Friday, June 1, 2007

Be daring: go independent

I've been arguing for taking an independent (i.e., no affiliation with any political party) route for a long time. It's heartening to read that indeed voters are showing signs of ditching the Dems and the GOP. The latter is being abandoned in droves; the former, not so much yet. As I said a couple years ago when contemplating this decade's political landscape:
The question that I can never leave far behind is this: "is less bad good enough?" When lives and quality of life are at stake, the answer is no. As of late I have given the words of the late Malcom X a fresh read, and I have a couple observations. One is that in many respects, when we're talking about civil rights and human rights in America things really haven't changed much since Malcom's day. The images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina of the dire poverty that has consigned so many of our fellow Americans to a lifetime of marginal existence (what the Marxists would call the lumpenproletariat) and neglect by the very government that is supposed to serve them, will haunt me for as long as I can still draw a breath. Those images should haunt all of us. The specter of racism and classism continues to plague our political and social landscape, just as it has all of my life. The second observation: politicians from one party or another haved talked a good game when it comes to promoting progressive ideas and policies - but with few exceptions they don't walk the talk. That was a problem that Malcom confronted with the issues that were salient to him, and is a problem that we on the left continue to confront. The Dems have assumed for so long that they have the leftists, the women, the ethnic minorities in their back pockets because presumably we have "nowhere else to go." The result is, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, a not-so-benign neglect of our issues and values from the powers that be. And as long as we keep registering Democrat and periodically show up to vote when expected, nothing changes, except maybe for the worse. We have a party where its members say the right things more often than not, but then by and large approve laws like The Patriot Act, the bankruptcy bill that will end up burying working families who've encountered exhorbitant medical expenses; they've been silent when the White House nominated an architect of the current pro-torture policy to the office of AG; when it comes to the illegal war being fought against the Iraqis, many of the Dems want to send more troops and kill of even more people; they've been largely silent on the issue of voting irregularities both in Ohio and Florida; and we know that privacy rights are also no longer sacred in Dem circles.

What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP. That's the general idea behind American Solidarity: organize physically, financially, intellectually. Many of us come from varying backgrounds and have varying pet causes, but let's face it - those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, those of us who value liberty, who value equality, who value justice, who value privacy have a hell of a lot in common. Technological advances in the last decade or so make it easier for us to coordinate and to exchange ideas and information than ever before. It's way past time to start using those tools to our advantage. Blogs are one of our tools, playing the same role that zines played in the 1980s and pamphlets such as Paine's played during the Revolution some 230 years ago. Blogging is only part of that picture. Cernig fills in some of the details elsewhere. Clearly, unions, thinktanks, civil liberties organizations are going to be salient as well.

Being unaffiliated with the major political parties is also crucial for an American Solidarity movement. The GOP can be written off as a lost cause. The Dems, I'm also skeptical of, but will note this much: if they think we're registered as Dems, they can assume that we'll continue to accept the status quo. Malcom was onto something back in 1964 and 1965 when he advocated refusing to back any candidate until it was clear that they were willing to walk their talk. If they turn out to be kosher, then by all means support them, but only to the extent that they are representing us. If they stop representing us, we should be willing to walk away from them. If they know that their constituents mean business, they'll be more careful to represent us in whatever legislative body they hold office. There's strength in numbers, especially when those numbers are independent.

Underlying all of this is the assumption that you're registered and that you vote. If you are making less than 35k a year, and/or if you're an ethnic minority, and/or you're a relatively young voter (say 18-25 years of age) you are under-represented when it comes to actual voters come election day. You need to register (ideally independent) and you need to educate yourself on the candidates and issues, and you need to vote - and not only those major elections, but also on the local elections. The percentage of eligible voters who actually do vote is pathetic when compared to other relatively democratic industrialized nations. Understandably, a lot of that is due to the pathetic array of choices we get offered by the major parties; we as citizens too bear some responsibility with regard to voter turnout and need to take that responsibility personally. Becoming an informed voter is going to require some effort, but hardly an insurmountable effort. Newspapers across the globe are available over the internet (I'm a big fan of The Guardian and The Independent - both from the UK, but there are certainly others worth visiting). There are a number of well-informed bloggers that you should make an effort to check out on a regular basis. Keep up with the local newspapers and bloggers. If you don't have a computer at home, go to your nearest library to access these resources. If you have access to these resources, take some responsibility for educating your friends and neighbors.
Words to live by still - now more than ever.

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