Justice During the Election and Beyond
For better or worse, voters in the United States are now casting the first votes of the 2020 United States Elections. The official election day is November 3, but early voting and mail-in voting have already started in earnest. Anyone concerned about the outcome of this election now has less than a month to get out the vote in favor of their preferred outcome for the presidential election and the many down-ballot offices at stake.
I’m no expert. I have no degrees in political science, no access to special polling data, and no other impressive qualifications on paper. What I do have, though, is over twenty years of experience reading about, writing about, and occasionally participating in various left-of-center and anti-authoritarian political organizations and movements. Even if I didn’t have that knowledge and experience, though, I would still speak up about politics. If we want to live in a democracy, we should all be ready and willing to talk about politics, regardless of whether or not we hold any specific political qualifications.
This is my statement about the 2020 United States Elections and beyond. If you want to talk about it, you know where to find me.
Who should read this statement?
I have two broad audiences in mind for this statement: “liberals” and “leftists” (especially anti-authoritarian leftists) who live in the United States and are considering some form of involvement in the 2020 United States elections.
These two audiences are often at odds with each other. This is because there are irreconcilable differences between these two broadly-defined worldviews.
Liberals tend to be reformists who see the existing economic and political systems as mostly valid, or at least salvageable, but flawed in certain specific ways. They believe that they can fix these problems by pushing for a more progressive Democratic Party, ensuring that Democratic candidates win as many electoral races as possible, and holding elected officials accountable to promises made during their campaigns. Many liberals see the Obama administration as a “normal” that they want to return to after the unprecedented horrors of a Trump administration.
Leftists, on the other hand, tend to be radicals and revolutionaries who see fundamental flaws in the existing institutions. Contrary to popular belief, leftists usually do recognize that the two ruling parties have substantial differences. But they critique both ruling parties for agreeing on certain systemic harms. They reject both ruling parties to varying degrees in favor of third parties, independents, or purely non-electoral strategies for social change such as a dual power strategy. They do this because they believe that existing institutions do not — and likely cannot — address their grievances. Many leftists remember the Obama administration as an eight-year period in which the President spoke eloquently about justice (to the standing ovation of liberals), but failed to address numerous major systemic problems — and actively made some systemic problems worse.
The conflicts between liberals and leftists are often bitter. Dialog, much less cooperation in the service of common goals, often seems impossible. However, as someone who knows many liberals and many leftists, I also see many points of agreement. The reason why the two broadly-defined factions fight so bitterly is because they share some key values and goals in common. When they can’t get each other to agree on strategy or tactics to act on those values and achieve those goals, they fight bitterly in a mostly-unsuccessful effort to change each other’s mind.
I’ll talk more about the details of those shared values and goals below. The fact that these two factions share at least some overlap in what they’d like to see in the world leads me to believe that some degree of cooperation (or at least mutual non-aggression) on political action may be possible, especially on local and non-electoral efforts.
This statement is partially about how both factions can work separately — and at times even cooperatively — during and after the current election cycle. More importantly, though, it points to broader strategy for how they can work separately and cooperatively beyond the election.
What are our goals?
Before talking about strategy and tactics, let’s talk about goals.
In a remarkably diverse nation of over three hundred million people, it’s hard to know where to even start talking about questions of ethics and politics. One framework that appeals to a broad audience is the framework of justice. Some people on the left don’t use the term “justice” for various reasons, but I will use it here as a stand-in for multiple terms that people use to describe the types of communities and societies we hope to create through our actions.
What is justice? How we define justice is a major philosophical question that’s beyond the scope of this statement. Rather than presenting a long-winded abstract argument about the nature of justice, I’m going to list some principles of justice that I consider to be necessary components of a just community and society:
- Climate Justice & Environmental Justice
- Black Lives Matter & Racial Justice
- Indigenous Sovereignty
- Restorative Justice
- LGBTQ Rights
- Antiwar / Just Peace
- Solidarity Economy
- Grassroots Democracy
There’s some overlap among these principles. They also may not cover every justice concern. But these principles of justice are a starting point for discussion of major values and goals shared by liberals and leftists. We may have very different ideas about how to put these principles into practice, but hopefully we can agree to varying extents that these would all be important principles at play in a more just society.
