Recently I spoke with someone who suggested that Democrats should boycott working at polling places in 2014. That is, let the GOP screw up the election so royally that people will throw them out in 2016. This was the same sort of liberal who thought the left should express its displeasure with Obama and the Democrats by staying home in November 2010. That worked out well in North Carolina. For Art Pope.
Once again, that sort of liberal was recommending that we express our displeasure with the North Carolina Republicans by staying home in 2014.
So when will you actually show up?, I thought. When will you stand up and fight for the constitutional rights and interests of the people you think you represent? When do we show them that liberals are leaders worthy of their support, and good for doing something besides doing nothing?
Hullabaloo's David Atkins has heard similar suggestions out in Ventura County, CA. He had this on Wednesday:
As a blogger and Democratic activist, I often receive incredulous and angry messages about the futility of electoral organizing. Don't I see how useless it is, they say, when the one percent runs roughshod over the rest of us, when the government spies on its citizens at will, and when the corporate sector has its way with the public sector as it pleases? Don't I see, they say, that focusing on winning elections is a waste of time?
No matter how often I respond that it does in fact matter who and which party holds power (consider the fate of reproductive choice in Texas and North Carolina, the economic decline in Wisconsin since Scott Walker took office, the resurgence of California since Republicans were disempowered, the difference between even a weak Democratic approach to Wall Street such as Dodd-Frank and the deregulation on steroids championed by Republicans, or any number of other examples), these people are unswayed. It does little good to point out that the John Birch society types didn't take power by force of arms or popular revolt, but by methodical organizing over the course of decades beginning at the local level. That's too slow, they say, too much work (the true common denominator for most armchair anarchists, I fear), and too impossible given the force of oligarchic money at play against us.
Atkins goes on to note that protest -- if it succeeds -- tends to have limited long-term effects.
... if protests rather than politics are to be the change agent, then it's critically important to organize for what comes after. Protest is not a magic bullet. It is an angry expression of dissatisfaction with what is. It is not a blueprint for what will be. Power lies in the hands of those who create blueprints, not in the hands of those who protest. More often than not, the idealism of protesters is used as a tool for those who plan ahead. And the cure is often worse than the disease.
See: Egypt. Real (rather than seeming) victories go to those who organize and plan over time. Without that, the elites never really lose power.
Writing for the Guardian, Seumas Milne concurs:
In the era of neoliberalism, when the ruling elite has hollowed out democracy and ensured that whoever you vote for you get the same, politically inchoate protest movements are bound to flourish. They have crucial strengths: they can change moods, ditch policies and topple governments. But without socially rooted organisation and clear political agendas, they can flare and fizzle, or be vulnerable to hijacking or diversion by more entrenched and powerful forces.
Whether party structures can still produce visionary blueprints is in question, as co-opted as the upper echelons seem by elite power and wealth. One can say this: While their best actors sometimes go through the motions and fail, they at least try to lead. They try, take their knocks, and suffer defeat (and often the scorn of their own would-be allies) rather than holding themselves aloof and expecting some kind of political Santa to leave a better world neatly wrapped in a bow beside the hearth.
(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)