Electoral Politics Won’t Save Us. Here Is What To Do Instead.
Liberation won’t come at the hands of politicians who benefit from the maintenance of oppressive structures. Four organizers tell us how we can push beyond electoral politics.
By Reina Sultan
I’ve had many political identities. When I was young—during the George W. Bush years—I was a quiet dissident, knowing the Iraq War and the Patriot Act were bad, but not understanding their place in our long, sordid American history. As a high-school liberal, I thought President Barack Obama would fix the US. In college, I registered my peers to vote. I drove to Nevada on a whim to canvass for Bernie Sanders. I believed so deeply that his presidency could change the country—a country I still believed in.
What I didn’t yet realize is that electoral politics will not liberate us. Though I believe in voting as harm reduction and will choose a candidate most likely to help most people, it is not an American president who will end capitalism or imperialism or fascism.
It sounds sad and depressing, that I lost hope in this country and its systems, but it’s quite the opposite. In realizing that I couldn’t trust politicians to make meaningful change, I saw that people were making those changes for themselves, organizing and disrupting the system to demand something better now.
If like me, you are sick and tired of watching white people argue on-screen about how best to solve this nation’s problems, read on. I talked to organizers and activists who are working to solve some of these issues now, with or without elected officials’ help.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Criminal Justice System
Jordan DeLoach is a 26-year-old Black woman who organizes with BYP100 and works at State Voices. She describes State Voices as “an affiliated network of coalitions, called state Tables, in states across the U.S. working together to get political power for Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color.”
What does State Voices do?
“In Wisconsin Voices, the African American Roundtable has been working on the #LiberateMKE campaign to divest from police and invest in non-police-based violence prevention, youth employment, and housing in Milwaukee. They organized and surveyed community members to determine what resources people wanted to invest in, they successfully organized to stop $14.5 million from going to the Milwaukee police department.”
Getting the right to vote is a core demand from incarcerated organizers across the country. Last year, organizations working with Silver State Voices, the state Table in Nevada, helped pass a bill that restored voting rights for people once they leave prison. They continue to organize to make sure people know their rights and to get expanded rights restoration so that currently incarcerated people can vote, too. Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) is a partner to the Table, and the Mass Liberation Project at PLAN leads a lot of this work in the state, including organizing bailouts and advocating for the elimination of cash bail.”
How can I get involved?
“We need protestors and disruptors. We need advocates and voters. We need organizers, agitators, artists, and healers. We need to continuously challenge each other to move in the direction of revolution. There are so many things that are needed to get oppressed people free, and there’s a role out there for everyone.
To fight for police divestment in Milwaukee, reach out to LiberateMKE to ask about volunteer opportunities, or consider making a donation to support this important work. To learn about other things Wisconsin Voices is doing to build political power—like ensuring that BIPOC communities are counted in the census—reach out to the table.
To get involved with the work in Nevada, contact Silver State Voices to learn more about statewide efforts and partner grassroots organizations.
To contact any of our other state Tables within the State Voices network to get plugged into work happening near you, visit the State Voices network page. And sign up for the State Voices newsletter to stay up-to-date with what Tables and the grassroots organizations in them are doing across the country to build power.”
Eleanor Grano is the community outreach and youth engagement coordinator at Jane’s Due Process.
What does Jane’s Due Process do?
“Jane’s Due Process supports young people navigating parental involvement laws for abortion and birth control in Texas. For teens who need a judicial bypass for abortion—we offer case management, free legal representation, and cover the complete cost of their abortion. We also provide step by step assistance to teens who need to get confidential birth control without permission from a parent.
We work hard to develop programming to ensure reproductive freedom for all young people in Texas. One of the ways we do this is by running targeted ads on social media that educate teens on judicial bypass, differences between a medical and surgical abortion, and how to access confidential birth control. If they have any questions, we encourage them to text our anonymous and confidential hotline.”
How can I get involved?