This isn’t a purely arbitrary definition of justice. Many different groups and movements are advocating for various broadly-defined visions of justice that address some or all of these principles. Here are three examples of popular movements for social change that speak to many justice concerns at once, including but not limited to the above principles:
- The Movement for a People’s Party (MPP) is working to build a major new progressive populist party that will deliver what regular people take for granted in so many other countries: single-payer health care, free public college, money out of politics, an infrastructure jobs program, a $15 minimum wage, financial regulations, and more. Their People’s Platform outlines twenty-four policy priorities for this newly-forming party.
- Symbiosis is a confederation of community organizations across North America, building a democratic and ecological society from the ground up. They are fighting for a better world by creating institutions of participatory democracy and the solidarity economy through community organizing, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city. The Symbosis Points of Unity outline a set of core principles embraced by the Symbiosis confederation and the new society they are working to build.
- A People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy offers community groups, policy advocates,and policymakers a pathway to solutions that work for frontline communities and workers. These ideas have been collectively strategized by community organizations and leaders from across multiple frontline and grassroots networks and alliances to ensure that regenerative economic solutions and ecological justice—under a framework that challenges capitalism and both white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy—are core to any and all policies. These policies must be enacted, not only at the federal level, but also at the local, state, tribal, and regional levels, in U.S. Territories, and internationally. Their 14 Planks entail over eighty policy ideas. They are deeply intertwined and should be held as a collective framework to achieve a Regenerative Economy. The planks are organized starting with a focus on championing human rights and dignity, moving into infrastructure shifts for a Regenerative Economy, and ending with how we can resource these solutions.
These three examples of movements for justice propose many meaningful and important changes to our society. Their organizing strategies and goals aren’t entirely compatible with one another. Some are more reformist while others are more revolutionary. But they all involve a shift toward a more social economy, a greater respect for the rights and interests of marginalized communities, evidence-based and justice-informed responses to the climate crisis and other environmental concerns, more direct and democratic participation in public decision-making, and other interrelated justice concerns. If any of these movements achieves their goals, we will be living in a more just society. Whether they work inside existing systems, outside of such systems, or both, these movements help inform my understanding of what a more just society may look like.
Not all actions that I take inside or outside of the voting booth will directly benefit all of these movements for justice at once. But I intend to do what I can to support all of these movements for justice through a combination of electoral and non-electoral actions. I also strive to avoid any actions that would set these movements back. Whenever I take public action, whether it’s in the voting booth or outside of it, I strive to gear my action toward creating justice in accordance with as many of these different principles and movements as possible.
Is this the only interpretation of justice? No. Obviously not. But I’m not currently interested in debating the merits of this broadly-defined framework of justice. I especially have no interest in debating with right-wing and authoritarian speakers about whether or not we should engage in economic cooperation, whether or not marginalized communities have rights, whether or not there is a climate crisis, whether or not the general public ought to have a say in political decisions, and so on.
This statement is intended for people who share some broadly similar concept of justice and want to work together in support of justice. If you have fundamental disagreements with this broad understanding of justice, this statement isn’t for you.
Justice During the Election
What does justice during the election look like?
Let me start by saying that I am a revolutionary. I personally don’t believe that any single outcome of this election will be sufficient to fully serve the cause of justice as described above. There are outcomes that are far better or worse for the cause of justice, but none of these outcomes are sufficient to create a just society. Whatever happens with this election, the road to justice will still be a long and difficult one.
I believe that the only way to ensure justice in the long-term for all of these movements is to develop radically different political and economic systems that are structured and intended to serve the needs and uphold the rights of the people and the land. The best outcome that I can envision for this election cycle is that the rise of a proto-fascist movement in the United States will inspire liberals and leftists alike to rethink the very foundations of this society. I would like us to rethink the existing institutions that created the preconditions for this increasingly volatile political moment and work together to create something better. I would like to see millions of people meeting in their neighborhoods and communities to develop new economic and political systems that can exist within the current context while also pointing the way toward a more just society built within the shell of the old.
For better or worse, that doesn’t seem to be happening enough to pose a viable alternative to existing institutions before the end of this election cycle.
