Friday, May 03, 2019


Erik Loomis is right:
Liberals often have a very shallow understanding of how political change works. They think it is only about voting. We see this all the time on the liberal internet and in conversations with other liberals. All that matters is registering people to vote, running for office, and paying attention to electoral politics. For them, that’s how change is made. Protest is a waste of time, a distraction of hippies getting in the way of real change.

Now, there’s no question that electoral politics are in fact critical to the creation of social and political change. But they are no more important than organizing outside of electoral politics. Social movements and protest are just as important and the entirety of American history demonstrates this. You need an inside-outside game....

A laser-like focus on electoral politics actually erases and denigrates a lot of critical political work that gets done. Moreover, you have no push for victory in the electoral world without social movements in the streets laying the groundwork.
Loomis cites the civil rights movement, historically and in its ongoing manifestations, but the example I like to cite is the LGBT movement, because, unlike most groups fighting for their rights, the LGBT community is unambiguously in a better position now than it was in, say, 1980. That was the year Ronald Reagan was elected and the right-wing counterrevolution really got underway, and it was also the time when AIDS first emerged. Under those circumstances, the success of the movement was far from inevitable. Right-wingers wanted to quarantine HIV-positive people; William F. Buckley wanted them tattooed. Gay people were seen as corrupters of the young and spreaders of contagion, both physical and moral. But they fought back, with little or no support from elected officials of either party. They fought in courts, they fought in the streets, they fought in the media. And they won a lot of battles.

Also consider the fight for a $15 minimum wage -- that started far outside electoral politics. Or look at the recent teacher strikes. Black Lives Matter, the gun safety movement, and climate change activism have raised the consciousness of an entire generation, as well as some of us old people.

Loomis, if anything, understates the way some liberals trust electoral politics to solve everything. There seems to be a widespread belief on the left that one election cycle, or even one elected official, can turn everything around, whether it's Barack Obama in 2008 or the new Democratic House members in 2018. (I'm seeing it again among some supporters of presidential candidates ranging from Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden.) Many liberals don't seem to grasp how many elections need to be won before real change is possible through legislation -- and, beyond that, they don't recognize the need to get angry in between elections. What if we'd taken to the streets when Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court was held up for a year? What if we were marching against Trump now the way we were in 2017?

A lot of change happens because of what ordinary people do when it's not election season. We can't just expect our favorite presidential candidate or Democratic majority in a legislative chamber to make everything better.

No comments: