Book Review: Freedom is a Constant Struggleby Angela Davis


Author: Angela Davis
Title: Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
Publication Info: Haymarket Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

This books collects several interviews with long-time activists Angela Davis as well as some articles and speeches.  The downside to this collection is that she touches on some of the same issues in each of the pieces (as you would expect of someone delivering speeches to new audiences) but the format of this collection doesn’t allow the reader to see Davis delve deep into any of the issues.

Davis reflects on the Civil Rights movement and feminist movies, her involvement in each, and their accomplishments.  She also compares it to the revival of activism in the Black Lives Matter movement that rose out of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri against the police killing of Michael Brown.  Davis urges the reader/listener to recognize the intersectionality of movements and that Americans need to broaden their scope to include global crises in their activism (with a particular emphasis on Palestine).

Davis always offers harsh truths but is never disparaging of efforts towards revolutionary change that are incomplete.  Instead she encourages the reader to keep trying and keep struggling.  I’m particular impressed by her reflections that Black Americans truly defined democracy since they are the ones who advocated for true freedom, which is more than civil rights.  I have had this book for some time and to my shame only got around to reading it now, but I’m glad I’ve read since it speaks to issues that are front and center in the current moment.

Favorite Passages:

Trying and trying again. Never stopping. That is a victory in itself. Everyone and everything tells you that “outside” you will not succeed, that it is too late, that we live in an epoch where a revolution cannot happen anymore. Radical changes are a thing of the past. You can be an outsider, but not outside the system, and you can have political beliefs, even radical ones, but they need to stay within the bounds of the permissible, inside that bubble that has been drawn for you by the elites.


It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.


It’s very interesting that during the commentary on Ferguson, someone pointed out that the purpose of the police is supposed to be to protect and serve. At least, that’s their slogan. Soldiers are trained to shoot to kill. We saw the way in which that manifested itself in Ferguson.


The civil rights movement was very successful in what it achieved: the legal eradication of racism and the dismantling of the apparatus of segregation. This happened and we should not underestimate its importance. The problem is that it is often assumed that the eradication of the legal apparatus is equivalent to the abolition of racism. But racism persists in a framework that is far more expansive, far vaster than the legal framework. Economic racism continues to exist. Racism can be discovered at every level in every major institution—including the military, the health care system, and the police. It’s not easy to eradicate racism that is so deeply entrenched in the structures of our society, and this is why it’s important to develop an analysis that goes beyond an understanding of individual acts of racism and this is why we need demands that go beyond the prosecution of the individual perpetrators.


I fear that if we don’t take seriously the ways in which racism is embedded in structures of institutions, if we assume that there must be an identifiable racist… The “bad apples” type of… …who is the perpetrator, then we won’t ever succeed in eradicating racism.


But if one looks at the history of struggles against racism in the US, no change has ever happened simply because the president chose to move in a more progressive direction. Every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements—from the era of slavery, the Civil War, and the involvement of Black people in the Civil War, which really determined the outcome.


Many people are under the impression that it was Abraham Lincoln who played the major role, and he did as a matter of fact help to accelerate the move toward abolition, but it was the decision on the part of slaves to emancipate themselves and to join the Union Army—both women and men—that was primarily responsible for the victory over slavery. It was the slaves themselves and of course the abolitionist movement that led to the dismantling of slavery. When one looks at the civil rights era, it was those mass movements—anchored by women, incidentally—that pushed the government to bring about change. I don’t see why things would be any different today.


At this point, at this moment in the history of the US I don’t think that there can be policing without racism. I don’t think that the criminal justice system can operate without racism. Which is to say that if we want to imagine the possibility of a society without racism, it has to be a society without prisons. Without the kind of policing that we experience today. I think that different frameworks, perhaps restorative justice frameworks, need to be invoked in order to begin to imagine a society that is secure. I think that security is a main issue, but not the kind of security that is based on policing and incarceration. Perhaps transformative justice provides a framework for imagining a very different kind of security in the future.


Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect. What has kept me going has been the development of new modes of community. I don’t know whether I would have survived had not movements survived, had not communities of resistance, communities of struggle. So whatever I’m doing I always feel myself directly connected to those communities and I think that this is an era where we have to encourage that sense of community particularly at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms and not in collective terms. It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.


Deep understandings of racist violence arm us against deceptive solutions. When we are told that we simply need better police and better prisons, we counter with what we really need. We need to reimagine security, which will involve the abolition of policing and imprisonment as we know them. We will say demilitarize the police, disarm the police, abolish the institution of the police as we know it, and abolish imprisonment as the dominant mode of punishment. But we will have only just begun to tell the truth about violence in America.


As many times as I’ve spoken during Black History Month, I never tire of urging people to remember that it wasn’t a single individual or two who created that movement, that, as a matter of fact, it was largely women within collective contexts, Black women, poor Black women who were maids, washerwomen, and cooks. These were the people who collectively refused to ride the bus.


But freedom is still more expansive than civil rights. And in the sixties there were some of us who insisted that it was not simply a question of acquiring the formal rights to fully participate in a society, but rather it was also about the forty acres and the mule that was dropped from the abolitionist agenda in the nineteenth century. It was about economic freedom. It was about substantive freedoms. It was about free education. It was about free health care. Affordable housing. These are issues that should have been on the abolitionist agenda in the nineteenth century, and here we are in the twenty-first century and we still can’t say that we have affordable housing and health care, and education has thoroughly become a commodity. It has been so thoroughly commoditized that many people don’t even know how to understand the very process of acquiring knowledge because it is subordinated to the future capacity to make money. So it was about free education and free health care and affordable housing. It was about ending the racist police occupation of Black communities. These were some of the demands raised by the Black Panther Party.


I tell you that in the United States we are at such a disadvantage because we do not know how to talk about the genocide inflicted on indigenous people. We do not know how to talk about slavery. Otherwise it would not have been assumed that simply because of the election of one Black man to the presidency we would leap forward into a postracial era.


For some time now I have been involved in efforts to abolish the death penalty and imprisonment as the main modes of punishment. I should say that it is not simply out of empathy with the victims of capital punishment and the victims of prison punishment, who are overwhelmingly people of color. It is because these modes of punishment don’t work. These forms of punishment do not work when you consider that the majority of people who are in prison are there because society has failed them, because they’ve had no access to education or jobs or housing or health care. But let me say that criminalization and imprisonment could not solve other problems.


We will have to do something quite extraordinary: We will have to go to great lengths. We cannot go on as usual. We cannot pivot the center. We cannot be moderate. We will have to be willing to stand up and say no with our combined spirits, our collective intellects, and our many bodies.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending September 21


Memory Palace :: Safe Passage

The true story of when the U.S. Navy accidentally fired a torpedo at the President of the United States.

Throughline :: Puerto Rico

If you’re like me, you probably don’t know enough about the history of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, and the efforts of Puerto Ricans to fight for independence and statehood.  This podcast fills in some gaps in knowledge.

The War on Cars :: Dying For Change

Bicycling activists stage more aggressive protests against politicians and the police as the deaths of cyclists increase in number.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn


Author: Howard Zinn
Title: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Narrator: David Strathairn
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc, 2017 (originally published in 1994)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I received an advanced review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This book serves as an autobiography of the historian and activist Howard Zinn, and intersects with America’s history of inequality and imperialism, as well as the work of activists towards justice and equality.  Zinn grew up poor in Brooklyn and worked at the Brooklyn Naval Yard where he formed bonds with the other laborers.  He signed up with the Army Air Force during World War II in order to fight fascism, but was also exposed to segregation in the armed forces and participated in a napalm bombing raid in France that he felt was more of a show of American military might than a strategical necessity.

Zinn began his academic career at Spellman College in Atlanta in 1956 where he served as a mentor to Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.  He also became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Zinn was fired for insubordination in 1963, and accepted a professorship at Boston University in 1964.  Zinn’s arrival BU coincided with the movement against the war in Vietnam of which he became an active leader.  Zinn’s courses were extremely popular but he also had to contend with prickly and conservative BU president, John Silber.