Until it does, the outcome of this election matters, both in the short-term and in the long-term. The outcome of this election has the potential to create stark changes in many on the ground realities in this country, especially for marginalized communities. It will also have a profound effect on the prospects for reform and/or revolution for the next several years. We must do what we can both within and beyond existing institutions to resist the rise of proto-fascist movements and improve the prospects for social change in the direction of justice.
One way to engage with existing institutions in the service of justice is voting.
After years of bickering with my liberal friends, and years of watching my liberal and leftist friends bicker with each other (and amongst themselves!), I’ve developed a simple but powerful electoral strategy that allows liberals and leftists to pursue different strategies without wasting precious time, energy, and goodwill fighting each other about those differences.
I call this strategy “Justice on All Fronts.”
Justice on All Fronts
The Justice on All Fronts strategy involves working for the justest outcome on all fronts of the electoral and non-electoral struggle for justice. This includes working on multiple electoral fronts as well as multiple non-electoral fronts.
Liberals and leftists often see electoral campaigns in particular as a zero-sum game. They sometimes collaborate on non-electoral projects, but even that collaboration is jeopardized by the sheer vitriol and mutual contempt they display for each other over disagreements about which candidates to vote and campaign for. Each side feels betrayed by the other side for “taking away votes” from their preferred candidates.
Are their concerns justified? Is electoral politics a zero-sum game, especially in the context of a plurality voting a.k.a first-past-the-post system? Does voting for one candidate count as “taking away votes” from another candidate?
In most cases, especially at the federal and state level, each election has only one “winner.” The winner takes the office in question. From that point forward, anyone who voted for the other candidates is effectively disenfranchised from the system. Therefore, on the surface, competition among candidates does seem to be a zero-sum game.
The Justice on All Fronts strategy resolves this conflict by pointing to this country’s long history of low voter turnout.
For about a hundred years, voter turnout in the United States has been remarkably low. Only about 60% of eligible voters actually vote in presidential elections, while only about 40% vote in midterm elections. The percentage fluctuates a bit in response to other factors. But for a hundred years now, about 40-60% of eligible voters have not voted.
Justice on All Fronts calls on liberals and leftists alike to focus their entire electoral efforts on turning out voters who are either already in their camp or are among this enormous pool of non-voters. Rather than fighting bitterly with each other over a few percentage points of “progressive swing voters,” liberals and leftists can achieve all of their short-term electoral goals by turning out their existing base plus a small fraction of the vast pool of current non-voters.
This emphasis on turning out existing voters and non-voters creates space for a broadly-defined movement for justice that is organized into numerous distinct but compatible “fronts.” Liberals work on reformist electoral fronts: backing the most “progressive” choice in Democratic primaries and allocating as many resources as possible to the more “progressive” nominees during the general election. Leftists work on other electoral fronts: building local, state, and national support for third parties that speak to injustices left unaddressed by the two ruling parties. Both engage in a shared struggle on those few but important fronts where they can find common ground, such as electoral reform, voter registration, and the wide variety of non-electoral approaches to justice. In this way, the cause of justice is advanced by a broad coalition of liberal and leftist organizations and movements.
The idea of turning out non-voters is nothing new. It’s almost as old as the downturn in voter turnout itself. The idea of liberals and leftists working together in some way is also nothing new. Others have attempted it in the US and elsewhere. It’s a difficult balancing act that tends to favor liberals due to their foothold in existing institutions.
What Justice on All Fronts does that’s relatively new is call on liberals and leftists to focus their full electoral attention on turning out voters on their own “fronts” rather than wasting limited time and resources fighting each other over “progressive swing voters.” This is especially important in cases where one party is actively interfering with another party’s ability to vote for their preferred candidate at all. (I’m looking at you, Democrats who suppress Green ballot access. Stop doing that.)
Justice on All Fronts also calls on liberals and leftists to work together whenever possible on non-partisan electoral activities such as voter registration, voter turnout, meaningful candidate debates (along the lines of League of Women Voters rather than the corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates), election monitoring (profoundly important this election cycle), and electoral reform (Ranked Choice Voting, ballot reform, etc.).
