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What do we do now? Allies and the immigration crisis

July 16, 2019

Ok, so the Light for Liberty events have come and gone. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered all across the country last Friday to draw attention to the immigration crisis and demand that the Trump administration close the camps.

The camps are still operating and the widespread harm that is being done to the immigrant community continues. So, what do we do now? This is not just a rhetorical question, but one that we need to think about with great care and conviction.

Showing up to demonstrations can be a good thing, but it always depends on what the objectives are of demonstrations. Holding a demonstration in a neutral public space has less of an impact, than say, at an ICE office or detention facility. It might make us feel good to hold a sign and listen to a couple of speakers, but lets face it, it doesn’t do a damn thing to end the current harm that is being done to the immigrant community. And this should be the point. What can we do, those of us who are allies and are not a part of the affected community, what is it that we can do that will not contribute to the harm, but will actually begin to reduce the harm being done to the immigrant community.

This should be the strategic goal for the work that needs to be done by allies. The immigrant-led movements across the US are doing what they need to do, without our help, unless they are asking for it. However, when it comes to what can we do, we need to always center what this will mean to the immigrant community. If we are truly to be allies in this struggle, in this movement, then we need to shut up and listen to what it is that the immigrant-led organizers are saying and asking of us.

This ultimately means we follow their lead, it means we listen to them, learn from them and then act in solidarity with them. Good intentions are not enough, and in fact, good intentions often contribute to the harm being done to the immigrant community. We need to center the voices and lived experience of the immigrant community if we are to be allies in the struggle for immigrant justice. This means that we do NOT go off on our own and do what we think is best. People who think they are allies and act on their own more often than not are taking action to make themselves feel better, which is often actions that in no way works to dismantle the systems of power & oppression that are causing the harm. This means they are low-risk actions that are safe and do not either disrupt the harm being done, nor do these kind of actions threaten the comfortability of white people who do not want their lives disrupted. For those who hold all kinds of privilege, in order for them to really contribute to the immigrant justice movement, means they have to be willing to take some kind of risk.

Now, when I say risk, I don’t just mean that people with privilege have to be willing to get arrested. When I say they have to be willing to take risks, I mean that they have to step outside of their comfort zones, take a public position that might create conflict in their lives or even disrupt their privilege at a certain level. Confronting and dismantling systems of power and oppression is not easy work and it will require those of us who are not primarily impacted by these systems to take risks. No social movement in the last 200 years has achieved substantial change without risk, without sacrifice and without commitment.

If people who want to be allies are serious about reducing the harm being done to the immigrant community right now and specifically in West Michigan, then here are some concrete ways to make that happen:

  • If we want to be an ally with the immigrant community, then attend one of the regular ally trainings that Movimiento Cosecha GR hosts, like the one that is happening this Saturday, July 20. An important part of the work that Cosecha is doing now is a Drivers Licenses for All campaign, which will significantly reduce the possibility that immigrants will end up in ICE custody, plus it is a quality of life issue. 
  • Once people have attended an ally training, there are regular ally work meetings, which makes decisions with immigrant-led input on what work allies to be doing. Check the Movimiento Cosecha GR Facebook page for scheduled Ally work meetings meetings.
  • There are also training that GR Rapid Response hosts on a regular basis, either to be part of their work or to be involved in their Abolish ICE campaign. The next training is being held on Monday, July 22, which is a Direct Action training, with details at this link.
  • People can provide direct relief to immigrants by donating to the GR Rapid Response Mutual Aid fund, which is paypal.me/arcarpenter. You can also attend one of the upcoming fundraisers for GR Rapid Response to ICE, such as the one on July 18 and another one on July 27, which is 80’s Against ICE Dance Party at St. George’s Hall – 1513 Quarry Street NW, Grand Rapids from 7 – midnight
  • We also need people to provide transportation for immigrant families, either because they don’t have a car, don’t have a license or because the person who could drive is now in ICE custody.
  • We need people of faith to ask their pastors, their rabbis or their Imam’s to see if the place of worship is willing to be a Sanctuary for the immigrant community that is being targeted.
  • We also need people who want to help us get ICE out of Kent County. We have an Abolish ICE campaign and we need people to be part of that work, which means attempting to disrupt or shut down local ICE facilities, disrupt business as usual at the Kent County Jail, confront local politicians who are complicit with ICE violence or disrupt the businesses that are profiting off of the contracts they have with ICE. Our next Abolish ICE action is Wednesday, July 24
  • In addition, we need people to be part of our Rapid Response on call system, where we can respond immediately to people in the community who are being targeted by ICE. We need people who can speak Spanish to be able to take the calls and we need people who can send out messages to people who have been trained to do either direct intervention against ICE or people who can do Mutual Aid work with individuals and families.
  • We also can use people to distribute both electronically and handout form, the information about how to contact GR Rapid Response to ICE if you see ICE in your community.

