Political activism cannot cease once we go to the polls

Showing up to the polls is not the only way to make tangible change. In fact, it's not actually the best way.

· Nov 6, 2018 Tweet

Riley Steinbrenner/The Badger Herald

Madison, my sweet blue bedrock, let’s talk about voting.

Let us speak with the severity this historic moment deserves. Voting for the least-bad option and then hanging up our shoes for the next two years has done absolutely nothing to stop the crises that threaten our society — and in some cases, it has actively made things worse.

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For example, in 2008, Barack Obama was elected with a supermajority and a massive progressive mandate. The achievements from that period include paper-thin financial regulations that have since been further weakened, a conservative healthcare plan that has since been almost entirely defanged and not much else. “Oh but the Republican filibusters,” weep the liberal pundits, “and the conservative Democrats!” Guess what — that’s showbiz, baby. The Republicans have achieved a number of their policy goals with absolutely no mandate and almost no public support. Apologies for liberal incompetence are just that — excuses for powerful people who failed.

More broadly, the Democrats are on life support as effective political entities, and they have been for some time. They exist almost exclusively to be applauded by the gormless people who will not be hurt by their failures and are driven by the vague warmth they feel when they see someone on CNN who is trying their best.

The last time they got anything done that lasted was during former President Bill Clinton’s administration, when they hopped aboard the neoliberalism train and just followed the prescriptions of America’s business elites to the letter — deregulate Wall Street and consequently help drive us into a financial meltdown, as it turned out. For decades, they have sold the most marginalized people in American society, and sometimes everyone else too, down the river. And every election cycle, they stick their hands out and say, “Please, can I just have one measly vote? The Republicans are oh-so terrible — I promise I’ll only cut public education spending a tiny bit.”

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The only reason that strategy works is because we, the “voters,” have no conception of political change outside of voting. It is drilled into us from a very young age that if one has a problem, they should vote to fix it. If one really cares about it, they should become a politician. The importance of non-electoral action is always minimized. When we do talk about it, it’s usually regarding protests. Now, protests are good, but they are limited and only represent a tiny fraction of the possibilities for non-electoral political action.

In many ways, what we do between elections can have exponentially more impact than what we do at the polling station. It’s a fairly simple process, generally speaking. It starts with an honest understanding of the problems in one’s community, state, or country. Are people going without food? Are people working two or three jobs just to make ends meet? Are people being hassled by the cops? Who is being exploited or oppressed?

Next — and this is crucial — identify who is responsible for these problems and who can fix them. Sometimes this is elected officials; more often it’s unelected CEOs, bosses, landlords and their ilk. Finally, we need to organize. That doesn’t mean drafting a polite, if-you-have-time petition. If your demands are actually significant, that lovely petition will get a professional reply from a secretary and then get thrown straight in the shredder.

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We need to organize in a way that demonstrates power and forces the opponent to concede. That can look like a million things: strikes, walkouts, slow-downs, sit-downs, sick-outs, solidarity strikes, rent strikes, blockades, picket lines, building occupations, etc., etc. The only limits are creativity and our ability to unite the oppressed. It is in these expressions of power we can break through the malaise of electoral politics and move for ourselves and for our communities. And the best part is, the gains we may win aren’t given like charity from some distant politician. They were won with a fight, and they won’t be able to be taken away without a fight.

The bitter truth is the Democrats show absolutely no sign of waking up. They have no idea how they got here and less of an idea where they might go. Yet they’re the only game in town, and that’s proof enough we aren’t going to vote our way out of this. Feeding the Democratic machine unconditional electoral support is like treating a weekday hangover with Nyquil. Like the beleaguered drunk in this analogy, the Democrats don’t need Nyquil — they need a couple shots of espresso — and maybe a slap in the face. They need to be challenged by power outside of themselves.

So on Nov. 6, go vote. Wear that free sticker with pride. Nov. 7 is when the real work starts again.

Sam Palmer ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in biology.


This article was published Nov 6, 2018 at 9:13 am and last updated Nov 5, 2018 at 6:13 pm


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