Why aren’t we really talking about it? Serously? Pati De

In 2013, former President Jimmy Carter publicly stated that, “America does not have a functioning democracy at this time.”

As I could have expected my first article about election boycotts rang true to the title.  It engaged little serious conversation or engagement.  Very few even read it. That could be a testament to the things that I actually outlined in the article, or my inability to capture readers attention on the topic.  At the risk of being the tree in the forest that falls and no one hears  I have decided to write the second part that will dive deeper into the history of election boycotts, their aim, why they have been viewed as “not working”, our current conditions, and what our tactics could be if we chose to engage in an election boycott.  Strap in, it will be an intellectually stimulating but honestly pretty safe and secure ride so you might not need to strap in at all on second thought.  

Election boycotts have had historical place in many countries Cuba, South Africa during Apartheid, Serbia, Zimbabwe, Haiti, and the Zapatistas in Mexico to name a few.  Each have been judged for their own levels of effectiveness which can be delved into deeper on an individual level.  I have provided link a link at the bottom of this document to a lot of different websites with links on each of these as well as notes that I highlighted that may be able to shed some light on each of them if you would like delve into the weeds.  For the sake of brevity I will summarize that the common threads of these boycotts:

  • The driver of the boycott was a view by the people that “the legal framework or the context of the election is such that a fair competition is impossible.” The means in which it is not fair competition can be any of the following:
    • Concern for ballot secrecy
    • Exclusionary politics
    • Frustration with a false choice (sound familiar?)
  • Election boycotts are viewed as drastic measures to take and are taken only when it is viewed that democracy no longer exists within the current structure.
  • The success of the boycott is judged by either the boycotts ability to put the party in power that the boycotters are advocating for, or to remove the current party from power.  
  • For all of these there is one singular party that is in power that has a very anti-democratic control of the political system.  
  • Most had one opposition political party that called for the boycott amongst their supporters.  
  • One distinguishing factor for those who are deemed more “successful” than others is the boycotts being accompanied by other measures that will hinder the government’s ability to actually govern which we can simply term as ungovernability of the people.  

With this high level synopsis of past election boycotts we can now begin to make some evaluations of the current conditions in the USA to determine how an election boycott could be feasible here.  

Some common threads in the current conditions in the USA is that there is a frustration with false choices.  Many believe that Hillary and Trump are just false choices juxtaposed against each other.  Some (patriarchal, racist, imperialist mostly) believe only Hillary is the false choice, some (patriarchal, racist, imperialist mostly) believe trump is the false choice.  Some believe they both are false choices further putting on display the charade of the US political system.  Either way you look at it the vast majority of the USA is reaching a boiling point with false choices.

In regards to exclusionary politics that is the absolute basis of the US “democratic” system.  The vote of the white aristocracy has always been prioritized within our voting system.  From white landowners only having the ability to vote at the onset, thus excluding the white poor and working class, women, black people, indigenous people, and any other group not in that very exclusive class.  These exclusionary politics have been reported in depth during this election cycle, especially during the primaries by Bernie supporters and the wikileak emails now supporting that collusion leading to Hillary’s primary victory.  Also there is the voter fraud/error incidences in Florida during the 2000 Bush election and also now, the lesser known case, with the medical marijuana amendment this year (click here for more on that).  There is also gerrymandering or redrawing of voting districts (click here for more on gerrymandering) and citizens united (click here for Bernie Sanders providing more info on citizens united) that have been highlighted much less but still very relevant to the exclusion of certain people from the voting process.  Gerrymandering allows for parties to limit the voices of dissension within voting districts that they control.  Citizens United allow unchecked influence of corporations on politics and as you allow for that uncapped interest of corporations they further facilitate the existence of false choices that guide voters towards the interest of the corporate choices in legislation and candidates.  Finally, there is the well cited use of electoral college which many voters and potential voters view as a muting of their vote as a candidate can in fact when the popular vote and still not be elected president as the  electoral college vote has final say.