Despite the dominance of inequality and opression in the world, Zinn remains optomistic.  He sees the changes made in people in the various movements as a net positive.  He notes that while tyranny is a danger in a short term it also will be defeated by the people in the long term.

Recommended books: This is an Uprising by Mark Engler
Rating: ***1/2

Rally for Transgender Equality #YesOn3


Today I’m attending the Rally for Transgender Equality at Copley Square. Hundreds of people are making it known that our transgender friends, family, children, coworkers, and neighbors deserve equal protection against discrimination in public places such as restaurants, hotels, and hospitals.

In reality, we shouldn’t have to be here as transgender people should not be discriminated against and their rights have been protected under Massachusetts law since 2016. But people acting on ignorance and prejudice have put forward a ballot referendum asking Massachusetts voters to repeal the laws that protect our transgender neighbors from discrimination. No ones human rights should ever be put to a vote, but since they’re bringing this fight to us, we’re here to show our love for transgender people and defend their rights and dignity.

Learn more about why you should vote Yes on 3 at the Freedom for All website.

Podcasts of the Week Ending March 24


To the Best of Our Knowledge :: What Can We Learn From Teenagers?

Teenagers kick our butts.

Hidden Brain :: Guys, We Have A Problem: How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men

Performative masculinity is cutting men off from connecting with others.

The Truth :: The Hilly Earth Society

A stunning one-person audio drama told entirely in voice messages from an angry recluse to a persistent journalist.  There’s a couple of interesting twists at the end, only one I saw coming.

LeVar Burton Reads :: “The 5:22” by George Harrar

A Twilight Zone -esque story about when one’s routine daily commute changes.

Podcasts of the Week Ending March 10


BackStory :: Too Good to Be True

The American History guys discuss several of the myths of American history, looking for the kernels of truth among the flat-out fabrications.  Particularly interesting is the segment on the widely believed legends of Robert E. Lee that rarely stand up to historical scrutiny.

This American Life :: Five Women

A story that delves into the experiences of sexual misconduct from five women employed by the same man, which includes an exploration of their personal histories and how that affected their interactions.

Hub History :: Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, with Ryan Walsh

An interview with Ryan Walsh, author of a new history book about Boston in 1968 through the lens of Van Morrison’s classic album Astral Weeks, inspired by Morrison’s time in Boston.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Hamilton

An exploration of sound design for a Broadway musical through the hit show Hamilton.

WBUR News :: ‘Get Our Voices Out’: Why 3 Students Will Walk Out To Protest Gun Violence

An interview with three Boston-area high school activists planning protests to reduce gun violence.

 

Book Review: This is an Uprisingby Mark Engler


AuthorMark Engler
TitleThis is an uprising : how nonviolent revolt is shaping the twenty-first century
Publication Info: New York : Nation Books, [2016]
Summary/Review:

This book is a comprehensive evaluation of the tools and strategies used in nonviolent movements, whether they be to overthrow dictators or to advance social change in representative democracies.  Much of this book is based on the work of Gene Sharp (who actually passed away during the time I was reading this), who published his theories on nonviolence in 1973’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Engler illustrates nonviolent movements in action through cases of the satyagraha movement that lead to India’s independence from Great Britain, and the tactics and campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Congress of Racial Equality, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the American Civil Rights Movement.

Two other figures are also examined for their contributions to the theory and strategy of nonviolent movements.  The first is Saul Alinsky, whose book Rules for Radicals (1971), served as a guidebook for organizing community organizations along nonpartisan and ideologically diverse lines towards pragmatic results achieved over the long term.  A countering theory comes from France Fox Piven, who along with Richard A. Cloward published Poor People’s Movements (1977), which argues that the most vulnerable communities lack the resources to manage long-term campaigns or gain political influence without using disruptive tactics such as boycotts, sit-ins, traffic tie-ups, and strikes. From Piven’s point of view, the organizations created by Alinsky’s organizing can become too complacent or risk averse once they’ve established themselves and made ties with political leaders.  From Alinsky’s point of view, the disruptive movements championed by Piven often fail to make lasting social change and run out of steam.