These are just some of the more important, strategically sound things that people can do if they want to truly be an ally in the fight for immigrant justice. Movimiento Cosecha GR needs allies to support their offensive work and GR Rapid Response to ICE needs allies to step up and do the defensive work that can reduce the harm being done to immigrants right now.

Editor’s Note: an important read on what it means to be an ally is, Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing The Ally Industrial Complex

I also have a memory about former Michigan Congressman Paul Henry

July 15, 2019

Recently, I read a piece by Joel Belz from the publication World Magazine, which discussed the 1992 Congressional race between then Congressman Paul Henry and challenger Carol Kooistra. 

The article by Belz, is entitled Opponents and Friends: An unlikely 1992 political race seems even less plausible in today’s climate. The article shares the story that while Henry and Kooistra were campaigning, it was revealed that Henry was diagnosed with brain cancer just two weeks before the election. Kooistra decided to withdrawl campaign literature that attacked Henry’s voting record and she helped to distribute his campaign literature while she and her team were going door to door with her literature. Henry won the election and died in late July of 1993.

I have my own story about Paul Henry, one that was years earlier, when Henry was still fairly new as a member of Congress.

Paul Henry was elected in 1994 and began his career as a Congressman in 1985. One of the most controversial issues that was taking place while Henry was still a newcomer, an issue that would continue throughout the rest of his life, was US policy towards Central America.

The US was financing two counterinsurgency wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, along with using Honduras as a massive US military base and using Panamanian President Manuel Noriega for CIA activity. However, maybe the most controversial aspect of US policy in Central America at the time, or at least the one that received the most media attention, was the US support for the former Somozan National Gaurdsmen in Nicaragua, known as the Contras.

The specific issue was whether or not the US Congress should provide funding for the Contras, which were attempting to overthrown the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The Reagan administration wanted to fully fund the Contras, while Democratic members of Congress were not fully supportive of such a plan.

On the matter of the US support for the Contras, Paul Henry consistently voted for military funding that allowed the Contras to attack Nicaragua from both Honduras and Costa Rica, the countries which border that Central American nation. The Reagan administration (and Paul Henry) was claiming that the Contra forces were “freedom fighters,” despite the record of massive human rights violations. The Contras were known for attacking farming cooperatives, literacy workers and other social programs, which were at the forefront of the Sandinista revolution.

There was a lively campaign in Grand Rapids to challenge Paul Henry’s position on Nicaragua and his support for the Contras beginning in 1984, with the Stop The Invasion Campaign (STIC). There were weekly demonstrations outside his office in the federal building for years and several acts of civil disobedience, where people occupied his office until they were arrested. On one occasion, a group of people put 100 crosses in the lawn of the federal building with the names of Nicaragua civilians that the Contras had killed. Despite these efforts and many more Paul Henry never changed his position on Nicaragua, even after the Iran Contra affair and the allegations that the CIA was working with the Contras to traffic cocaine to buy weapons.

In 1986, the community that I was part of then, the Koinonia House, was in the process of becoming a Sanctuary for Central American refugees. Some of us went to a conference in Washington, DC, to learn more about being a sanctuary and connecting with the larger Central American Solidarity movement. At the conference, several members of Veterans for Peace were in the midst of a 30 day fast to end US support for the Contras. They were encouraging others to do the same, in their own communities.

I decided to do a 30 day fast against US funding of the Contras, in 1986. As part of my fast, I decided that In would write to Congressman Paul Henry every day of the fast to share my thoughts and information about what the consequences of US funding were having on the Nicaraguan people.

On day 26, I received a phone call from Congressman Henry, saying that he had a stack of letters from me on his desk and that he thought he would reach out to me. I said I was grateful for the call and then said that I would like to talk with him in person. I then suggested that I would end my fast early if he would sit down and break bread with me. Congressman Henry declined, so I finished the 30 day fast as planned.