It also may go without saying that the exclusion in politics have manifested very well in the exclusion of these same groups socially, economically, and in every other supporting societal structure.  The overtness of the practice has been progressively subdued but it is existence is still incredibly pervasive.  

Though ballot secrecy doesn’t seem to be a known concern for the typical US voter the other common elements for discontent with an election/political system to spur an election boycott are present.  

But what is at stake?  What can we lose here?  What are the risks?  What are the alternatives? And when have things reached the tipping point where this drastic tactic is necessary to use to move towards the democracy and just society we are seeking?  Before diving into these questions we should define what “success” would mean for an election boycott in the US.  

As stated previously success was typically defined as the removal of the incumbent party and/or put a particular party in power.  I think an election boycott in the USA would not work in that same way.  Common feelings of the people of the US are that both parties, Republican and Democrat are corrupt and create the conditions described above that would be conducive for an election boycott.  Based on 2014 data, 39% of voters identify as independents, 32% as Democrats and 23% as Republicans.  That is used to illustrate that most registered voters do not believe in either of the two parties and the group that should be targeted for an election boycott are the independent voters not a specific party. Now in 2012 the country’s population was nearly 313 million, of which about 241 million were at least 18, the legal voting age, according to the most recent data available from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Nearly 194 million Americans — or 80 percent of those eligible — were registered to vote.  In that election, about 67 percent of the country’s registered voters cast a ballot.  This shows that non-voters make up 47% of people within voting age in our country.  This makes me think conditions are prime to organize this block a people towards a certain goal or ends.

It is important to know that these two groups of both non-voters and independent voters are not groups that, to my knowledge, have been successfully organized to a certain end goal.  It is also incredibly important to note that these two groups are incredibly diverse with their own nuanced rationale as to why they choose to reject to two party system or the voting system entirely.  With that being said what are some of the issues that can ring universally true among this diverse group and will help the struggle for liberation of marginalized and oppressed people?

I think below is a good list of demands that we would want as a result of our election boycott:

  • Overturn Citizens United
  • Create a Free and Fair Elections Amendment
    • Amendment will set strong limitations on corporate involvement in government and repercussions for such involvement
    • Firm regulation of district redrawing to prevent from gerrymandering
    • Eliminate the Electoral College
    • Automatic voting registration for all 18 year olds within our country
    • Voting Day – People get off from work in order to vote
    • Lower the qualifications for alternative parties to be on ballots and be involved in debates
    • Informational access to local judges

Note – this should be a working list so input is very much appreciated

Now that we have what we want to achieve listed out I think the next step should be what exactly we will be giving up or sacrificing in order to achieve these ends by using an election boycott so we can then determine how we can organize around those challenges that we are taking on.  Listed below are the drawbacks/challenges of conducting an election boycott:

  • Incumbents and/or undesired candidates will win with little opposition
  • Our opposition would lose our access to a channel for information, to the media, influence over important public policy, etc by not having allies within political office.
  • Miss out on “moment” opportunity to use regular voting intervals to organize people beyond just voting.  
  • Forfeit access to GOTV and other election resources that can be a platform, media access, and financial that can be used for the greater movement as a whole.  
  • Some would have to forfeit jobs and/or refuse employment revolved around organizing people to vote (personal sacrifices).  

Note – this should be a working list so input is very much appreciated

These are all some very serious challenges to face.  Particularly the lack of access and formal influence over the political process for an election term.  That would be extremely difficult to navigate and goes to show why it is extremely paramount that an election boycott is not taken lightly.  It must be well planned and well thought out and the structures need to be in place to allow for the people to overcome these challenges to see the boycott through to the actual realization of the democracy we seek.