There are obvious beneficial ideas and strategies that can be drawn from each theory, and Engler argues that a hybrid approach was successful in India, the Civil Rights Movement, and more recently by Otpor!, the Serbian resistance to the tyranny of Slobodan Milošević.  Otpor! was a decentralized movement which made it more difficult for the Milošević regime to target leaders for retribution, or for leaders to become too comfortably entangled in the government to the point that would not want to risk taking action.  Despite the decentralized approach, Otpor! maintained strict guidelines on action known as frontloading that helped maintain consistency on message and strategy.  Many Otpor! actions came in the form of satirical street theater performances which doubled as recruitment by inviting interested passersby to attend intensive training on nonviolence.

Engler also relates cases of how nonviolent movements are working in the contemporary United States.  Marriage equality became reality in the United States not because of a Supreme Court decision, but because an organized movement worked for decades to shift public opinion.  Movements can be divisive by design with ACT UP presented an example of a group who used provocative and polarizing  direct actions that brought attention to people suffering from AIDS that could not be achieved by more pragmatic organizations who feared losing the few gains already achieved by the LGBT community.

This is an important book that summarizes the history of nonviolent movements, breaks down key tactics and strategy, and serves as a blueprint for future nonviolent revolutions.  I think massive nonviolent movements will be vital to address the severe social and political issues we’re facing in the 21st century and recommend that everyone read this book to get a sense of what needs to be done.

Favorite Passages:

This book is concerned with a specific phenomenon: momentum-driven mass mobilization. It contends that those who have most carefully studied these mobilizations—examining how to construct and sustain scenarios of widespread protest—come out of a tradition of strategic nonviolence. It argues that political observers watching the democratic upheavals of the twenty-first century should incorporate this tradition’s insights into their understanding of how social transformation happens. Those wishing to bring such upheavals into existence, meanwhile, do well to marry these insights with their existing approaches to leveraging change. – p. 3

Nonviolence is often written off as obsolete, an idea that has been mostly forgotten and is largely irrelevant in global affairs. Yet, every time it is cast aside, strategic nonviolent action seems to reassert itself as a historic force. Without taking up weapons, and with little money and few traditional resources, people forming nonviolent movements succeed in upending the terms of public debate and shifting the direction of their countries’ politics. Nonviolence in this form is not passive. It is a strategy for confrontation. – p. 3

Gene Sharp documented how unarmed uprisings could produce remarkable and sometimes counterintuitive results. Whereas violent rebellions play to the strengths of dictatorships—which are deft at suppressing armed attacks and using security challenges to justify the creation of a police state—nonviolent action often catches these regimes off guard. Through what Sharp calls “political jiu-jitsu,” social movements can turn repression into a weakness for those in power. Violent crackdowns against unarmed protests end up exposing the brutality of a ruling force, undermining its legitimacy, and, in many cases, creating wider public unwillingness to cooperate with its mandates. – p. 6

Walker and Cotton were not trivializing the violence of the police dogs. They took the risks of the campaign very seriously. As King had contended, the point of creating a public crisis in Birmingham was not to introduce Connor or other authorities to violence. Rather, it was to expose the violence routinely inflicted upon the black community under Jim Crow segregation. “We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive,” King wrote. “We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.”54 Walker and Cotton knew that the attacking police dogs would serve as a choice representation of the much more pervasive violence that flourished in the city. In his tactical foolishness, Bull Connor had become an ally in exposing the brutality of white supremacy. And he was just beginning. – p. 22

But in democratic countries with representative institutions, the conventional wisdom is that the process of altering the status quo looks very different. It means working through officials in high office. It requires prolonged and often painstaking back-room negotiations between various interest groups. And when reforms are achieved, they are never so stark or dramatic as a dictator’s fall. Or are they? As it turns out, this accepted vision of how political change occurs has serious flaws. At best, it presents an incomplete picture of how progress in our society is won. At worst, it is a wrong-headed story that stubbornly conceals the way in which many of the most significant gains of the past century have been secured, from women’s suffrage, to labor laws, to civil rights. It misses how people with few material resources and little access to conventional powerbrokers have sometimes been able to bring about transformations that mainstream politicians consider to be absurd and impractical—right up until the moment when these changes become common sense. – p. 87