When voter turnout rises into the 80% or 90% range, liberals and leftists might find themselves in an actual zero-sum game rather than an imagined one. Until then, both factions should adopt a non-competitive, “post-scarcity” approach to voter turnout. This allows them to focus all of their resources on turning out the vote on their own front, which is helpful both for their front and for people working for justice on other fronts.
Given this Justice on All Fronts understanding of the election, what are the main electoral and non-electoral fronts?
I have identified at least seven distinct fronts in this broadly-defined movement for justice. Every liberal or leftist who wants to support movements for justice can do so by participating in grassroots community efforts on one or more of these fronts. In theory, all of these fronts can “win” simultaneously, leading to a tremendous leap forward for the movements for justice described above.
So far, this is all just my own off-the-cuff assessment without outside input. I expect some combination of constructive criticism and unfettered vitriol in response to this statement. If this Justice on All Fronts strategy gains any traction, though, I’m open to working out the details collaboratively with anyone else who sees value to the strategy. The more people working on this, the more impact it will have during the remainder of the election and beyond.
Two-Party Presidential Front:
Biden Decisively Beats Trump
This is the point at which many of my leftist friends and readers will start yelling at me.
Why do you want Joe Biden to win? Biden has actively participated in many of the great injustices of the past several decades. If elected, he’ll do more of the same, regardless of what his platform says or what promises he makes on the campaign trail. He will break his promises and do whatever his donors and the Democratic Party establishment tell him to do. No Medicare for All. No Green New Deal. No end to mass incarceration or deportation. No end to wars of aggression. The list goes on and on.
These hypothetical disgruntled leftists have a point.
I don’t like Biden. I don’t support Biden. I won’t vote or campaign for Biden. This is not the front I will work on.
Why? Because Biden is a war criminal who keeps advocating for more war. He was one of the architects of mass incarceration which disproportionately affected Black communities due to white supremacist aspects of both the criminal laws themselves and the enforcement of those laws. He can’t be trusted to fight for reproductive justice given how often he has worked against it. He opposes Medicare for All, which a majority of voters and the vast majority of Democrats support. He has a long history of support for continuing and expanding fossil fuel use, rejects the Green New Deal, surrounds himself with fossil fuel shills, and received an F (75 out of 200!) on the Sunrise 2020 Presidential Candidate Scorecard as recently as December 2019. He has participated in so many other problematic political decisions that it’s hard to even find a single comprehensive list of them all. I don’t trust him to follow through with the progressive shifts in his stances and platform that have happened late this election cycle. Even if he did follow through, those shifts aren’t sufficient to bring about justice on the many issues outlined above. Biden is an attempt to return to a neoliberal status quo that failed to provide justice for millions of people in this country and beyond, and contributed to the rise [both directly and indirectly] of a reactionary candidate like Trump.
However, the advocates for a Biden victory over Trump also have a point.
Trump is both a continuation of, and a rupture from, previous rightward and authoritarian trends in our society. He is a step in the direction of open fascism. Neoliberalism and fascism are both detestable political movements that are anathema to democracy, human rights, and genuine human freedom. But neoliberalism, at least in its previous American incarnation, operated under the pretense of retaining or even expanding basic human rights. It was a quid pro quo; we’ll give you some concessions domestically on human rights and a few other issues as long as you give us a free pass on economic and foreign policy. The proto-fascist movement that Trump (and QAnon) are fomenting does away with all of those vestiges of social democracy. They have no interest in rights or freedoms or social institutions of any sort. Removing Trump from power won’t make these proto-fascist movements disappear — but allowing Trump to remain in power will embolden them and provide them with deepening support from existing institutions. And given the fact that Trump is actively working to delegitimize the election, the election must be decisive to prevent a prolonged election dispute bordering on civil war.
Does this mean that we should all vote for Biden?
Honestly, I still don’t believe that Biden winning the election is the best outcome of this election. The best outcome of this election would be for millions of Americans to recognize that we’re in the midst of a political crisis, reject the legitimacy of existing institutions, and immediately start developing grassroots economic and political institutions that meet as many of our basic needs as possible and incorporate as many of the aforementioned principles of justice as possible. However, I don’t foresee that happening within the next few weeks on the massive scale necessary to pose a legitimate challenge to the alleged moral authority of existing institutions. That being the case, a surge in liberals turning out to vote against Trump would at least create more space and time for more radical and revolutionary movements to do the community organizing work necessary to create the beginnings of a more just society in the shell of the old.
