Reflections on Effective Activism
Regrettably, the agenda that had been designed for the meeting required attendees to pick one of several causes they identified with and then gather in large groups (in which very little could be heard). The choices offered included reproductive/women’s rights, Muslim rights, LGBTQ rights, etc.
To focus this first meeting on such specific issues is about like asking what flavor of ice cream you want to enjoy once you have won a long war, when you have not yet so much as started boot camp, much less having won a battle against overwhelming odds. It betrays a woeful lack of understanding of what is called for and is utterly non-strategic.
First, re strategy: We have to train ourselves, discipline ourselves to yank our attention up and away from our multitude of particular pet causes and turn it to the single great challenge of wresting power from the plutocrats and their minions (our “representatives”) and putting it within the reach of the people.
Sure, women’s rights, women’s equality (I think it distracts and diminishes it to tag it as “reproductive rights” – no one is accustomed to identify with this term), and racial justice and equality are profoundly important, essential values. And, the environment, of course (but don’t assimilate it to something else like “environmental rights”). But even these must await their time, and now is not the time for these, except to the extent that putting these forward advances our first and primary strategic objective, restoring power to the people.
We need to focus with laser intensity on the task of identifying and/or creating NEW LEVERS of power, and on how we can wield these effectively. By way of example: The insertion of veterans into the Standing Rock protest was, to my mind, brilliant and novel. No one in America can diss veterans; their presence forces the enemy to adapt to something unexpected and different, and with its own distinct leverage. It, in a sense, disarms them.
What other levers do I mean? We should be focusing on using RECALL and REFERENDA in states where these are legal. These can be used in connection with two other aims: TRANSPARENCY on the part of our elected people and ACCOUNTABILITY. In addition, in this set of initiatives we include identifying early on and BRINGING ALONG young men and women whom we identify as having the potential to be strong and true representatives of us, the people. We, in effect, make them, from the git-go. We do not sit around and wait for some bozo to come out of the woodwork and go round glad-handing us and saying he or she wants to be our senator/congressman.
So, we bring people along and make clear that we will elect them to do OUR bidding, and we make clear that if they fail to champion the causes for which we put them in place, we will, through heightened TRANSPARENCY hold them quite rigorously accountable, through our immediate opposition, most tellingly (wherever it is available) by RECALLING them, as the Republicans did with Gray Davis so as to install Arnold.
A next initiative: straw polls. We track very closely issues that are about to come before the House and the Senate, we know what the issues are, and then – BEFORE the issue comes to a vote with our representatives – we use highly developed and genuinely reputable ONLINE polls to assay the will of the people on the issue, so we can publish the results BEFORE the reps vote on it. Thus, if they vote against the interests of the people, everyone will know that they did so knowingly. Ideally, we might have our straw voters identify their district and their party affiliation, so that we could confront representatives of either party with the discomfiting evidence of their own constituents’ express preferences.
We bring strong pressure to bear on media, local and national, to do deep investigative journalism in order to turn up, in a timely fashion, the actual history and character of each candidate (assuming that there will continue to be those who “come out of the woodwork”). We want to know all the relevant information.
Of course, we have to get people to be motivated to actually VOTE: we know what a pathetic percentage actually does vote.
To this end, we must come up with new techniques – since our longstanding repertoire is clearly almost worthless – but also turn our attention to K-12 education and other media through which to SHAPE THE VALUES, THE IDENTITY of our people so that they identify with the exercise of the franchise. We have to work to make these values very salient, highly valued, explicit across our many sub-cultures, to see that people are motivated, enabled, registered, etc.
A tougher challenge, perhaps: We have to attack gerrymandering, and all the ploys being used to make it difficult for people to vote, to have their votes counted, and – oh, yes – we must get control the processes by which the various types of voting apparatus are designed and approved, so that there will be no more hanging chads, uncountable votes and the rest. At the presidential level, of course, we have to get rid of the electoral college, and see that the system replacing it is honest and fair.
We have to attack to get big money out of politics, to drastically reduce the effects of corporate power and the army of lobbyists, an immense challenge, no doubt. But I don’t see that we have been either very determined or very inventive in our initiatives in this regard.
Oh, and a part of the transparency matter is that we require that our representatives provide a public accounting of all their TIME ON THE JOB. And we set the media to examine that very closely. With whom are they lunching? Whom do they meet, where, when, for how long, to what purpose? They want privacy? Let ‘em pursue another line of endeavor. (Yes, this is a difficult matter, but it calls for more attention than we’ve given it.)
Lastly, let us consider our economic leverage. When we learn that big pharma has bought off our Democratic senators, so that they defeated Bernie Sander’s bill to allow Americans to buy their medicines from Canadian sources, there may be little we can do, since we are dependent on the medicines they purvey. But let us look more broadly, to discern which of the many other corporate lobbies are doing us harm, and see which of these we can wound by giving them notice that we will no longer patronize them. Almost all of their “big money” is, after all, money they have got from us, the people. Let us determine to use the “almighty” power of the dollar in this just war.
The foregoing is meant to illustrate political initiatives that focus on what I am convinced should be our principle objective at this point in time. Since relevant questions are, at this point, a chief instrument of ours, let us end with two more.
How can we imagine equipping ourselves with more specifics in the pursuit of the aforementioned objectives? And what other major fronts should we be preparing to open in the war to win back a democracy that is of, by, and for “the people.”