Published online 1 November 2015.
The one way you can actually “put pressure” upon your politicians is by doing the following:
1. Form a voter bloc
2. Threaten not to vote for your favorite politicians
3. Carry out that threat if you don’t get what you want
Now, making demands of your politicians is of course essential. As Frederick Douglass said, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” But demands are of no use if your politicians are free to ignore them. So you must be organized and play hardball, because majoritarian, representative democracy is ill-suited to any needs you may have for social change. (If you are satisfied with the way things are, then never mind.)
The idea behind steps one through three, above, is to suggest a superior alternative to “lesser of two evils” voting. (And of course there are organizations which do some of the work proposed above already — though mostly what they do is to threaten not to vote for representatives of one party with the explicit motive of boosting the other party — which isn’t what I have in mind.) I’ve proposed this several times in the comments sections, and I did get at least one wiseacre to suggest the following:
4. Make a huge donation to the politicians’ political campaigns
Of course most of us can’t afford to do such a thing — but that’s really the point. We don’t have the wherewithal to rent out politicians — so we must apply voter pressure upon them. And voter pressure does not mean “pre-compromising” our votes without any expectation of getting anything in return. What voter pressure means is conditional support.
Anyway, what amuses me in the general response to this suggestion is the idea that threatening not to vote for a politician is somehow a bad thing. C’mon! They’re politicians! Threatening not to vote for them is a basic assertion of voter power. Every once in awhile people here will threaten not to vote for Clinton if she wins the nomination, or not to vote for Sanders if he wins the nomination. The general response to such declarations is omigod party disloyalty — but do we really want to discourage voters from using their power?
And why is it that we must be loyal to politicians? Isn’t it they who should be loyal to us?
If you want to see a group of people who have taken this reasoning to its logical endpoints, please visit the Zapatistas in Chiapas. The Zapatistas have completely disoavowed the official system of government in Mexico, and have instead instituted “Juntas de Buen Gobierno” — in such a system “officials” are only granted power to do what the mass assemblies tell them to do, and only for a limited period of time before they are rotated in favor of other citizens. Such an arrangement, of course, stands on its head what an electoral democracy typically does, which is to elect people to rule over the masses.
Of course, if you’re going to threaten not to vote for a politician, you should back up your threat with:
a) Things said politicians need to do in order to merit a vote from you
or at least
b) reasons which count as impediments to your being able to vote for said politicians.
b) is of course the obvious choice here: people will commonly offer sentences in the form of “I won’t vote for Sanders because he’s (fill in your own reason)” or “I won’t vote for Clinton because she’s (fill in your own reason).” But isn’t a) the more direct path to getting what you want from the political system? I will, then, suggest some reasons for why one might not want to vote for politicians, in hopes that they might be turned into things the politicians can do to merit our votes.
You can verify that politicians are being honest by, well first of all by comparing what they say with what they’ve done. You can also look carefully at who they’re taking money from — that ought to tell you something about their interests. It’s more complicated than that, of course. I’m suggesting a start.
RealismI see this argument a lot. “It’s not realistic to expect candidate X to win.” The problem of realism, however, is really about a) what is it really realistic to expect, and b) are there any good realistic expectations? I see it this way: the good realistic expectations (i.e. a better world) are all outside of official “realism” (i.e. we must expect more sold-out politicians who spend their careers pandering to special interests, while climate change and other environmental disasters wreaks havoc upon the world).
Credible politicians must, of course, have realistic chances of being elected. Credible political campaigns must be well-staffed and elicit popular appeal. The politicians don’t have to have realistic chances THIS election cycle — a politician can run over and over again with the idea of eventually being elected ONCE. But politicians must also offer the voters good realistic expectations. They shouldn’t be able to get by on phoney-baloney statements without any serious, realistic discussion of what awaits the world in the future.
PositivityThe poster election for negativity was the 2012 Presidential election, in which Barack Obama won through a concerted anti-Romney campaign in the swing states, while Mitt Romney relied upon a voter support base that was anti-Obama more than it was pro-Romney. Politicians need better appeals than “I’m better than the other candidate.”
Support from voter organizationsOK, now this is a blog for partisan Democrats, and you are of course free to vote for all the Democrats you want. But the Democratic party only loosely stands for something besides the whims of its elite leadership, and so you may wish to have an additional organization which actually promotes a voter bloc — people with an agenda who are willing to withhold votes from politicians in order to get what they want. Some people vaguely say, “I don’t like Bernie supporters” or “I don’t like Hillary supporters.” This is a start — you should also be willing to say what it would take for Bernie or Hillary to merit your vote, and ultimately (this will come) you should do so as part of a voter bloc.
Perhaps voter organizations are best off starting as local organizations, the better to strengthen a sense of solidarity between the members. The point of a voter organization, however, is to bring accountability to politicians and to make sure essential demands are met. Such an organization would have to be funded entirely by individual donations, in the manner of the ACLU, rather than being financially (and thus politically) dependent upon foundation grants.
So what are the politicians doing to promote voter organizations which you like?
The choice is clear. Either voter power or more of the same.
The argument here is, in a nutshell, that accountability must come before loyalty if people are to have any power at all. Chomsky repeatedly points out that the will of the voting public is routinely ignored by the political class. Do you want to change that, or are you happy with the way things are?