Denial of Voting Rights Exposes Amerikan "Democracy"
In response to "Mid-Term Elections, Do we Need to Vote?" in ULK 64, I wholeheartedly agree that we should be talking about elections.(1) I believe anyone wanting to see society progress would desire their voice be heard in the electoral process.
Here are two issues we can fight for. Both issues bring an opportunity to work with others for the collective good of all.
1. Voting rights for prisoners. We are all part of society, whether living in Freeworld or Behind The Wall. As part of society, our voices deserve to be heard. The time has come for disenfranchisement of the incarcerated masses to end! Any organization or individual working toward improving inmates' lives and living conditions should be well-equipped to lobby for voting rights for prisoners.
2. Ballot access for third parties. Ballot access laws vary from state to state. For many states, it's a case of the foxes guarding the hen house. Both Democrats and Republicans have a vested interest in keeping very restrictive access laws in place. Regardless of political affiliation: Communist, Socialist, Libertarian, Constitutional, Green, or Independent, all have an interest in less restrictive ballot access laws.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Voting is considered a fundamental right in capitalist society. One that is required for democracy to function. The fact that this right can be taken away from 6.1 million people because of a felony conviction illustrates who is and is not included in Amerikan bourgeois democracy.
And it's not just that prisoners and those convicted of a felony can't vote. What about all the workers in this country who don't have citizenship? They contribute essential labor to the economy, and money in taxes, but will never be eligible to have a say in elections.
And further, it's true that ballot access laws are very restrictive. And these restrictions are in place to help keep the established power structure in place.
These are problems with Amerikan "democracy" that we should expose. They help underscore the truth that this is not a democracy at all; it is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This particular dictatorship happens to serve the majority of the people living within Amerikan borders. Amerikan citizens get some really valuable benefits from living in such a wealthy country. This includes being paid wages higher than the value of their labor. They are basically being bought off to keep the country peaceful so the bourgeoisie can continue to plunder the Third World.
So far, we're totally in line with the writer's position. But where we diverge is on the question of what to do about voting rights and access. Beyond exposing this situation to expose the hypocrisy of capitalism, should we also put our time and resources into the campaign to fight for these rights? This is where we argue that there is something fundamentally wrong with Amerikan "democracy" that can't be fixed by getting access to the ballot for more people. Even if those who gain access are primarily the oppressed within U.$. borders, this will not fix Amerikan "democracy."
Fighting for voting rights implies there is value in voting in imperialist elections. If all the disenfranchised former prisoners had voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, would that improve the conditions for the oppressed in the world? How about if Bernie Sanders wasn't suppressed by the Democrats and all former prisoners voted for em? Sanders, who supports U.$. military intervention and protectionist economic policies, including closed borders, was excluded by the Democrats. Perhaps expanding beyond a two-party system would have allowed Sanders to compete in the election. But we still have only imperialist candidates. And no anti-imperialist candidate can be elected as president of the dominant imperialist power in the world. We can't take down imperialism through the ballot, we can only do that through armed struggle.
With that said, there can be value to fighting electoral battles on a local scale. In these cases it's possible to win some victories that will set up better conditions for revolutionary organizing. For instance Chokwe Lumumba was elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississipi.(2) Lumumba was Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika. This is a situation where the oppressed have an opportunity to build independent power and used local elections to further this work. Under suspicious circumstances, Lumumba died eight months after taking office.(2)
Single-issue organizers who don't see the opportunity available to us in building toward revolution should definitely focus on the two campaigns this author suggests. People who are building dual power, like in Jackson, and have electoral politics as a specific piece of their overall strategy, should go for it if that's what they determine is the way to move forward in their conditions at this time. And bringing in people who support electoral politics generally to support a campaign for a specific candidate like Lumumba is an agreeable tactic.
As revolutionaries, we know better than to expect liberation from elections, and we need to be clear about that. The recent mayoral election in Oakland, California holds an example of playing up both sides of this contradiction. When Cat Brooks, an admired New Afrikan nationalist and radio persynality, ran for Mayor of Oakland in 2018, ey was clear that ey was running for the position because that's what the community ey organizes with asked of em. When introducing eir campaign over the radio waves, ey was clear that eir campaign was about issues, organizing, and mobilization — not a government office. And ey rallied support among many sectors of society, not just the revolutionaries and anti-capitalists. In the context of a campaign like this, revolutionaries can use elections to build the movement. We always need to be clear with people that we won’t be winning, as a movement, through the ballot box. We hold up these two examples (Jackson and Oakland) as models of how to incorporate electoral politics into revolutionary organizing in a way that pushes our struggle forward rather than subsuming the revolution into Amerikan "democracy."