“For anyone interested in getting involved in our work — we are always looking for new volunteers. Also, our hotline is remote and volunteers reply to texts from teens through Slack app. It’s a really great way for people who may have barriers to volunteering in-person to still be involved in defending teens repro rights in Texas!”
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Indigenous Reproductive Justice
Rachael Lorenzo organizes in New Mexico with Indigenous Women Rising, where they “are guided by our Pueblo values and our culture to love and respect each other, even when we don’t agree.”
What does Indigenous Women Rising do?
“My cousin-sisters, Nicole and Malia, and my mom show up for our people in a loving and respectful way to show that abortion is normal, our people have had abortions since time immemorial, and their reasons for wanting or needing an abortion don’t matter. What matters is that they have support (financial or practical support or both). Our tribal communities generally don’t prioritize sex education and reproductive healthcare. There are no women, transgender, or non-binary folks in tribal leadership in NM right now so there’re critical voices that are missing when it comes to our communal wellbeing.”
How can I get involved?
“If people want to table with us, learn about us so they can share our message of reproductive justice, or start their own abortion fund, reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), DM me on Insta (@rlorenxo or @indigenouswomenrising), or Twitter (@rlorenxo or @IWRising). I will personally make sure you have the skills and tools to make that happen. There are so many creative and innovative ways that people can get involved by utilizing their talents or hobbies. This movement is for everyone who cares about bodily autonomy, everyone who is curious and unsure, people who don’t always have the language to express their feelings about abortion but know it’s important.”
Alanna Davis is a 29-year-old Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) leader. She describes CJJ as “a grassroots organization committed to creating a more just, fair, and compassionate North Carolina.”
What does CJJ do?
“We build relationships where people help each other because individuals have a profound responsibility for the well-being of the whole. Founded in March 2013, Carolina Jews for Justice combines advocacy and education to organize a non-partisan Jewish voice for justice in North Carolina. CJJ works to influence policy at the local and state levels and encourage individuals and Jewish institutions to take a stand on important issues in our community.
At the first CJJ county chapter meeting I attended, I learned that the Alamance County Detention Center profited off ICE’s human trafficking. In February 2019, Alamance Sheriff Terry Johnson negotiated a 12-month $2.3 million contract with ICE. Since March, ICE has paid Alamance County $6,750/day to house immigrant detainees, many of whom have been imprisoned for months without any access to legal representation. Along with a team of other Never Again organizers, I helped define and plan the tactics and Jewish ritual involved in an action that targeted Johnson and his team for profiting off the kidnapping of members of our communities and throwing them in jail. This action was planned together with Alamance-based organizations Down Home and Siembra, who have consistently called out Sheriff Johnson for his immoral, inhumane, and unethical actions. The planned march did not make it far as our crowd of nearly 400 protesters were immediately met with state repression. Many organizers agreed beforehand: even if we can’t march far, the most important part of the day was to meet as a minyan and hold an afternoon Mincha service. We paused at the Mourner’s Kaddish to recognize our siblings that have been murdered at the border and in immigration detention. We carried hand-built and painted caskets that made our demands clear: “ICE out of Alamance.”
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How can I get involved?
“We want to defend and support our immigrant neighbors and communities, whether it’s in the streets pushing for a county to end its contract with ICE, or training people to become first responders when ICE is spotted in our community. We believe taking down the deportation machine will require everything from community defense, to policy change to educating the American public on the size and urgency of this contemporary humanitarian crisis.
Get involved with Carolina Jews for Justice! Also check out other local groups that were part of the action (JVP Triangle, Down Home, Siembra, Migrant Roots Media, and SONG). Sign up for an ICE Verifier Training (for Central NC) on March 8th. If you don’t live in central NC, get connected to a local Never Again mobilization near you.”
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine to five. A California native, she enjoys the beach, the sun, and complaining about the weather in D.C., where she now lives. Reina is passionate about smashing the patriarchy and eating the rich. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, and Rantt. Following @SultanReina on Twitter will provide you with endless hot takes and photos of Reina’s extremely cute cats.
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