Organize according to your ability

I know there’s much debate on the left about the value of engaging in electoral politics. All year I argued we should variously specialize. Before the November election, my contention was that electoral and non-electoral organizing both have value, and that some of us are good at one versus the other.

Immediately in the days after the November 2016 election results, my initial reaction was to wonder if there was even any point to me or anyone continuing to think about future elections. That initial reaction was based on a consideration of the sheer amount of defensive non-electoral work that will be required to protect people.

However, it remains true both that some of us are better at non-electoral versus electoral politics (and vice versa) and that we cannot afford (as well) to assume that was the “last” election or that in crisis we can all put all future elections out of mind. If we get to the next election and didn’t do anything to try to clamber out of this hole … well, defensive triage isn’t a permanent fix.

The vast majority of time, energy, and effort should be put into non-electoral organizing for defensive triage to protect people. But those of us whose core competency is more in the electoral realm should be furiously preparing electoral brakes on this freefall.

While we need a national shift on messaging, platform, etc, we need state and local candidates in 2017 and 2018 who can shield people against abusive Feds.

Consider, too: Conservatives have hijacked and perfected a system of state-level obstruction, rights violations, and disturbing ballot referenda. Counter-consider: All of these tools are available to advance the social and democratic rights – or protect them against Federal Trump. Liberals have been very hesitant to use the tools original Progressive Movement set up in most states because Conservatives abuse them. At this point, that ship has sailed. Within the electoral politics realm, if you are not using every tool you can to shield people, quit.

On the electoral politics side, we should be using every single legislative race and every referendum to force head-on ideological debates. Conservatives use local races and ballot campaigns to question people’s humanity and promote new incendiary “values” to the public. The electoral left should similarly be actively using local races and ballot campaigns to sell voters on our (non-abusive) positions.

So, the debate on electoral versus non-electoral politics is a false choice. We need to fire on all cylinders, “From each according to his ability” and so on. As a side note on resources: 2016 was the year of the establishments lighting tons of money on fire and losing to smarter cheap oppositions.

Some of us are good at non-electoral work. Others of us are probably better at amplifying it and – hopefully – backing it up in government. Be careful of potential co-opters of this energy. But if you or someone you know from the grassroots wants to run, make it happen. I wouldn’t presume to know how to teach/train people on most non-electoral organizing, but I can help you on how to be a candidate.

Every single election, no matter how small, can be made into an affirmative campaign for a value non-electoral organizers are working on. If you’re not working on defensive triage right now, as discussed above, you can be building networks daily to win races that affect people.

Adapted from a series of tweets I posted in mid-November 2016.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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