If this “Vote for Biden” front is the front that you choose, be aware that the work of this front doesn’t end on Election Day. If Biden is elected, tremendous grassroots organizing will be required both inside and outside of existing institutions to push the administration in a more “progressive” direction and deal with those policy areas where the administration will simply never budge, regardless of outside pressure. Biden voters should be at the front lines of this effort since they voted for him. They’re also better positioned to demand accountability by citing their status as Biden voters. Politicians allegedly represent their entire constituency, but most are unresponsive to the concerns of people who don’t actually vote for them.
Two-Party Down-Ballot Front:
Progressive Democrats Decisively Beat Republicans in Congress
The argument for the merits of a decisive Democratic victory in the House and Senate is similar to the argument in favor of a decisive Biden-Harris victory. In and of itself, it will not be sufficient to create movement in the direction of justice. But it will create space for more radical and revolutionary movements for justice to continue.
Progressive Democrats have a particularly important role to play if this election outcome is going to generate any movement in the direction of justice. Having the Presidency, House, and Senate under Democratic control doesn’t guarantee movement in a progressive policy direction, as the Obama administration demonstrated on many issues, including his love of drone strikes and deportation. But if a wave of Progressive Democrats eventering Congress advocate for policy shifts in the direction of justice, that may create far more movement in that direction than a Democratic Congress whose policy approach is strongly dictated by the establishment wing of the party.
This is a front that may see some overlap between liberals and leftists, especially in down-ballot tickets with only two candidates running. For example, in my Congressional district, progressive Democratic challenger Ray Lenzi is running against Republican incumbent Mike Bost. Bost is awful, Lenzi is good, and there’s no Green or other third-party candidate, so I voted for Ray Lenzi.
Third-Party Presidential Front:
Hawkins Gets 5%
This is the point at which most if not all of my liberal friends and readers will start yelling at me. What are you thinking? We need every single vote we can muster against Trump! Didn’t you just say that you hope Biden defeats Trump? Shouldn’t we devote every single vote to the cause of stopping Trump?
In a word, no.
As mentioned above, a Biden victory does not ensure justice for the many people who have been denied justice under both Republican or Democratic rule. It would provide some measure of relief to some marginalized communities, but not all, and not fully. Drone strikes escalated dramatically during the Obama administration. The illegal wars and interventions overseas continued. Police brutality, mass incarceration, and mass deportation persisted during the Obama administration. Attacks on indigenous sovereignty (including those at Standing Rock) persisted during the Obama administration. The science-denying “all of the above” energy policy persisted during the Obama administration. Obama supporters can point to some specific gains made during his administration, but I wouldn’t recommend singing his praises to the millions of people willfully ignored or actively harmed by the actions of his administration.
A Biden victory may (or may not) slow the rise of open fascism in this country, but narrowly averting an overt fascist takeover is a far cry from actively creating just communities and a just society. We must do better.
The Democratic Party establishment cannot be trusted to work for justice. They have demonstrated this time and time again, particularly since the Clinton administration ushered in the modern era of Democratic neoliberalism and hawkish interventionism. I know many individual Democrats who are working tirelessly at the grassroots for justice, and I understand that many Progressive Democrats are working to shift the entire party in a more “progressive” direction. But in order to change a reality, we must first acknowledge it. The current Democratic Party establishment must go.
The Green Party platform and candidates are in closer alignment to the movements for justice described above. If the Green Party candidate gets 5% of the vote, they will secure ballot access and federal funding. Due to ridiculously unfair ballot access laws and Democrats actively attacking ballot access for Greens, gaining ballot access requires considerable effort and resources. Getting 5% of the vote this election would be a major win on this front that would allow the Green Party to become a more powerful force for change in the direction of justice in future elections.