In a democratic nation, monolithic thinking likewise trains citizens to focus on the top. The vast majority of people are taught early on to hold this view. Most history books chart the rise and fall of business tycoons and ambitious politicians. The message is further reinforced when the bulk of our political reporters spend their time writing about the activities of these same actors. Legislative victories are credited to the policymakers who sign the final bills into law rather than to any movements that might have made passage of the bills possible in the first place. The public absorbs this bias, conflating the process of democratic reform with the decisions of charismatic leaders who manipulate the course of the nation’s affairs. – p. 95

If there is a common trait in the most prominent movements of the past century—whether they involved efforts to end child labor, redefine the role of women in political life, or bring down an apartheid regime—it is that they took up causes that established powerbrokers regarded as sure losers and won them by creating possibilities that had not previously existed. As the pillars give way, barriers long seen as too daunting to be overcome suddenly appear surmountable. – p. 114

Momentum-driven organizing necessarily places a greater focus on the symbolic. In their mass mobilizations, activists in this tradition need not abandon a push for concrete gains entirely. But instead of measuring their results only by incremental wins at the bargaining table, they use other metrics as well: movement in opinion polls, growing numbers of active participants, the ability to generate resources through grassroots channels, and the responsiveness of different pillars of support to their mobilizations. Organizers of civil resistance cannot be content with empty declarations of victory or with merely “speaking truth to power.” They must be hard headed in assessing their progress in winning over advocates and sympathizers from outside their immediate networks, always guarding against tendencies to become insular “voices in the wilderness.” – p. 140

Practitioners of nonviolent conflict have regularly shown themselves willing to be intentionally divisive, making use of a complex yet critical phenomenon known as “polarization.” In doing this, they grapple with an undeniable tension: broad-based support is vital if campaigns of civil resistance are to prevail. And yet many of the tactics of nonviolent disruption tend to be unpopular. People prefer calm speech and reasoned dialogue to the ruckus of confrontational protest. In many cases, creating a galvanizing crisis around an issue involves inconveniencing members of the general public, potentially alienating the very people that advocates want to win over. Moreover, when a vocal minority speaks out, it can inspire its most ardent enemies to begin organizing in response. Notwithstanding these dangers, the experience of social movements—from the civil rights movement in the 1960s, to ACT UP in the 1980s and 1990s, to the immigrant rights movement in the new millennium—shows that polarization can also be a powerful friend. By taking an issue that is hidden from common view and putting it at the center of public debate, disruptive protest forces observers to decide which side they are on. This has three effects: First, it builds the base of a movement by creating an opportunity for large numbers of latent sympathizers to become dedicated activists. Second, even as it turns passive supporters into active ones, it engages members of the public who were previously uninformed, creating greater awareness even among those who do not care for activists’ confrontational approach. And third, it agitates the most extreme elements of the opposition, fueling a short-term backlash but isolating reactionaries from the public in the long run. – p. 199

With the passage of time, successful movements are often celebrated as heroic and noble. But, while they are still active, their tactics are never beloved by all. Accepting that reality is part of using conflict and disruption as tools for change. – p. 224

The need for disruptive movements to reignite on a persistent basis raises the question of how even very committed people can sustain their efforts over the course of decades and generations. One way to do this is to build communities that reach beyond the realm of traditional political struggle. Although the building of alternative communities and institutions can be a potent force in social movements, it can also present challenges. Activists have long debated the question: Should we fight the system or “be the change we wish to see”? Should we push for transformation within existing societal structures, or should we model in our own lives a different set of social and political relationships that might someday form the basis of a new society? Going back centuries, different movements have incorporated elements of each approach, sometimes in harmonious ways and other times in ways that create conflicts between groups. – p. 271

Recommended booksNobody by Marc Lamont Hill, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Do It Anyway by Courtney E. Martin, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and Becoming a Citizen Activist by Nick Licata
Rating: *****

Photos from the Boston Women’s March for America


Last Saturday, with my family, church community, numerous friends I met along the way, and around 125,000 other people, I participated in Boston Women’s March for America.

