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Candidates, endorsements and Social Movements

July 9, 2018

Last week I received a rather strange Facebook message, one that included a request.

I will not name the person who sent me the message, but for me it is an instructive commentary on electoral politics and social movements.

The message I received is the following:

Not sure I have your nerve, when it comes to civil disobedience (I did see you sitting down last week, right?) but I need folks like you to ‘like’ my campaign page and keep aspiring electeds close to the human costs of bad policy.

First, the candidate in question is not someone I have a relationship with. I only know them because of their involvement in the community, but we do not travel in the same circles.

Second, I was taken back right away when they said, “Not sure I have your nerve, when it comes to civil disobedience.” Since I have no relationship with this individual, it was rather puzzling to me that they were not sure if I was indeed one of the 7 people arrested on June 28th for engaging in civil disobedience against Kent County’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Third, in my mind I thought to myself, why would you not have the nerve to engage in civil disobedience. This person is a white male, with some class privilege, so why not be willing to risk arrest in order to draw attention to the fact that ICE is currently terrorizing immigrant families in Kent County? The risk to white men with class privilege, is not much of a risk to engage in civil disobedience. Those of us arrested only spent 6 hours in the Kent County Jail, since we had people bond us out, who also waited for us with refreshments and rides. It was more of an inconvenience, but not much of a risk, especially since it was only a misdemeanor charge.

For me, someone running for office would gain all kinds of credibility by joining in the struggle for immigrant justice and be willing to get arrested in order to resist the state repression being carried out by ICE in Kent County.

Civil disobedience has a long history, with millions participating in such as of resistance, whether it is for immigrant justice, anti-war resistance, worker justice, gender justice or engaging in actions against institutional racism and white supremacy. In fact, every major social movement in US history has used civil disobedience and civil resistance as a tactic to achieve their strategic goals. Using civil disobedience and civil resistance was integral in the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the suffrage movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Disability Justice movement, the farmworker movement, the environmental justice movement and many other social movements in the past of the present. More importantly, I would argue that civil resistance and civil disobedience as a strategy has been historically more effective than voting in terms of gaining the demands that these movement sought to win. This is essentially the theme of Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States and it is a theme in numerous other books on US history, such as Frances Fox Piven’s and Richard Cloward’s book, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail.

Remember that this candidate expressed that they were not willing to participate in civil resistance, and yet they wanted my support. The candidate went on to say, but I need folks like you to ‘like’ my campaign page. To this request, I simply ask, why? Why does this candidate need me to like their Facebook page? How will that further the cause of justice for immigrants and why are they unwilling to reciprocate any support for the cause to which I chose to get arrested for?

Political Endorsements are Backward

It is standard practice for people who run for office to seek endorsements from individuals and organizations that operate outside of the 501c3 world. Virtually everyone does it, from those running for local office all the way up to those seeking a seat in the federal government. But let me suggest that the notion of political endorsement is backward.

What if individuals and organizations got candidates to endorse their political vision? In fact, as a strategy, it would be even more effective, if groups of people and autonomous groups would come together to create a platform that candidates would endorse. Imagine of individuals and organizations would say, we will not vote for you unless you embrace this vision:

  • Single Payer Health Care
  • Free College Education for anyone
  • An end to US Imperialism and a significant reduction to the US military budget
  • An end to Corporate Welfare
  • A Living Wage – $20 an hour as the new minimum wage
  • Abolish ICE and the Prison Industrial Complex
  • A 90% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050
  • An End to Institutionalized Racism and White Supremacy
  • Food Justice
  • Permanent Protect for all Immigrants
  • Safe, Affordable Housing for All

This list could be longer, but the point here is, when are we going to start creating a platform and a vision for what we want instead of just continuing to give our vote away to candidates who have rather vague commitments to progressive politics? If they want our votes, then the should have to earn them by standing for what it is that we collectively want to see happen in the world. Of course, maybe a system of representative democracy is not really suited to bring about the kind of radical, transformative politics we need.

Let us all develop the nerve to engage in civil resistance, since the future depends on our collective ability to take risks.

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