A higher-than-expected turnout for Green Party voters would also demonstrate that the Green Party poses a viable threat to the Democratic Party establishment’s erasure of progressive voices within their own party. The Democratic Party establishment doesn’t care much about public opinion, but they do care about losing power. A stronger Green Party would give voters a viable choice that places more emphasis on the movements for justice described above. This would force the Democratic Party to either include more “progressive” policy stances in their platform or lose more races to Greens.
An outcome to this election cycle that includes both a decisive Biden win and a Hawkins 5% would demonstrate that the movements for justice mentioned above have far more traction among voters and in our society than the heinous interpretations of justice espoused by Trump and the proto-fascist movement he is inspiring.
Third-Party Down-Ballot Front:
Greens & Other Left Parties Make Gains Down-Ballot
I’m not fully up-to-date on the many Green Party and other third-party races for local, state, and federal offices. There are only so many hours in a day. But the argument here is similar to the arguments in favor of a 5% threshold for Hawkins and a Progressive Democrat takeover of Congress.
In order to bring existing institutions into closer alignment with the goals of movements for justice, we need more people in those institutions who embrace the principles of justice outlined above. I don’t believe that our current statist, capitalist, colonialist, white supremacist institutions can ever be fully just. But as long as those institutions exist, struggling for shifts toward justice within those institutions is just as important as building popular power outside of those structures. Until we’ve reached the point where more grassroots economic and political institutions exist to serve as alternatives for the power of state and capital, intervention in existing institutions is a powerful way to reduce the harm caused by such institutions and create an economic and political environment more conducive to the emergence of justice in local communities.
It’s also worth noting that Democrats who critique third-party presidential candidates often tell third-party voters to work on building power at the local and state levels first before fielding Presidential candidates. I understand this argument — and to some extent, I agree. So do most third parties, including the Green Party, which has been working on down-ballot campaigns for decades. The main reason why the Green Party and other third parties field presidential candidates before they’ve built a more robust base at the local and state level is because ballot access laws and other unfair election laws provide an unfair advantage in elections at all levels to established political parties. Getting that 5% at the national level would make the work of local and state third party candidates so much easier. Then again, so would changing unfair ballot access laws. Either way, getting down-ballot candidates into office who embrace the principles of justice outlined above would shift existing institutions in the direction of justice, thus reducing the harm they cause and creating an economic and political environment that is more conducive to the emergence of justice.
This is also a front that may see some overlap between liberals and leftists. For example, here in Southern Illinois, the three candidates running for the 115th district of the Illinois State House are a Republican, a Green, and a Libertarian. I’ve heard that some people who usually vote Democrat are voting for the Green, Randy Auxier, because there is no Democrat running and they prefer him to the Republican or Libertarian candidate. His campaign is also in much closer alignment to the principles of justice mentioned above than either of the other two campaigns.
Electoral Reform Front:
Ranked Choice Voting & Ballot Reform Surge
Ranked Choice Voting is a simple but powerful change to the way that voters choose candidates for political offices. Instead of picking a single candidate, voters rank the candidates. This eliminates the so-called “spoiler effect” and lets the electoral process select a candidate who more accurately reflects the full spectrum of voters. It would also reduce the tension between leftist and liberal candidates by allowing them to work together toward justice in more ways without fear of “losing votes” to each other.
Ballot Reform involves changing ballot access laws that unfairly penalize third-party candidates with additional fees, signature requirements, or other hurdles, making it difficult for them to get on the ballot. The Coalition for Free and Open Elections is working for ballot reform so that third-party candidates can participate more fully in the electoral process, thus better reflecting the will of the electorate.
These electoral reforms haven’t been implemented in many places yet in the United States. They won’t be implemented on a broad scale in time to affect the outcome of most electoral races in 2020. One notable example of where Ranked Choice Voting has already been implemented is Maine, where it could play a deciding role in Maine’s Senate race. The outcome of that election may have a major impact on how broadly Ranked Choice Voting is implemented in the rest of the country.
If we want to improve our electoral process in these or other ways, it’s never too soon to start working on that front. The sooner we start working on such changes, the better. If we wait until next election cycle to pay attention to or care about electoral reforms, it will be too late.
Direct Action Front:
Movements Intervene to Interrupt Harm
No electoral outcome will be sufficient to prevent the tremendous breadth and depth of harm caused by injustices in our society on a regular basis.