I’ve been First Night and the Fourth of July celebrations in Boston.

I’ve been to the Boston Marathon and Red Sox victory parades.

And I’ve never seen that many people in the same place.

Estimates place attendance around 125,000 people. We were in the back of the crown on Boston Common, and couldn’t hear much of anything from the politicians who addressed the crowd. Once the march began, it was more of a shuffle as everyone was stuck shoulder and shoulder, and could only move an inch at a time.

But none of that mattered because this was also the friendliest crowd I’ve ever seen in Boston too. I mean, Boston is a grumpy place and Bostonians generally don’t react well to sharing their personal space with others.

But on this day we filled the Common and overflowed into surrounding streets. It was awe-inspiring. And while every person had a different sign, a different reason for showing up for the march, I’ve never felt such unity.

Book Review: Becoming a Citizen Activist by Nick Licata


AuthorNick Licata
TitleBecoming a Citizen Activist
Publication Info: Seattle, WA : Sasquatch Books, [2016]
Summary/Review:  A Seattle city councilor provides ideas, strategies, and practical advice for how any citizen can effect positive political change in their communities. It includes tips on how to deal with elected officials as well as demonstrating a cause to the public at large.  I read a library copy, but this is such a practical manual it would be handy to have my own copy to refer to.
Favorite Passages:

“Politicians often know what the right thing to do is, but unless there is an organized constituency to put pressure on other public official, they may feel they don’t have enough support to get legislation passed.  The role of a citizen activist is to coax politicians to have the courage to pursue their own beliefs.” – p. 20

“Citizens often find that the biggest obstacle to change is government inertia.  It is difficult to wrestle with, because its reluctance is couched in soft general terms and processes.  But government hesitation will often melt away if opposing parties agree to a common course of action.  This is why it is important to talk to your opponents.  You need to think of how to work with them to overcome a common antagonist; often it is an unresponsive government.” – p. 31

“The lesson for all activists is that you need to have a dual-prong approach to changing the political landscape: being in the streets protesting arouses the public, but afterward quiet organized efforts are needed to get your supporters elected to office so that they can actually change the laws.”

Rating: ****

My Vote For President (and some more important things)


I know everyone has been waiting to see the official 2016 Presidential endorsement of a minor blogger with 289 followers, and here it is!  Actually, I think endorsements are mostly bunk and it drives me crazy how the media constantly speculates over who will endorse who and how many votes an endorsement will gain when I believe endorsements have very little sway in electoral outcomes.  That being said I thought it would make an interesting exercise just to lay out my thought process on voting in November.  And if like-minded individuals stumble upon this post, I believe it may help them too.

So, this November 8th, I will be casting my vote for President for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

I can hear some of you already crying out that a vote for Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.  But you ignore that United States President is elected by the Electoral College.  I live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which is perhaps the most Clintonian state in the union.  Even if every Massachusetts citizen voted their conscience, Hillary Clinton is genuinely preferred by most of the voters and would win the state by a comfortable margin.  All of Massachusetts’ 11 electoral will go to Clinton no matter regardless of my vote.  This is true in the majority of the states and the District of Columbia.  If you live in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio,  Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and want to stop Trump, by all means please vote for Clinton even if you don’t like her! If you live anywhere else you can safely vote your conscience for any candidate of you choice (although if your conscience tells you to vote for Trump, you should reexamine your conscience).

Why then, you may ask, will I be voting for Stein and encouraging others to consider to do so?  Here are four reasons:

