In my previous blog post, I discussed the search for, and importance of, a Grand Unifying Theme for progressive political activism. As I mentioned, the idea is neither new nor original (I mentioned the same call more than five years ago), but it has gained wider currency and increased urgency. The call for a Grand Unifying Theme marks the conclusion of the excellent book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America by John Nichols and Robert McChesney. More specifically, they call for "the vote" to be the Grand Unifying Theme:
To our view, the focus must be on the act of voting that underpins any sincere democratic experiment. Not on the vote as it has been perverted, dumbed down, and diminished into a merely political act, but on the vote as Walt Whitman understood it when he wrote, "Thunder on! Stride on! Democracy. Strike with vengeful strokes!"
I understand the appeal this theme has: It's got a rich history to it, including a history of successes in its expansion from property-owning white men to every non-convicted
adult in America over the age of 18. It's got a wide-ranging appeal that few political issues have. What's more, the vote is still a terrain of struggle; it's fought-for still by many communities in the United States and elsewhere, including many communities of color.
However, in my personal experience among (admittedly mostly white, mostly privileged) activists, "the vote" is the subject of controversy, even derision in some cases -- presumably for the very reasons John and Bob outline: "it has been perverted, dumbed down, and diminished into a merely political act".
Read more below the fold.
As much as I adore John Nichols and Bob McChesney, and have long admired their work -- singly and together -- on politics, media, and democracy, I respectfully disagree with their proposal. I would not advocate placing "the vote" as the Grand Unifying Theme for a different reason: Even if we should restore the potency of "the vote" in the United States, the proposal has some problems of its own.
Let's suppose for a moment that we adopt "the vote" as our theme and, putting aside our differences and disagreements, are able to expand voting rights and privileges: strengthening voting rights to marginalized groups, implementing reforms like Instant Runoff Voting and same-day voter registration, reducing waiting times to vote, establishing more polling places (especially in poor neighborhoods and communities). These are reforms that, I imagine, most people would support (as do I) and that would help broaden more people getting involved to vote. That increase in participation would then hopefully lead to the elections of better politicians who then would bring into law reforms to address glaring social needs like the enactment of a living wage, the expansion of responsive public housing and education, the urgent actions against the perils of a warming planet that may reach irreversible levels, and our obsequious excuse of a corporate media.
One problem is that of time: There isn't enough to address the glaring urgent needs and coming threats in a few years' or couple decades' time, what with elections only every two or four years, and the glacial amount of time it takes to assemble one or more viable political parties, never mind defending such efforts from the myriad attacks that they'll invariably invite.
Another problem is that, cynical of me to say, we've won the fight already and it hasn't helped. We have already seen an expansion of the franchise in the United States in the past century, at the same time that we have seen its neutering courtesy the very "money and media election complex" that Nichols and McChesney ably document and ferociously condemn. (If you haven't read the book Dollarocracy, you should do yourself a favor and read it.) Ironically, even if we were to work to restore the vote, we need to go back to the drawing board to address the problems that have diluted its potency and
I hasten to add, however, that it's not like efforts to help restore "the vote" should be abandoned. Far from it. All I'm saying is that I think we shouldn't adopt "the vote" as our Grand Unifying Theme. Instead, I suggest we can "galvanize the movement and enhance its power" better with some other theme.
I've written before that we should instead use "abolishing the market and its replacement with a more participatory economy" as that theme, since I think it'll address the concerns with voting, address the pressing problems we face in a "reasonable" time frame, and much else besides.
I'll go into more detail on the case for this alternate theme in my next post.