The question then becomes can we organize around these challenges.  As stated earlier election boycotts who were successful had strong organizing tactics that supported the election boycott to mitigate the power of the governmental structure they were boycotting. Recently there was an article published where Elaine Brown criticizes the BLM movement due to lack of actual organizing as she sees it.  She recognizes the mobilization happening but is very harsh in her critiques as to where that mobilizing energy is directed as well as the lack of the creation of structures in which people can create tangible systemic alternatives or survival programs to create the conditions for revolutionary change.  Now her critiques were done, in my opinion, a very damning and overbearingly parental tone without properly taking into consideration the time frames in which we are starting a movement as to when the BPP was founded where they had years of movement building preceding them that they benefited off of by Malcolm X and MLK.  That being said she does have merit to her points (See Elaine Brown article here and Shaun King response here). I think it will be essential for us moving forward either towards an election boycott or any strong revolutionary change to create alternative structures to limit the power of the institution that we have such harsh criticisms of.  

In this context.  What are the structures that we need to put in place to push us towards our end goal and in the meantime mitigate the difficult conditions we will encounter as a result of an election boycott.  Below are some of my suggestions.

  • Occupations of government offices
    • Prevent the normal operations of the elected officials
      • This will result in some very direct confrontation with militarized police forces and likely violent upheavals
  • Create alternative food structures
    • Places where we grow our own food in order to meet this basic need without engagement in capitalistic economy
    • This could be very important if due to our election boycott things like food stamps and free child breakfast and lunch in schools are revoked or removed.
  • Acquisition and maintenance of communal property spaces.
    • Create land and property in which people can live in communally without or with minimal financial contribution and instead contribute in other ways such as tending to the land, handy work around the property, cooking, cleaning, etc.  
  • Create alternative income streams
    • Development of cooperative business structures that are community owned and less dependent on the investment of one person and therefore the decision making of one person.  
      • Cooperatives will be essential in the areas of most need of the people:
        • Grocery stores
        • Clothing
        • Tools, hardware and other household supplies
        • Farms
        • Book stores
        • Construction companies
        • Day cares
    • Solidarity with other countries that would be willing to trade with us directly
      • This one seems difficult and complicated and would need some exploring
  • Constant engagement with the community
    • Canvassing
    • Town halls
      • Constantly be discussing the endgame and the next courses of action.
    • Educational events
    • Survival programs

Important Note: The size and scope of the needs of these programs are something it will be very difficult to assess up front but their existence and scale-ability are essential so that if they are needed at a high degree when the election boycott begins we will have them in place and people will have alternatives to resort to.  Also this is not an exhaustive list so please feel free to add to it or comment on any items here.

With these types of organizing structures in place I think we can, as a network of communities, have the power necessary to whether the storm of an election boycott and reach an end goal of the democratic structure needed to adequately use voting as a means to reflect the will of the people.  Only when we have the true democracy needed can we actually influence the political process enough to get our “one step at a time” change that many people are aiming for with their current “Get out to Vote” campaigns, third party voting campaigns, lesser of two evil voting campaigns, etc..  These are all adequate in theory but in practice, within a oligarchy system, they will not take us towards the end we seek.  The system continues to readjust itself in ways to compensate for the loss of certain oppressive mechanisms.  From slavery, to reconstruction and indentured servitude, to Jim Crow, to mass incarceration.  It is only a matter of time before the next iteration of this cancer that we call US democracy is birthed and if we don’t begin to build the structures and social conditions necessary to act now in a way to transform that system we will again be victims of its ebbs and flows.  

People often ask who will bleed for change and the reality here is we fail to recognize who bleeds every day for the status quo. We know this answer to that, we know who is bleeding and who has been bleeding.  They have bled far too long.  We have bled for far too long.  George Jackson once said the following:

In the 1970’s, the Oakland chapter of the Black Panther Party split with the more militant chapters around the country and began focusing on mayoral and city council campaigns.  Each campaign drained the resources of the Party and diluted the revolutionary ideological foundation that had once inspired young, working class Black Americans.
We must continue to push forward that ideology that names the system for what it is and doesn’t submit to its will but morphs it into what it should be and what it could be in order to deliver the promise of liberation that we romanticize to oppressed and marginalized people.  With an election boycott as one of those means partnered with the organizing tactics listed above I believe we can and will facilitate that transformation.

See below for notes and relevant weblinks:




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