Thoughts About Electoral Work and Movement Building

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Republican and Democratic Presidents

Capitalist democracy sucks as a method of change. Yet people in the U.S. must probably exhaust it as an avenue before they look to other more severe methods of change.

Social justice will not come out of the current system that is suppose to be our primary channel to achieve a better society. As an example, look no further than Barack Obama, elected on a slogan of “Change We Can Believe In.” His administration has deported more immigrants, gotten involved in more wars, and has not noticeablly lessened inequality than the previous Bush administration. And even though the finance and banking industry was responsible for the current great recession that has thrown people out of work and homes, his administration has sent no one to prison nor broken up any corporations.

Capitalist Democracy and Class
Consider some facts about the current electoral system and corporations and the rich:

  1. Elections allow us to choose between which part of the elite will rule us – those who think who care about the poor and middle class and those who think they deserve some crumbs, while both believe their role is to serve the corporations and financial structure. 1% of the American people are millionaires, 50% of those in Congress are millionaires.
  2. Money and corporation donations determine which persons are nominated, who’s elected, what laws are passed and what regulations are enforced once laws are passed.
  3. Along with elected officials, look at the traffic among government agencies, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), etc. and congressional staffers. These officials go between working for government and working for the corporations they are suppose to monitor while in government. 

In its core, the current electoral system is government of, by, and for the rich and corporations.

Not Just Elections
It is as important or more important for those working for social justice to work for long-term change through organizational building, community education, developing visions and strategies as it is to work in elections. It makes sense to work in electoral politics under certain conditions. Electoral politics can be part of a larger strategy for change, where it serves to support these other goals. 

Local Politics as One Step
Under existing conditions, local electoral politics offer the most opportunities for progressive activists. For this to happen, electoral campaigns have to be organized as part of a movement building strategy.

What would that strategy be? Three elements would be

1. A progressive platform that educates people and changes what values people should focus on. Some examples might be talking about the poor, support for and limiting market forces (i.e. access  if you have the money) on basic human needs – food, housing, health and education - and alternatives to completely private capital roles in the economy. So campaigns should influence people to be as concerned with these values more than celebrities, who’s winning and food.

We’re not talking about revolution here. For examples, there are thousands of unit of Co-op housing in New York, developed by unions and other collective bodies and partially supported by government, public housing that the government supported in the past, community land trusts where the community owns the land, national jobs program as in the Great Depression, and living wage legislation that were successfully passed in San Francisco recently.

2. Educating people about the corruption and class basis of the current two-party system and the need for changing it. Changing the election system may include elements making it easier for third parties to participate, allowing resident as well as citizen-eligible voting, proportional voting and representation, and cumulative voting, (giving each voter x number of votes to use however they wanted). These changes would allow minority voices a greater say in influencing who is elected and legislation.

3. Integrating campaign organizing into general popular organizing. One of the great failures of the enthusiasm for Obama was how people mobilized to elect him but failed to continue to mobilize to get the changes that they wanted. Electoral campaign organizing must lead to more ongoing organizations and organizing of people to engage in the political process. Only by raising the level of popular civic participation can we ensure that people can ultimately achieve what’s in their interest.

In sum, we can not rely on electoral politics as it is for social justice. Electoral politics can contribute to movement building for social justice only if it is part of a larger strategy that educates people, builds our organizational resources, and presents alternative visions