As Republicans in the Senate insidiously pass sweeping changes to the tax code in the dead of night, without reading through their own bill, itself retrofitted with handwritten notes, yet another day goes by where we all express shock and outrage at blatantly regressive and openly racist decisions coming out of the federal government. This political moment makes it all the more imperative that we be very clear about what it takes to move on from this.
This push for clarity stems from my feeling that, as severely antagonized and oppressed peoples, we are on the brink of a useful breaking point; a breaking point that will forge something resembling an alliance out of collective outrage. However, I suspect that we only hold loosely onto a superficial set of shared beliefs concerning how to move forward. While I understand that I, unlike most, am afforded the opportunity to spend a significant amount time reading and reflecting on the specific frailties of our political and economic systems, and imagining alternative realities, it seems that this particular moment (and not because it is any more dystopian than others in the past) should move us to actually push our theories of political change from half-thoughts to fully fleshed-out imaginings of how we can create the kind of society we want.
This leads to a second dilemma: I believe many of us are also not clear about the kind of society we want. I gather this much every day from conversations IRL and comments I see on social media—folks espousing pro-Black, “Black liberation” politics who, when you look more closely at their views, actually hate Black people, or at least, poor Black people. Folks calling out white privilege and white advantage exposing the fallacy of American meritocracy who, at the same time, criticize McDonald’s workers striking for a $15 minimum wage—as if to suggest they have not earned the right to a barely living wage. It is also in our interest to be honest with ourselves about the elements of this society to which we have grown accustomed, or may even love, but that nevertheless remain cancerous and deprive others of their full humanity.
To this end, I’ve decided to compile a list of what I perceive to be some common theories of political change (i.e. “how things will get better”) drawing on themes I see/hear in people’s arguments or comments after moments of political outrage. I’ve generated 6 typical theories of change people argue will overcome oppression.
Things will get better if/when we:
- Vote Democrat and push as many people to vote Democrat as possible. This is the camp of folks who, right now, as I’m writing this, is yelling in the ear of some Bernie supporter with the Michael Jordan meme cry face to remind them that all of their anti-Hillary shit is what brought us here. They are also the people creeping up in the comment section on Blavity or The Root or a current events post on their niece’s timeline to say, “See, if Black people voted…” They even said this after unarmed Black kids got shot when Obama was president. The logic here is that Democrats are the good guys or at least the lesser of two evils and that electing them over Republicans is the end itself. Or perhaps, they believe that pushing the Democrats to respond to our needs once they’re in office will help us to achieve a more just society, or at the very least one where Black folks can’t be murdered with impunity by police. Once enough good Democrats are in office, we will have a fair and just society.
- Make good choices and lead a respectable life. Cosby, Denzel, Steve Harvey, your favorite Black actress born before 1962. A good amount of folks in the church. The logic is that societal deviance or Black deviance is responsible for everything from poverty and mass incarceration, to higher clinical rates of adverse health outcomes. Until the deviance is addressed and people start making better choices, or –in the case of Black folks—there is a collective moral reckoning, there will continue to be suffering. The solution: it starts in the home. Parents need to do a better job of raising their kids. Solution # 2: Neoliberal governmentality, i.e. we need to come together as a community and take care of our own issues. In other words, let’s allow the government to escape responsibility for meeting the needs of the public to which it is beholden and cast that responsibility on middle-class and upper-middle-class people in our communities to talk sense into the poor folks. Once a critical mass of good/respectable people is reached, society will function fairly.
- Convince politicians to care about us more. Protesting at a legislative town hall, attending a town council meeting and sharing a heartfelt story, writing a letter to your congressman, anything short of making a five to eight-figure donation to his/her reelection fund (because you’re not the owner of a multimillion dollar corporation). Working up the nerve to share the most reasoned argument with an elected official as to why he/she shouldn’t support regressive, racist, inhumane policies will eventually lead to change. If enough people get together to convince a politician, he/she has to listen and respond accordingly either out of altruism or in fear that he/she may lose needed support from you and your coalition when reelection comes. Convincing enough politicians to make decisions that benefit working and poor families will lead to systemic change. In this view, politicians are seen as malleable to the will of the general public (over corporate donors) and the general public has the potential to share enough of a political consensus to form a coalition that can pose a threat to a politician’s reelection.
- Convince the other side. Have “the” conversation. Talking about issues of race, injustice, and policing is, in itself, a revolutionary act. Whether we agree or disagree, or agree to disagree, or we leave more antagonized by each other than when we first started the conversation, opening the dialogue is beneficial toward changing society. Enough conversations and we reach the promised land where conversations lead to tangible changes in the operation of society and people’s quality of life. A step further, some folks believe that convincing the other side will produce a fair and equitable society. If every day Trump supporters could understand the perspective of, say, a BLM marcher, we would build solidarity and they would stop voting against their and our interests. The more our votes align, the more likely we are to elect good representatives whose investment in our collective well-being will be uncompromised.
- Look forward to that day when white folks are the racial minority. A society where everyone is treated fairly can’t happen until white folks are the numerical minority. So, we wait. Once white folks are in the numerical minority, all people of color, despite our prior political differences, will come together on one accord to subvert white domination somehow. White people will relinquish their power in business and government once they see they are outnumbered. Society will be fair and just.
- Look forward to that even later day when our society is so intermixed that race is inconsequential. Once we all look like Kardashians and Boris Kodjoe, no one will be getting oppressed. In other words, once we rid our society of dark skin, we will also rid it of the tensions and divisions that dark skin carried. Neither reform nor revolution is necessary to relieve oppression once we’re all olive complexion.
It goes without saying that there are a great many more philosophies of change not listed here, that I’ve reduced the ones presented, and that people may buy-in to more than one of these at one time, etc, etc. I even think that some of these strategies might be useful in the short term, or they may be all folks can muster at this point. I’m not claiming to know the best way forward either.
That said, I do know that capitalism is evil and central to the maintenance of systemic racism. If we don’t want a society where policies are designed for the rich to eat the rest of us, it will take more than electing a Democrat. Democrats also prefer a society where the rich eat the rest of us. Only recently did some democrats vote symbolically in support of a single-payer healthcare option. This after Nancy Pelosi made it clear that single-payer was not a party platform. Democrats and Republicans alike facilitated the destruction of the environment by capitulating to corporate “job creators,” and rolling back environmental regulations that allow the construction of massive shoddy oil pipelines through Native lands. Have you looked at any recent climate science research? We are literally counting down the days until this planet is unlivable and there is nothing at this point that can be done to reverse it.
I am not arguing here that I think Democrats are equally as bad as Republicans (though I wouldn’t challenge anyone who did argue this), what I am arguing is that It. Does. Not. Matter. Until we clarify for ourselves, and to each other, how we understand the way forward, and start considering possibilities that lie beyond party politics, respectability, and demographic shifts, our mutual anger is likely only to result in minor disruptions to business as usual.