In the 1980s the US was also providing massive amounts of military aid to the country of El Salvador to fight the FMLN guerilla forces. Throughout that period human rights groups and many US-based church groups were claiming that the Salvadoran military and the death squads were responsible for the bulk of the human right abuses, but Congressman Henry (who support military aid to El Salvador) was staunch in his conviction that the human rights abuses were equally committed by the FMLN.

Again, people in Grand Rapids organized to oppose the US support of the Salvadoran military and Paul Henry’s office was the target of people’s rage. The largest action against Henry’s support for the death squad terror in El Salvador was right after several priests, their cook and her daughter were assassinated on November of 1989.

About 100 people blocked traffic on Michigan Avenue in front of the Federal building in Grand Rapids. After the police came, another contingent of people went into Paul Henry’s office and attempted to make a citizen’s arrest against the Congressman and his staff. Eventually, the people who were in Paul Henry’s office were dragged out and the doors to the federal building were locked so no one could get in.

In 1992, there was a ceasefire in El Salvador and a UN Truth Commission was established to investigate the crimes committed in El Salvador between 1980 and 1992. In March of 1993, the UN Truth Commission published their findings, which stated that the Salvadoran military was guilty of 85% of the human rights abuses during that 12-year period and that the FMLN was only responsible for 5%. Congressman Henry never admitted he was wrong or that he was mislead by the Reagan/Bush administrations.

I respected the fact that Paul Henry called me during my fast, a respect that Carol Kooistra seemed to share about the former Congressman. Kooistra’s decision to not distribute literature that would have held Henry accountable for his voting record, particularly on funding human rights abusers in Central America, was laudable. However, I believe that one can be respectful when interacting with those who hold political office AND hold them accountable at the same time. It is sad that anyone would die prematurely because of cancer, but that doesn’t mean we have to ignore their support for policies that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Central America during time in Congress.

Line 5, Labor Unions and Democratic lawmakers in Michigan

July 14, 2019

Last week, several Michigan news sources, including Michigan Advance, reported that at least six Democratic State Representatives signed a letter in opposition to the lawsuit that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5.

Michigan Advance reported that six Democratic State Representatives – Brian Elder (D-Bay City), Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette), Wendell Byrd (D-Detroit), John Chirkun (D-Roseville) and Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) – signed on to a letter, that was critical of the Attorney General’s desire to shut down the Enbridge run Line 5.

The article also stated:

The Democrats added that Line 5 is critical for transportation fuels, consumer goods and home heating energy, something echoed by Republican senators last month.

Not only are there Democratic lawmakers in Michigan who support Line 5, there are several labor unions that do as well. One of them signed on to a letter written with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce earlier this year, which states: 

Dear Governor Whitmer,

We believe in your leadership, your commitment to jobs, doing what’s right for Michiganders and protecting and preserving our magnificent Great Lakes.

So let’s get the job done. The underground tunnel beneath the Straits will be the largest construction project in Michigan since we built the Mackinac Bridge. It will create many good-paying construction jobs, allow the continued supply of essential energy to heat family homes in the Upper Peninsula, fuel businesses and jobs across our entire state, and protect the Great Lakes as Line is removed from the floor of the Straits. 

You have worked to build consensus on many issues. On the issue of building an underground tunnel to replace Line 5, business and labor agree. So let private industry, private funding and Michigan workers build the Straits Tunnel.

Securing Michigan’s future is in your hands.

Sincerely,  

Michigan Chamber of Commerce
Operating Engineers 324

Here the emphasis in on job creation, specifically jobs for construction workers in Michigan.

Last month, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that at least two Michigan labor unions had been lobbying Gov. Whitmer to support Line 5, again because of the construction jobs. 

The connection between jobs, labor unions and the six Democratic State Representatives becomes even clearer, when you see that these same state representatives have all received substantial campaign funding support from the very unions that would likely benefit from the construction of new energy pipelines.

If you go to the hyperlink for each of the six Democrats that oppose the Attorney General’s lawsuit against Line 5, you can see that each of them have received substantial support from labor unions which would benefit from the construction of Line 5.

Rep. Terry Sabo 

Rep. Brian Elder 

Rep. Tenisha Yancey 

Rep. John Chirkun 

Rep. Sara Cambensy 

Rep. Wendell Byrd 

One lesson from this is that it is not just corporations or wealthy people whom we should be concerned about in regards to campaign financing, but even labor unions can support politicians, which support policies that are unjust and unsustainable, such as the Line 5 pipeline project operated by Enbridge.

