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Newsletter: Movements And Elections

In the last newsletter, we ended with a few questions about the relationship between movements and electoral politics. We appreciate those who shared their thoughts on this topic. It is important that we make decisions about where to put our resources as we move into the next campaign season.

1fccoccupyMovement and electoral politics

Popular Resistance was created to help build a broad-based movement that is informed and acts strategically to challenge the status quo. There are so many crises today and we have been focused on trying to stop those crises from worsening (“stop the machine”) while using the fights and partial victories to build capacity for the movement.

We have avoided putting emphasis on elections in part because it is important not to get caught up in the electoral cycle which has been nothing more than a periodic horse race between corporate candidates chosen through a rigged system. Instead, we hoped that more people would step out of the electoral cycle and take a longer-term view of the work that must be done to build a movement with real power.

This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t vote or support candidates who run outside the Democratic and Republic (corporate duopoly) parties. We believe that both of those actions are important. It means that we must face the reality that voting is a very minor part of civic engagement and that the system is rigged against candidates who challenge the duopoly.

At the same time, there is a need to create a system of governance that replaces the plutocracy currently in power. Movements cannot act in isolation and politicians, no matter how populist they are, will not represent the movement unless they are accountable to it. So, what is the proper relationship between movements and electoral politics and how do we create it?

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.54.19 PMExperiences in other countries

There have been some interesting developments in other countries that are instructive to our work.

In the recent elections in Spain, many of the winners in the regional and municipal elections came from activist movements and were not members of the dominant parties. This is similar to Kshama Sawant who won a seat on the Seattle City Council as a Socialist. It will be interesting to see if this independent mood in Spain continues during the national elections in November.

This film, “The Recipe for a Municipal Movement,” features some of the people involved in the intentional work in Spain to elect citizen activists to political office. But the question of how to ensure that elected officials are responsible to their constituents still remains. Some in Spain believe that elected members of the Podemus Party are not living up to their promises.

Accountability could be enhanced by continuing to have an active movement that protests in the streets. Some members of the Indignados feel that this is lacking and so they are organizing Apoyo Mutuo as a framework to continue to build an active movement. They view the movement as necessary to act in parallel to electoral work.

In Canada, it looks like the movement is forcing changes in the makeup of those who are elected and their positions on various issues. David Suzuki writes that in Alberta, the New Democratic Party (a third party that played a large role in bringing universal healthcare) received a large majority and Prince Edward Island elected its first Green Party candidate. In British Columbia, the elected government is responding to the people’s demands by shutting coal-fired power plants.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 10.23.05 AMIn Guatemala, the people have been holding mass protests since April that have already forced the Vice President to resign. Now the demonstrators are calling for other corrupt politicians to resign. It remains to be seen how this will impact the upcoming election and whether the broad based movement will run its own candidates.

Possibilities in the US

Electoral politics in the US are much more difficult to change than in other countries because our system is controlled by wealth. This report from Open Secrets shows that the top 1% of the wealthiest 1% is donating the most and that this trend is worsening. We have two dominant parties that are backed by and represent Wall Street which work together to exclude non-Wall Street candidates.

There is a cycle of ‘lesser-evil’ voting in the US which is well established.  Howie Hawkins explains why the Sanders’ campaign, which has excited some on the Left, will fail to bring needed change. In part, Hawkins cites Bruce Dixon’s article that compares Sanders to a sheep dog that herds progressives who might go astray back into the party. We urged Sanders to run as an Independent.

David Harvey writes that wealth disparity and gentrification are spurring people in cities all around the world to look for new forms of governance that respect the interests and needs of the people. Harvey looks to Murray Bookchin’s work at the Institute of Social Ecology as a model. Bookchin proposes a system of popular assemblies that relate to each other through a federation. This system could begin at the municipal level and work its way up.

This is a brief overview of the movement and electoral politics relationship. We look forward to continuing the conversation and hope you will share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

Protesters blockade FERC with 50-foot banner/Photo by John Zangas
Protesters blockade FERC with 50-foot banner/Photo by John Zangas

Other news

FERCcupy: This has been an extremely busy week for us as we participated in another May occupation of a federal agency. This time it was the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which rubberstamps permits for oil and gas infrastructure projects without regard for the health or safety of the surrounding population or the impacts on the climate crisis.

There were nine days of action targeting the FERC which included blockades, an interfaith ceremony, marches and sleeping on the sidewalk outside the FERC. This time, employees thanked us for being there. We questioned further investment in fossil fuel infrastructure when our nation should be moving to clean and sustainable sources of energy. We ended the week with a “We’ll be back chant” and headed down to Southern Maryland to march in solidarity with the community of Cove Point which is fighting Dominion’s dangerous gas refinery and export terminal.

During the FERCcupy we visited Spectra’s DC office. Activists trying to stop Spectra’s pipeline expansion in Massachusetts are calling for people to join them or organize solidarity actions targeting Spectra during the week of June 6 to 12.

Patriot Act: The Patriot Act expired tonight after attempts to renew it failed in the Senate. WashingtonsBlog writes that unfortunately this will not end mass surveillance because the NSA uses secret interpretations of other authorizations to spy on us. The so-called USA Freedom Act that passed in the House will probably come for a vote in the Senate this week. But this will also fail to stop surveillance. Glenn Greenwald interviewed Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU about the Patriot and Freedom Acts.

Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty ImagesFast track: Members of the House return to Washington this week. They will be under tremendous pressure to bring fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which already passed in the Senate, to a vote. President Obama is pressuring the Congressional Black Caucus to support fast track. Human rights defender Ajamu Baraka explains why the CBC and all people of color should oppose fast track. We are participating in a National Call-in Day on Wednesday, June 3 and we urge you to do the same. We will also restart the weekly National Fast Track Resistance calls. Click here for more information.

LUV News: This week we welcomed LUV News members to Popular Resistance. Our long-time ally Jack Balkwill and co-editor Jodda Mitchell will continue to share their wisdom with us by sending content to Popular Resistance. We are happy that LUV News will live on. Jack and Jodda have provided a critical alternative to commercial media spin for nearly twenty years.

We close with words of wisdom from Chris Hedges: “There is nothing inevitable about human existence except birth and death. There are no forces, whether divine or technical, that will guarantee us a better future.” It is up to us to face reality and take on the hard work of building a better future. The solutions exist but we must recognize them and act with urgency.


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