to do anyway.
2004 - Soon after winning re-election, Bush started lobbying Americans to privatize Social Security. Note that in Sourcewatch, the debating points cited are all dated January 2005 and after. Did Americans have any idea that Bush wanted to do that? Not according to Bush's own testimony in his autobiographical book "Decision Points":
In other words, he waited until after the 2004 election before tipping off the American people as to what his plans were.
2006 - After winning both the House and the Senate, were Democrats able to dramatically change any of Bush's policies? A slim majority approved of impeaching Bush for warrantless surveillance in early 2006, but no impeachment occurred. In fact, Bush's surveillance authority was expanded in mid-2007 and in mid-2008 Congress retroactively legalized the surveillance and immunized those who had broken the law. The Iraq War continued without let-up, in fact, some of the war's greatest violence occurred after Democrats took over, though by late 2007, it had quieted considerably.
So, even though many Americas expected big changes in policy after the election of 2006, the Republican Party's habit of voting in lockstep unison, the Blue Dog Democrats who crossed party lines to vote with Republicans and President Bush's veto prevented any major change in policies.
2008 - Big changes were expected when Barack Obama was elected. What happened? The new president turned out to be a Blue Dog Democrat (Read: "Republican-lite"). I'm not saying he's been as bad or worse than the Republican opposition John McCain and the woman who would have been just a 70-year old's heartbeat away from the Oval Office (Brrr, what a horrible thought!) would have been, just that Obama very consciously and deliberately refused to, as he says "look back" and to punish past misdeeds.
Now, the essential problem with enforcing laws on torture is that authorities must prove that torturers knew that what they were doing was wrong. That's difficult when administration lawyers, in this case John Yoo and Jay Bybee, wrote opinions saying torture was okay. Even though these memos were completely discredited, the Office of Professional Repsonsiblity refused to say the opinions were made-to-order or that they warranted disbarment.
Sure would have been nice to have gotten some change there, but no one's in jail for having committed crimes against humanity.
2010 - If I were a right-winger, I'd be pretty upset at the current Speaker of the House John Boehner. His ideas on how to create jobs sounds pretty good, in theory anyway:
Slight problem though, this approach, based on shrinking the government, hasn't done much good for creating jobs. Of course, it doesn't help that Boehner's House spent an entire work-day re-affirming the motto of the United States, a motto that no one was even challenging. Unemployment is the worst it's been, and worst for the longest perid of time, since the government began keeping track in the late 1940s. The jobs picture has improved a bit over the last year, since Republicans took over the House, but essentially, Republican policies don't appear to be doing much good.
So, is it useful to vote? Yes, it's still useful, but can one blame people for concluding that voting is useless and that we never get what we vote for? Would we be better off copying the French in 1789, the Russians in 1917 or the Chinese in 1949? I don't think so as all of these revolutions cost humanity enormous amounts in spilled blood. They all led to some progress, but the French Revolution ended in occupation by other European powers, the Russian Revolution collapsed in 1989, the Chinese Revolution is still going strong, but it's greatly altered and has become markedly more capitalist since its beginning. The Civil Rights Movement in America of 1955 to 1968 is a good deal more to my liking, not just because it cost much less in blood, but because it wasn't trying to sweep away all previous history the way the three aforementioned revolutions did. The Civil Rights Movement was going for a far more limited goal and was thus far more successful at instituting lasting change for the better.
But is Occupy Wall Street and all of its imitators going down the wrong path? I think it's heading down the only path that promises real progress. The neoliberals have taken America down a very bad path for the past 30 or so years and there doesn't appear to be any purely voting-based method of squeezing neoliberalism out of the body politic. Direct action appears to promise the only way out.