Jewish Community hosts Solidarity Action against ICE in Grand Rapids

July 12, 2019

This morning, about 50 people gathered at Calder Plaza for an action organized by members of the local Jewish community, an action that was done in solidarity with the immigrant community that has been living in fear because of ICE violence.

Like the actions that have taken place in New Jersey, Boston and all across the country, this action was a Never Again Is Now action.

The group walked from Calder Plaza to the ICE office located at 517 Ottawa NW in Grand Rapids, just north of the 196 overpass. This is one of many offices that ICE has in Kent County and the one that the action took place today is a local where ICE sometimes brings detainees when they are being transported to and from detention facilities.

The members of the local Jewish community who organized the action, were handing out information, part of which had the following statement, which articled the reasons for taking such an action of solidarity.

 

Most of the time in front of the ICE office, members of the Jewish community were engaged in prayer and had asked allies that were present to be respectful of what they were doing. Towards the end of the action, while still praying three members of the Jewish community walked out onto Ottawa to block traffic briefly, holding a Never Again Is Now banner, while continuing to pray.

The GRPD that was nearby, chose not to intervene and did not arrest anyone. In fact, the GRPD presence was limited to only two cruisers (that we knew of), which is unusual for actions that are anti-ICE or focused on immigrant justice. Some of those participating were even wondering if the decision of the GRPD was more about the fact that when white people take these kinds of actions, the cops will keep their distance, which is radically different when the actions are led by immigrants.

Unsubstantiated claims and Structural Violence: Another look at the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association statement

July 9, 2019

The Grand Rapids Police Officers Association, the union that represents those employed by the GRPD, is getting some pushback from a recent statement posted on their website. The statement reads:

The recent and continued violence is the direct result of city officials not properly staffing and supporting the police department. To allow the police department to be constantly scrutinized discourages any type of proactive enforcement necessary to keep Grand Rapids safe. It is evident that stop the violence rallies have no affect on criminal activity. It’s time to let GRPD get back to policing.

The cop union statement is instructive on many levels. First, they blame city officials for not hiring more police and for not supporting what they do. A recent study has determined that the GRPD has enough staff, but that they do not utilize current resources efficiently. Also, to say that City officials do not support them is code for “we don’t like it when you scrutinize how we operate in the community.”

Second, the police union says that the “stop the violence” rallies have no effect, but offer no evidence to refute such a claim. In fact, the police union makes the claim that if they had more cops the “recent and continued violence” would stop or be diminished. Again, the police union offers NO evidence to support their claim.

One of the community members who have been critical of the GRPD’s use of violence against black and brown people is Rev. Jerry Bishop. He responded to the police union statement on Facebook, with his own statement that you can read in response to the GRPD union post on July 7. The Urban Core Collective also responded and challenged the police union on their dismissive comments about the stop the violence rallies.

However, there were numerous other responses, most of which are defending the GRPD and in one case slandering Rev. Bishop, comments you can read on the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association FB page from the July 7 post

There has been a fair amount of local news media reporting on the statement and the reactions from the community. However, most of the local news do not verify of the claims made by the police union, both the claim that the stop the violence rallies don’t work and that more cops would mean less crime. So, what would it look like to further explore these claims?

First, there is little evidence to suggest that increasing the number of cops will actually reduce low level crimes. So-called community policing, as it has been practiced since the 1970s, has not resulted in reduced incidents of low level crimes. In fact, what it has done, particularly in communities of color, is to increase the level of mistrust between communities of color and local law enforcement agencies, according to Alex Vitale, author of the book, The End of Policing.

Second, what communities of color have been calling for in recent decades, is for more systemic change that will benefit their communities, but actually reduce crime. The Movement for Black Lives calls this the Invest/Divest strategy. This strategy takes money going to police department and the prison industrial complex and puts it into community safety programs, education, anti-poverty initiatives, etc. This Invest/Divest strategy is worth looking at, especially if we are not interested in a quick fix. 

Third, another important aspect of what is problematic about the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association statement, is that it underscores how they see crime. For police departments, crime is something that people commit when they violate existing laws. However, we all know that laws are often designed by those with power and privilege, which means that these laws often only impact people who are part of the working class or communities of color.

