Like many people, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this moment means politically.
Every hour there is a new development across the globe in the fight to eradicate white supremacy. I’ve been in and out of this fight for a few years now, working with organizations and campaigns to make this country more equitable. It’s been a wild ride watching history be made during my lifetime. Policies that felt impossible six months ago are now being proposed across the country. In real-time, I’m watching people learn new information and change their minds on beliefs they previously thought were unshakeable.
But the most interesting thing to me right now is that we’re seeing unprecedented civic engagement during an election year and the Democratic Party is almost completely disconnected from it (or oppositional to it). As the kids put it, they fumbled the bag.
There is widespread public support across the nation from desirable democratic constituencies, including young people, black people and labor unions, but elected and entrenched Democrats are mostly on the wrong side of the issue. They’ve also had years to get on the right side, but have instead fought organizers tooth and nail. While some people have just heard about the idea of defunding or abolishing police, it’s actually a movement with decades of scholarship, advocacy, and community organizing behind it.
This must be a terrifying time for them. I think most people recognize that the murder of George Floyd could have certainly happened under a Clinton presidency. The shift in public opinion and civic engagement (like Nashville’s historic city council meeting last week) have happened almost completely outside of, and sometimes in spite of, the Democratic party, candidates, or elected officials. The liberal strategy of screaming “Vote!” at people and then blaming disenfranchised communities when mediocre candidates don’t get elected is no longer enough. Why be forced to choose those same uninspiring candidates when one can exercise people power and achieve political change through local organizing?
I think there’s an answer, and it’s actually not that hard: We do both. Voting is a critical tool in effecting change and encouraging democracy, but it has its limitations. Elections only come around so often, candidate pools are small, and often people feel forced to choose between the dreaded “lesser of two evils.”
Community organizing exists in lots of forms: From the massive protests we’re seeing, to increased outreach to elected officials on city budgets, and more. What’s more, effective community organizing can push elected officials to listen to their constituents, which means it’s a plus to have candidates you at least sort of agree with in office). And I think that’s what we need to be doing now: Continuing to use the grassroots power we’re building to push candidates and the Democratic party as a whole to represent our values. The Democratic party has an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right now to listen to the needs and demands of the people; I can only hope they will.
Americans are remembering what it’s like to have collective power. And it has nothing to do with the two-party system or moderates that fail to deliver modest reforms. I’m not sure what this means for November. And maybe that doesn’t matter. Because I think a new generation of people have seen a new way of building power.