Elections: What’s Our Plan?

As the November 2018 elections approach, many of us on the left struggle with how to relate to the electoral process.  We know that the changes we seek and need in the world will come from communities of people – in particular poor people and Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other people of color, along with women, LGBTQ people, and people in the global south – gaining power through grassroots organizing.  But we can’t ignore the reality that extreme right wing, fascist forces are using the electoral system to their great benefit, with real, concrete, and life threatening impacts on the poorest and most marginalized people in this country and in the world.

For years, many of us who dream of a just and liberated world have turned away from voting and the entire electoral process, or we have held our noses and voted at election time but not engaged further. But disengaging from the electoral process is a losing strategy.

The rise of trumpism has led to the intentional dismantling of programs that provided crucial protections and support to communities, the roll backs of policies that people spent years organizing and fighting for, and to increased war against communities of color at home and abroad.  The game is rigged in their favor, and they have the ball and are running with it. So what’s our play?

*scroll down for specific steps to build power using the electoral system*

We need a multi-layered approach. Voting is a tool we can use to slow them down, to throw spikes under the tires of their earth eating machines, to put sugar in the gas tank of their insatiable capitalism, to gum up the works, to grease the doorknobs of their board rooms, to grab some breathing room for the work of liberation. When progressives are in power, our grassroots movements have much better chances of winning more radical demands that shift power to our communities and away from capitalists and the state. Beyond simply voting, electoral work is also an important element of the left ecosystem, one of many tools we have to build grassroots community power, and one that people who don’t have access to voting can also participate in. When we participate in electoral work, we can push candidates and campaigns to the left, center conversations about race, power, and capitalism, and create a more fertile ground for grassroots movements to make real gains. Our ideas of electoral work include policy campaigns, voter education and mobilization for specific campaigns as well as working against racist voter suppression and disenfranchisement, and more.

This is not a time for binary thinking, that either you are all in on elections and think that’s the path to liberation, or you reject them entirely.  Nor is this a time for purity politics, where the purity of our stance on voting is fetishized at the expense of making actual change.

The struggle for collective liberation calls upon all of us to be strategic, to think creatively and with complexity, and to figure out what will move our movements forward.

We are up against an administration that is wreaking havoc on the world. In this November’s election there are opportunities to slow the roll of the fascist tide. We can’t afford to reject any effective tools in our toolbox.   Some ways to engage:

  1. Supporting political campaigns of candidates that share your values or are running against extreme right wing forces by donating money and/or volunteering your time.  The successes of candidates like Andrew GillumStacy Abrams, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez  are a result of powerful grassroots organizing, and when we work on winning campaigns it creates ways to hold them accountable to the communities that elected them.
  2. Joining the struggles against racist voter discrimination, which can include fighting for the restoration of voting rights for former and current prisoners, overturning racist gerrymandering, and fighting against racist voter roll purges and Voter ID laws.
    • The New Florida Majority’s work on these issues has potential to change the entire outcome of local and national elections.

  3. Bird-dogging candidates on your issues and otherwise pressuring candidates to take a stand on the issues.

  4. Get involved in electoral proposition or issue fights, like the fight to repeal Costa-Hawkins, a California law that severely limits cities’ ability to protect renters through rent control, or the ballot initiative in Utah to expand Medicare coverage.

  5. Donating to or volunteering with grassroots community organizations that work on building progressive electoral power in marginalized communities where you live or in other key races.  Check out the Movement Voter Project for ideas.

No, OUR dreams won’t fit in their ballot boxes, but the dreams of the fascists, apparently, do. Will we let them continue to build unchecked, or will we take every opportunity to shut them down, from confronting them when they rally in our towns, to organizing our neighbors, to beating them in every single election that we can?

With visions of justice,

Rahula Janowski
and Catalyst Project