People who don’t make a livable wage, people who can’t afford good health care and people who pay too much for rent are often in precarious situations because of limited financial resources. The harm that they experience or the violence that they experience is structural. Structural Violence. One way to define structural violence is this: 

“Structural violence is one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.”

Therefore, corporations that pay people poverty wages or don’t provide workers with health care benefits are not technically breaking the law, but they are doing real harm. The CEO of Wolverine Worldwide is complicit in the terrible violence the company has caused by polluting large areas of Kent County, because of toxic chemicals they have been using to manufacture shoes. People have been getting sick from the toxic dumping, have developed cancer and many people may have already died, in part, because of the toxic waste from the Wolverine Worldwide plant. However, when was the last time that the GRPD or any other law enforcement agency has arrested corporate bosses for paying people poverty wages or for polluting local communities?

The reality is that crime is defined by governments and governments use police to enforce laws, which disproportionately impact working class communities and communities of color. AND this is all done by design. When people protest against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, private detention centers or companies profiting from contacts they have with ICE, who are the police there to defend? Not those who are protesting structural violence.

Borrow money from Teacher pensions to pay for the roads: The West Michigan Policy Forum, Neoliberal Economic Austerity measures and how to undermine the Public Sector

July 8, 2019

On Monday, July 1st, former Republican State Legislator and now the policy advisor for the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF), was on Michigan Radio talking about, “a way to ensure teachers’ retirement promises are funded; and how securing this repayment could also provide funding for roads.” 

Bolger said on Michigan Radio, “The West Michigan Policy Forum proposes borrowing $10 billion through a pension obligation bond and putting that money into the underfunded Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System.” 

Chase Bolger also begins his comments by talking about the Teacher Pension Fund in Michigan as “unfunded liabilities” of the State of Michigan and that the WMPF believes that teachers deserve that money. This interview on NPR leaves out one major component in the discussion on the Teacher Pension Funds.

First, in 2016, the West Michigan Policy Forum was backing legislation that would remove the decades-long contractual agreement between the State of Michigan and the teacher union to remove the state as the primary source to pay teacher pensions and transfer that responsibility to the market.  That legislation was adopted, which means the traditional pensions have been eliminated in terms of how they get paid and are replaced with 401k-type plans leaving the teacher pensions in the hands of the speculative capital market. At the time, the Michigan Education Association stated that, “This is a nation-wide attack, led by Enron billionaire Tom Arnold, whose Arnold Foundation is flooding right wing think tanks across the nation with funding to do this work. The Enron meltdown cost public pension funds $1.5 billion in losses.” 

Second, the West Michigan Policy Forum has not been shy about their efforts to undermine unions, such as the 2016 legislation to attack the teacher unions and more recently, their push to undermine public sector unions, by calling health care benefits and pensions of government employees “unfunded mandates” as well.

Therefore, what Chase Bolger and the West Michigan Policy Forum is now proposing, is to take money from the Teacher Pension Fund (money that was previously guaranteed by the State and now is placed in the speculative capital market) and place that in the speculative capital market in order to make money to pay for the roads. Not only does the West Michigan Policy Forum see the speculative capital markets as the financial savior of us all, they are ultimately interested in pushing Neo-Liberal economic austerity measures in order to weaken the public sector.

What do we mean by Neoliberal Economic policies or austerity measures? Here is a solid explanation of these kinds of policies by Elizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia: 

1. THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics — but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.

2. CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.

3. DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.

4. PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.

5. ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”

Lastly, another aspect of Neoliberal economic policies it that they limit our imagination about how to actually deal with economic problems. Neoliberalism says that the market can solve all our problems, when in fact this is a false solution. The reality is that the State of Michigan is not without insufficient funds, rather it is compromised by how to generate and distribute funds.

If the wealthiest sectors and corporations were adequately taxed, that would generate a massive amount of funds for the state.  Another issue is how much money leaves the state of Michigan to pay for US militarism. According to the National Priorities Project, in 2018, Michiganders were paying $18.63 billion dollars to support the US military. Imagine if part or all of that money stayed in the state and was used for the roads, education, environmental clean up, clean energy or affordable housing? The National Priorities Project provides clear trade offs for what the tax money from Michigan that goes to the military could be used for.  If we practiced radical imagination we wouldn’t be subjected to the awful neoliberal economic policies being proposed by the West Michigan Policy Forum.