  1. I think Stein would make a good President – Voting for a candidate one actually likes is such a strange idea in American politics, but I believe that the more people who do so the more likely we’d end up with public servants who best represent our nation’s hopes and dreams.  Too many people chose instead vote for a candidate that they think will win (because they like to be on the side of winners) or the lesser of two evils (because they want to stop the most reprehensible candidate without considering that they are still electing evil).  No candidate is 100% perfect, but I’ve been following Jill Stein’s career since she ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and appreciate her efforts.  Her background is as a medical doctor and as an activist she’s had success in advancing environmental and electoral campaign reform issues.  The issues that she puts in the forefront of her platform include those that are near and dear to my heart including poverty-reduction, public education, racial justice, environmental protection, greater equality for all, public transportation, and a foreign policy based on diplomacy rather than militarism.
  2. I believe we need more than two political parties – The Democratic and Republican parties do not come close to representing the full-spectrum of political thought in our country.  I think there needs to be many more viable parties in national, state, and local politics to both encourage greater participation in our democracy and better representation in governments.  A criticism I’ve seen lately is that third parties run “vanity candidates” for President and if they really want to make a change they should start the party at the local level and work up.  I’ve been frustrated that many elections in Massachusetts – from mayor to Congress – feature Democrats running opposed and wish that there were Green Party challengers, but ultimately this criticism misses out on a few points.  First of all, local elections get very little media attention to start with, and third-party candidates virtually nil.  Running  a presidential candidate who can’t win has an air of vanity to it, but it’s also an advertisement that makes people aware that the party even exists.  It’s akin to the fashion designer who makes a complex get up for a model to wear down a runway in order to get people to buy their off-the-rack clothing.  Secondly, many states require parties to win a certain percentage of votes in an election in order to earn and retain access to appearing on official ballots and to get matching funds from the government.  Running a Presidential candidate is a way that third parties can keep their party alive for the next local election.  It’s a screwed-up system, but for the time being, a necessary one.
  3. It can send a message to Hillary Clinton, and make her a better President – Over the course of her long public career as First Lady/”Co-President,” Senator, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly advocated for policies that have hurt the most vulnerable in our nation and abroad.  This includes supporting unnecessary wars for “regime change,” dismantling social safety nets, increasing mass incarceration, privatizing public schools, deregulating the financial industry, and trade deals that allow international corporations freedoms from United States laws and regulations.  For these reasons I cannot vote for Clinton.  The primary election against Bernie Sanders helped push Clinton to abandon some of her older policies and adopt more progressive policies, but I fear that once she is President she may resume her old ways.  If Jill Stein wins 5-10% of the vote in a Clinton stronghold like Massachusetts that will be a sign to Clinton that the status quo is not acceptable and she will need to govern from a more progressive position.
  4. The Presidency is overrated – I expect this may be my most controversial position, but the power of the President is not as great as everyone thinks.  I frequently see charts showing how the country prospered during certain Presidencies and faltered during others as evidence of a particular President’s greatness or weakness.  But these charts treat the Presidency as if it is in a vacuum, ignoring all the other factors that affect the well-being of our country, including Congress and the Supreme Court, state and local governments, business, the actions of the citizenry, and foreign affairs.  While the Presidential election gets up to two years of coverage, and Presidents and candidates have constant media attention, it is dangerous to overlook the other elections for Congress, state and local governments, and ballot initiatives.  The low participation in these elections have moved our governments away from being representative of our communities, and right-wing corporatism organizations like ALEC have taken advantage of this to elect politicians friendly to their interests and pass legislation authored by ALEC.  We need full participation in our politics at every level to counteract this and give power to the people where it belongs.

So I implore everyone reading this to the following things:

  • Verify that you are registered to vote and if not find out the requirements and deadlines, and register ASAP!
  • Find out what will be on your ballot and research every candidate and ballot initiative.
  • Be aware that there may be primary or preliminary elections.  Make sure to vote in these too!
  • Contribute to your favorite candidates by volunteering, donating, or even just talking about them with your friends.
  • Keep voting in every election your eligible, not just in Presidential election years.  Be aware that not all election days are in November.
  • Keep in regular contact with your elected officials – mail, email, phone, in person – and remind them where you stand on the issues you care about most.
  • Make sure that even politicians you like know when you think they are wrong.  Don’t accept the idea that these are “attacks” that “hurt” the good politicians.  Dissent is necessary for healthy government.
  • Remember that electoral politics are just a portion of what makes our democracy work.  Most of the great advancements in US history came when people who cared got together to make a change.  Commit to being active in your community to whatever level you are able.