Mar 31, 2009

Embracing a Radical New Future

I got a message from someone when I made a snide remark about lawyers that got me thinking: I was just suggesting that lawyers make lousy organizers, a premise that is not very controversial to most organizers and many community lawyers. The response did not take issue with this so much as it recast 2008 electoral canvassing and partisanship as some amazing feat.

I wanted to discuss my general lack of faith in the traditional American electoral system as a true mechanism for transformative change. Perhaps that's because I've been wondering if systematic exclusion from suffrage for such large segments of the population for so long turned it into one of the main "prizes" for a rights movement, whether or not that's what the people most valued. At the end of the day, though the right to vote is important, would people choose that over the right to housing, education, or peace? While we speak of the history of struggle to gain the right to vote in this country, there are so many who still lose their right to vote because of incarceration, REAL ID, etc. Or don't have the vote at all, as non-citizens even if they fight in a war for this country or live here for a lifetime.

Maybe if we get away from republicanism (little r) and around to something more representative and truly democratic (proportional voting is one avenue) I will come around to see it as more than an opiate to keep the general population disengaged after an election is over. The whole marketing of presidential campaigns decides for the people what they should consider important. I find that to be incredibly problematic: just tonight I saw on MSNBC that Cheney said to some constituency that 'Obama was pro-Palestine' as a way to make him lose the election or at least confidence from influential segments of the powerful. This framing just proves that regardless of our small, mostly symbolic victories, by setting the parameters for debate before we even get in the ring. This is a different kind of game, people.

Trust me: it's not something I share with many people, and my status messages end up being in code half the time because I'll get people close to me blacklisted if I share what I'm really thinking about "American democracy". And civic engagement is so much more than just voting, can include so much more of our population, and doesn't have to conform to the old rules.


Anonymous said...

Word. I was at this panel commemorating the Black Panthers recently and someone said how "if voting was really that powerful, the State would have already gotten rid of it." Now I don't think that voting is a complete waste of time in the US, but I do feel what that brother was saying in that the way our current system is set up, we will only get marginal change through the ballot (and you and I have talked about this a lot, ie, the need for more political parties, proportional representation, instant run off voting, etc.).

I've been drawing a lot of inspiration from reading about how democracies are changing in Central and South America, hopefully becoming truly democratic (or at least a lot more democratic than ours). If you haven't already, you might want to check out this documentary called "Beyond Elections." I haven't seen it yet, but I heard it's good, and the whole thing is on youtube (split up into chapters) for free!



Rage said...

Thanks for posting up and yeah, we've been talking about this for a while, enit bruh? And I still have to come back to it.

I will def check out "Beyond Elections."