Amash and the threat to the Two Party System

July 8, 2019

On July 4, 3rd Congressional Representative Justin Amash announced that he was leaving the Republican Party. This announcement has received a great deal of local and national media attention.

Much of the coverage about Amash’s decision to leave the Republican Party refers to his opinion piece from the Washington Post, but most of the coverage is speculative and doesn’t raise larger questions about the two-party political system that dominates US electoral politics.

WZZM 13 ran an interview with Amash on July 5th, an interview that did step outside the normal partisan boundaries, an interview that is worth watching. 

In this interview, Amash talks about his decision to leave the Republican Party, his response to the Trump administration and partisan politics. Party politics was one of the questions he responded to, by saying:

What frightens me is people turn into zombies. They go to Washington and they will be telling me stuff privately that is very different from what they say publicly. And I believe you have both parties now falling in line with their respective leadership teams almost 100 percent of the time because they are scared of their leadership teams and they scared of what will happen back home with their primaries and from people at town halls or social media. And that is a very dangerous place for our country to be in. I don’t think we want a system where people just follow one person, follow the leader of their party on everything.

In some ways I agree with this statement from Amash, since the goal of both the Republicans and the Democrats is to have power, not to do what the public really wants them to do.

However, after having written numerous articles about Rep. Amash over the years, I haven’t seen much indication that he operates outside of the systems of power that control electoral politics.

For instance, we all know that from the beginning of when he first ran for the 3rd Congressional seat, Amash has relied a great deal on the financing of the DeVos family and other sectors of financial power, such as Club for Growth. All one has to do is to look at OpenSecrets.org and you can see where his campaign money has come from since 2009.

If one looked at Amash’s voting record, one can see that he doesn’t always vote with the GOP.  This is partly because Amash prides himself on being a libertarian and a constitutionalist, but it also has to do with the fact that the 3rd Congressional seat has been a fairly safe seat for Republicans for several decades.

In the interview with Amash, he doesn’t really challenge the two-party system, rather he says that people just need to be more engaged and more educated about the political process. In the end, Amash believes that representative democracy works and that is what he wants to demonstrate as a political independent.

These sentiments by Amash are, in my opinion, naive, since they don’t take into account just how corrupt the political system is. Here is a short assessment of democracy in the US from the late historian Howard Zinn.

This brief assessment from Howard Zinn, is explored in great detail by the political scholar Sheldon Wolin, in his book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Wolin states:

The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed. This has come about, not through a Leader’s imposing his will or the state’s forcibly eliminating opposition, but through certain developments, notably in the economy, that promoted integration, rationalization, concentrated wealth, and a faith that virtually any problem – from health care to political crisis, even faith itself – could be managed, that it, subjected to control, predictability, and cost-effectiveness in the delivery of a product.

Wolin goes on to talk about the function of elections within this managed democracy, saying:

If the main purpose of elections is to serve up pliant legislators for lobbyists to shape, such a system deserves to be called “misrepresentative or clientry government.” It is, at one and the same time, a powerful contributing factor to the depoliticization of the citizenry, as well as reason for characterizing the system as one of antidemocracy.

One addition observation from Wolin, is worth citing.

Unlike the Nazis, who may accurately be described as control freaks obsessed by the need to rule everything, American rulers prefer to manage the population as would a corporate CEO, manipulatively, alternately soothing and dismissive, relying on the powerful resources of mass communications and the techniques of the advertising and public opinion industries.

The last point by Wolin, echoes the analysis of Alex Carey, author of the book, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty. Carey  makes the following observation about the 20th Century:

The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

Carey’s point is spot on, as it relates to the United States, even before Citizens United. It is important to recognize that powerful class interests have always dictated the US political system, whether it was the capitalist class directly running for office or having proxies (candidates) run for office in order to represent their interests.

If Amash thinks that by simply leaving the GOP that he will now have a greater opportunity to change the political system, then he is delusional. Granted, the US political system needs to be radically altered. In fact, one could argue that what needs to change is an entirely new system of governance, one that is based upon self-governance and direct democracy.

As long as we submit to being governed, especially by representatives, the state will shift back and forth as needed between majority rule and tyranny – two expressions of the same basic principle.

We need to develop better forms of governance, forms that are rooted in cooperation, autonomy and radical self-determination. Developing such radical forms of direct democracy are urgently needed. In a globalized world, democracy is simply the operating system of the gated community promising equality and self-determination while legitimizing repression and xenophobia.