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Saturday, October 06, 2012

 
Movement politics and electoral politics are continually intertwined

by digby

A smart observation from Frances Fox Piven and Lorraine C Minnite:

The familiar question of whether we work on electoral politics or on movement politics is fraught with emotion and argument about whether movement or electoral politics is more effective for the left. We think it is the wrong question. Both are needed, and without both, neither is effective.

In historical fact, movement politics and electoral politics are continuously intertwined. The fundamental dynamic is triggered when politicians have to deal with voter blocs composed of the same people to whom movements direct their appeals. We can see this dynamic on both the right and the left. The Tea Party picked up steam when Republicans eager for re-election began to repeat its slogans. So did the labor movement of the 1930s gain momentum from Franklin Roosevelt’s rhetorical appeals to the “common man,” just as the civil rights movement was energized by Lyndon Johnson’s echo of the movement refrain “We shall overcome.” When politicians echo a movement’s demands, they signal a degree of vulnerability to its constituency, and the movement gains traction.

It’s also worth remembering that when politicians are dependent on electoral blocs that are also movement constituencies, they will often hesitate to use the full arsenal of the state’s repressive capacities against movement actions and may even make uncertain efforts to protect movements—as when Robert Kennedy, as attorney general, grudgingly tried to protect the Freedom Riders.

And a movement can have a division of labor on this while remaining allies with shared goals. This is why Howie, John and I support progressive candidates with Blue America and try to help them even when they are engaged in long shot races. You have to cross pollinate movement with electoral politics and electoral politics with the movement if you hope to have any effect. Changing the discourse, applying outside pressure, electing allies are all part of it.

But I always go back to what longtime activist and congressional candidate, Norman Solomon said:

Norman Solomon: We need to occupy - literally and figuratively - Congressional seats for the 99 percent. Social movements need a healthy ecology, which means a wide array of activities and manifestations of grassroots power. That includes progressives in Congress. I say on the campaign trail that we need our feet on the ground and our eyes on the stars of our ideals.

It's not good enough to have one or the other. State power matters - we've seen that from county and state offices to Washington, D.C. And, as somebody who has written literally thousands of articles, 12 books, gone to hundreds of demonstrations and probably organized hundreds of demonstrations, I believe we always have to be protesting; we always have to be in the streets. It's not either-or. I want our feet on the ground to include change for government policies. Laws matter. Whether or how they are enforced matters.

I think people sometimes confuse their own individual preferences, talents, strengths and interests with the totality of what an effective movement needs to do. In Latin America, we have seen the tremendous power of combining social movements that permeate the grassroots with the ballot box. Whatever their shortcomings, if you look at what's happened in Brazil in terms of hunger and in other countries in the southern cone and elsewhere that not more than a couple decades ago were ruled by vicious dictators, they have been implementing genuinely progressive policies. We have an opportunity here to get beyond dualistic thinking and start thinking of synergy rather than this counterposing of our options, which creates a false either-or scenario.

Right now there is a tremendous awakening in this country about income inequality. People are fed up with war, and so many people are seeing that the status quo is a prescription for more suffering. We have to see this time as not for being dogmatic about one tactic or another, but seeing that in the context of non-violent, small-d democratic action here. Another way to put it: it is a historic mistake for progressives to leave the electoral arena to corporate Democrats and Republicans.

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