The Black Lives Matter uprisings are a prime example of a movement to intervene directly to interrupt that ongoing harm. BLM is taking to the streets to demand justice for Black lives by building local power to intervene in the violence of police brutality, mass incarceration, and white supremacy generally. There are also electoral efforts to address these concerns, but BLM isn’t waiting for justice to be delivered by the politicians. They’re rising up in the street to speak up for justice right here, right now, and to interrupt the violent white supremacist status quo until that justice is won.
Resistance efforts like Black Lives Matter play a vital role in many movements to create social change. As Frederick Douglass pointed out, power concedes nothing without a demand. And that demand must have weight to it. A polite request or signed petition holds far less weight in the halls of power than the visible and tangible counterpower created by large numbers of people gathering in the streets to demand justice.
Regardless of the outcome of this election, the struggle for justice will require more direct interventions in the name of justice, both in the Black Lives Matter movement and in the other movements for justice mentioned above. Whether those interventions take the form of challenging the failures of a Biden administration to act for justice, or challenging rising fascism under a second Trump term, people will still need to be out in the streets — and at detention centers, fossil fuel sites, and other sites that participate in our society’s great injustices — demanding justice.
Dual Power Front:
Communities Build Solidarity Economy & Participatory Democracy
I see this as the most important and potentially most unifying front of all. Regardless of what happens with the election, this is a front that liberals and leftists should be able to work on together. Most leftists and liberals should be able to agree that creating cooperative economic organizations and participatory democratic organizations at the local and regional level is a good thing, regardless of what other disagreements they have on politics and economics. This is also the front that has the greatest potential for achieving long-term change of our society in the direction of justice. The more progress we make on this front, the easier it becomes to meet our demands for justice in other areas.
The solidarity economy takes many forms. The basic concept of the solidarity economy is one of meeting our economic needs through social cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition and exploitation. Examples include creating local food autonomy through community growing and distribution of food, worker-owned cooperatives, housing cooperatives, credit unions, and gift economy projects like the Buy Nothing Project.
The solidarity economy can exist as a cooperative bubble within the broader context of a capitalist economy (under the liberal perspective) or serve as a rival or replacement to a capitalist economy (under the leftist perspective). Rather than making some sweeping decision in the halls of power to change the way we organize our economy, the solidarity economy builds a new economy one within the shell of the old one piece at a time.
Participatory democracy takes the premise of democracy to its logic conclusion by empowering people to participate as directly and democratically as possible in all public decision-making. Decision-making power comes from the grassroots, or the ground up, starting with local meetings and potentially building into broader networks, alliances, or confederations among these local meetings. Much like the solidarity economy, participatory democracy can take on a variety of forms, including citizen assemblies or town hall meetings, community centers that are run democratically by the people who gather there, and worker-owned cooperatives and democratic unions in the workplace.
When fully realized and combined, these intertwined efforts at creating more economic cooperation and participatory democracy at the local and regional level constitute a dual power. In other words, we can start making more and more of the decisions in our life directly and collaboratively rather than waiting for the state and capital to make those decisions. As the power of these grassroots organizations builds, we will increasingly have a choice. Do we see ourselves as a society run by politicians and for-profit corporations, or a society run by We the People?
Symbiosis is working on developing both the solidarity economy and participatory democracy. For more information, check out the Symbiosis Points of Unity, Symbiosis Vision and Strategy, Symbiosis launch statement, and reading list.
Toward a More Just Society
This election cycle has demonstrated many flaws in the electoral process and forms of governance generally in this country.
Leftists have always known about these flaws and struggled against them in various ways. Liberals have tended to believe that as long as they work hard at campaigning for Democrats, the “right candidates” will be elected and everything will work out in the long run.
The overlapping crises of the Trump administration and the 2020 election cycle generally are an illustration that existing institutions are not working to uphold the rights and serve the interests of the people and the land. If we want to change that, we’re going to have to work together to make it happen. Let’s work together on the strategies and projects we agree on. When we don’t agree, let’s find ways to work on separate fronts toward similar broadly-defined goals.
Together, we can create more just communities and a more just society.