Skip to content

How about we work on collective liberation: On why we should not be seduced by electoral politics

November 7, 2018

Ok, so it’s two days after the election and lots of people are feeling good about the outcome. This euphoria is understandable, especially since the Trump administration took over the White House and began making the already white supremacist political culture in the US an even greater nightmare for communities of color.

I get why people turned out in large numbers on Tuesday and voted to reject the reactionary far right agenda. I also get that people voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. However, let us be clear that the vote yesterday was primarily about doing what some refer to has a form of “harm reduction.” Personally, I think the term is problematic, but I get that people want to believe that their participation in voting might be a way to slow down the harm that is being done to so many in the current systems of oppression – capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, settler colonialism, etc. That being said, it doesn’t STOP THE HARM BEING DONE. Harm is still being done and we all know which communities of people who were experiencing the greatest amount of harm are and who will continue to experience harm tomorrow – black Americans and other communities of color, immigrants, the disability community, the LGBTQ community (especially trans and queer people of color) and people who are experiencing the brutality of poverty.

Voting as a form of harm reduction should also tells us that the system of voting is not really designed to challenge systems of power and oppression, rather it just trying to keep it from totally destroying us. Sheldon Wolin, in his important book Democracy Inc: Managed Democracy and the Spector of Inverted Totalitarianism, makes it clear that the form of representative democracy that exists in the US is a form of managed democracy (sort of like managerial racism). Those who have the real power, will only tolerate small changes from civil society. Wolin also points out that those in power have only become more entrenched in recent decades, with even more influence over the electoral system in the US. This is exactly why a great deal of people in the US do not participate in the process. In 1956, the great African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States and that no two evils exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.”

I add this comment from Du Bois not to say that people shouldn’t vote, rather to make the point that voting is but one tactic to use to work towards collective liberation. However, voting within the current system that is used in the US will never bring about collective liberation, which is why those in power allow it to continue. For instance, think about the three state ballots proposals that passed in Michigan. While they all generated a fair amount of positive attention in liberal/progressive circles, Props 2 & 3 are merely tweaks to the existing electoral system and in fact just provides more legitimacy to the system of managerial democracy. Proposal 1, which will legalize the sale of marijuana in Michigan, will be a very small step in reducing the harm done by the War on Drugs, especially against communities of color. However, as legal and anti-racist scholar Michelle Alexander points out, “Here are White Men poised to run big Marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big. Big money, big business and selling weed, after 40 years of locking up impoverished black kids for selling weed. Their families and futures destroyed. Now White men are planning on getting rich doing precisely the same thing.” The poor black and brown people who are in for drug possession will not likely be pardoned, nor will they be reimbursed for loss of wages, jobs, housing, etc. Also, within the system of capitalism, who do you think will be the primary beneficiaries of marijuana sales?

However, the most important point I want to make here is that while voting can be a tactic for harm reduction, it does not get us to collective liberation. If we want collective liberation and especially the liberation of black, brown and indigenous people, those who identify as trans and queer, immigrants, those experiencing poverty and those suffering the brunt of US imperialism, then we need to ask ourselves…….how do we make this kind of collective liberation possible?

Think about it. Today, and yes, even after the newly elected people take office, what will we have in the US?

  • We still have land that was stolen by a system of settler colonialism from hundreds of Native nations.
  • We still have a country where most of the taxes are used for the Military Industrial Complex to expand US imperialism, with the US being the largest weapons trafficker in the world.
  • We still have a country where black people are murdered by cops at an alarming rate, with disproportionately high levels of poverty and millions of black people in the Prison Industrial Complex.
  • We still don’t have anything remotely close to Climate Justice. In fact, we still have a capitalist system which doesn’t give a shit about the ongoing ecological destruction that is taking place on a global scale.
  • We still have the system of patriarchy in place, where women are sexually assaulted at astronomical rates and a rape culture that permeates virtually every aspect of this society.
  • We still have a heterosexist system that rewards cisgendered people and punishes trans, queer and gender non-conforming people.
  • We still have a system of capitalism, which brutalizes workers and redirects more public money into the private sector.
  • We still have a system where undocumented immigrants are criminalized and being rounded up by ICE every day to be sent to detention facilities, often leading to deportation.
  • We still have a health care system that is driven by private corporations, which have no regard for the well being of most people.

I could go on about the kind of system we have, but the point here would be that this system has been around since the US was founded, regardless of who sits in the White House or who controls Congress.

I know there are plenty of people who think that voting for Democrats is enough to change the system, but voting for Democrats will not end or even challenge the the systems of oppression listed above. For example, in the first few years of the Clinton Administration and the first few years of the Obama administration, when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress, the structural and systemic oppression of people and the planet continued. Democrats controlling the White House and Congress did not result in a major systemic changes or dismantling of systems of oppression. This is not to say that the Bush II administration and the current Trump administration has pushed legislative politics further to the right, to expand the control of systems of power and oppression, but the point here is that Democrats in power do not push legislative politics in ways that challenge systems of power and oppression, social movements do.

Of course, what I am saying is that while voting may have been a form of harm reduction, it will not get us to collective liberation. If we want to work for collective liberation then we will need to be involved in mass movements. Mass movements not only have the power to challenge the systems of power and oppression that run the country, they have the power to create safe spaces, to center the lives and voices of the most vulnerable, movements can allow us to engage in radical imagination and provide opportunities to create new, independent and autonomous ways of organizing.

What I want to encourage people to do is to vote for and to chose to be part of social movements that are fighting for justice and collective liberation. If it isn’t clear to people what those movements look like, I would suggest the following:

  • Black Lives Matter and other black-led movements for liberation that are challenging the system of White Supremacy.
  • Indigenous movements, like we saw at Standing Rock that are now being replicated all over Turtle Island, movements which are challenging the system of Settler Colonialism.
  • Movimiento Cosecha, Mijente and other immigrant led and immigrant justice movements
  • Queer and Trans liberation movements, like Pink and Black or the Silvia Rivera Law Project.
  • Disability Justice movements, especially those that operate outside of the non-profit system.
  • Food Justice movements, especially those that renounce food charity and corporate agribusiness, like Via Campesina.
  • Climate Justice movements, especially those that do not believe that capitalism and sustainability are compatible, like Idol No More.
  • Tenant Rights and housing justice movements that are led by those experiencing gentrification and skyrocketing housing costs, like the Right to the City movement.
  • Anti-imperialist movements like the Zapatistas, the Palestinian BDS movement and other insurgent movements fighting against US imperialism.

Educate yourself. Be part of movement building work. Fight to dismantle systems of oppression. Work towards Collective Liberation. Vote for social movements, with your energy, your ideas, your creativity, your passion, your imagination and your resources. Don’t be seduced by the limitations of electoral politics and embrace the power of collective liberation.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: