4- When the political charade comes along: Social Injustice, Antiwar Activism, and Political Democracy

by JM

An opportunity presented by the political campaigns now in progress is that they bring social issues to the forefront of people’s minds. The challenge for political radicals is how to mobilize this energy to help advance solutions that go beyond those offered by the system. Social movement activity, union and community organizing, direct action, and consciousness raising are avenues to harness the interest generated during the campaign period. These activities help in dealing with faux short-term issues that are raised by campaigns to sway support in a candidate’s direction while long term issues such as environmental and social justice are ignored or only given lip service. Saul Alinsky, author of “Rules for Radicals” wrote that community organizers should function as outsiders pressuring officials and not get entangled in electoral alliances.

Socioeconomic redistribution plays a major part in social injustice issues here in the US. Creating unions and participating in union activities can play a huge role in moving public focus from the political campaign cycle to more concrete ways to achieve a more equitable society.

One of the ways to create participatory democracy is to broaden ownership so that workers can be more active in the decision making where they work. Without economic democracy, there is no real political democracy. Political authority ought to come from workplace democracy rather than from the political campaign cycle. Social movements can be help push the current economic system in new directions. While cultural and racial injustices are often linked to economic inequality, some injustices cannot be remedied by redistribution and economic democracy alone. For instance, social service policies stigmatize single mothers as being sexually irresponsible and police use ‘racial profiling’ that associates a non-white person with criminality. 

The United States is ranked #36 by Democracy Matrix, yet often propaganda put out by the US to justify military interventions in other countries’ claim that the US acts to preserve or obtain democracy. Political campaigns often serve as vehicles to create the illusion that we have some sort of real say about what happens in this country, so taking part in these cycles can help to legitimize the current system. 

This is not to deny that there are times and issues where it may be valid to express oneself in a political campaign setting. When the Black Panthers were still a revolutionary social movement, they chose to get involved in Ron Dellums’s California campaign for Congress and other local elections. There are also times when the electoral process itself can help develop social movements such as when Seattle approved a $15 per hour ballot initiative and this helped to create a living wage movement.

The “Great Resignation” during Covid when 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in March 2022 sent a clear message to employers about workers’ low pay and lack of opportunity and respect at work. In a somewhat similar approach, people showing their dissatisfaction with the present political campaign cycle by voting for “not committed” or no preference during the primaries have sent a wake-up call to the powers that be to demand a cease fire in Gaza. While alienation from the electoral process can produce worthwhile political results, the ongoing mobilization of voter expressions can coalesce to form a broader community vision that uses direct action, union organizing, and other tactics to imagine a positive future.