Most people who claim that our people died for the right to vote are primarily referencing the civil rights movement which produced the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which greatly bolstered our ability to vote in mass. This movement was carried out by the courageous activists of organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC - Dr. King's group), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). These organizations placed organizers on the ground in the most brutal and dangerous battlegrounds; Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, etc. States with strong attachments to their confederate and slavery histories and a commitment to maintaining systems that subjugate the large African populations that live there. Its important to understand the history of these organizations because those organizers who sacrificed so much on the ground during those segregation days, actually have had quite a bit to say about voting rights in the U.S. since that time, although it appears no one is listening to them. By virtue of belonging to the All African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) I've had the privilege of having working relationships with many of SNCC's most well known and skilled activists. I just spent two weeks staying with our legendary Baba Seku Neblitt in Ghana, West Africa. During the early 1960s he was one of the original members of the SNCC Freedom Singers. This was the group who participated in the most dangerous civil rights work in the South. Marches and activities where klansmen and women came to commit violence against those workers who would challenge their segregated vision. Brother Seku, known as Chico then, was present at many of the most contentious civil rights confrontations with Southern racists and more often than he can probably count, he had to face death just for standing up for his rights as a human being. I also spent a lot of time organizing with Kwame Ture who was then known as Stokely Carmichael. As the person who defeated (now congressperson) John Lewis as SNCC Chairperson in 1966, Kwame was the poster child for the developing militancy within SNCC, as well as the Black Power movement overall. Brother Kwame was arrested over 40 times for his voter registration work in the South. He was repeatedly beaten and tortured for this work and he and his comrades in SNCC and the other organizations are the reason the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. So, the opinions of people like Kwame, Seku, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, etc., they matter. Their opinions on this subject mean much more than any person working for the vote today, any academic pundit, intellectual masturbation specialist, or self proclaimed expert on our struggle for liberation. And what that militant leadership from SNCC went on to say after leaving SNCC, and joining the revolutionary Pan-African struggle, is that African people did not die for the vote. We died for freedom and liberation and the vote was and is simply a tactic from which to achieve that freedom. This proper understanding applies to everyone. As Kwame never tired of saying, "we must understand the difference between principles, strategies, and tactics. Principles are values we can never compromise." Further, an example of a principle is the belief that in order to be free, we must destroy capitalism and bring about (in our case) one unified socialist Africa. This belief we can never compromise on. We can never say we will build capitalism because to do so would be a betrayal of our principles. Gong further with Kwame's point, the vote is a tactic. So, like demonstrations, sit ins, boycotts, and teach ins, and unlike the our anti-capitalist beliefs, these are all tactics that we use based on how effective they are. When they work, we use them, when they don't, we utilize something better.
This is a much healthier perspective on voting, but its one that capitalism will never permit to be promoted because capitalism's interest in promoting the "vote or die" narrative is to continue to program us to believe that our only option, our only alternative, is to find some space, some area, some framework within the capitalist system to try and address whatever issues we have because there is no answer outside of capitalism. You hear this all the time. "I'm addressing people where they are at. Right now, the electoral process is what we have to work with. The Democrats are the lesser of two evils." Again, extremely flawed logic. Its like saying that one rapist is better than another. Rape is rape. Bad anyway that you slice it. My all time favorite is "if you don't vote, you don't have the right to an opinion." This ridiculous statement suggests that voting in capitalist elections is the only validated form of political participation. So, following this crazy thinking, the contributions of people like Marcus and Amy Garvey, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, Assata Shakur, and the Black Panther Party, have absolutely no value because their work occurred outside of the capitalist electoral process. A more logical analysis of voting in this capitalist society would be to adhere to the wisdom that insanity is doing the same thing over and over the same way and expecting a different result. That's what we do with these elections. Every two to four years they come along and someone is telling us that this is the election that's going to make a difference so we stop doing any concrete independent work and instead focus all our energies on these capitalist elections. We continue to do this without at least stopping to ask how we are supposed to hold the capitalist candidates accountable to the promises they make to us while they are courting our votes.
I already said voting is a tactic. That means it can have some meaningful value if used appropriately. What would appropriate look like? How about organizing an on the ground campaign that would be designed to do work specifically focused on keeping the Demopublicans and the electoral system accountable to the masses of people? This approach will never solve all of the problems we have with the capitalist system. Only revolution can do that, but what this strategy will do is position us to get much more out of these elections. Even in a bourgeois sense, the Ross Perot campaigns from 1992 and 1996 at least gave some insight into what I'm talking about. The on the ground campaign they organized had an estimated 11,000 workers throughout the country and they are credited with helping expose the congressional non-sufficient funds scandal where congress people were getting thousands of dollars of overdraft fees carried by their banks for them (instead of being forced to pay the overdraft fees like you and I). This on the ground campaign would be responsible for tracking policy issues like a full employment bill, free universal healthcare, etc., where these on the ground organizers would engage in relentless work to insure the issues that matter to everyday people are forced upon the elite legislature in a way that forces them to address our concerns for fear of what we will do if they don't At the very least, those of you who advocate voting as a solution, and especially those of you who continue to claim we died for the vote, would have a tangible organizing approach that millions of people would respect and be willing to get behind which would create the potential for much increased reforms from the system. Again, it ain't revolution, but its far better than what you have to offer us today. Plus, this type of work will only help set the table for real socialist transformation because once people are intimately involved in the system on that level, they will see clearly the shortcomings of this system and this will make our revolutionary work easier.
Yesterday, there was a large rally in Portland in support of the Bernie Sanders campaign for president. One of the organizers of that rally contacted me earlier this week and asked me to speak at the rally, encouraging people to vote for Bernie Sanders. I have a lot of respect for this organizer and I think their intentions are 100% sincere. Of course, I had to decline the offer, explaining my presence would be dishonest as I could never ask people to vote for Bernie Sanders. I understand that the only reason his rhetoric caters to socialist values is because the people of this country, although programmed to react negatively to the word "socialism", still desire the components of socialism e.g. affordable education, healthcare, public services, etc. Socialism can only happen with the full support of the masses of people. Its a system where the masses are the governors of society so without the mass political consciousness that socialism requires, there can be no socialism. It certainly cannot happen based on an uneducated mass (as it relates to anti-capitalism and pro-socialism) voting one man, woman, martian, whatever, into a capitalist power structure where we have no mechanisms to hold the system accountable to us.
Kwame Ture, who's voice (again) matters on this subject, said it clearly 25 years ago. In 1960, Africans had no elected officials. In 1990, Kwame indicated that African people had over 7000 local elected officials. There were 370 African mayors, and 20 congress people. Then Kwame went on to state that as a people we had less power in 1990 than we had in 1960. This is even more true in 2016 for Africans and everyone else. The choice we have is either to move up the ladder by understanding that consciousness and organizing work is required to build the structures we need to seize power, either inside or outside the system. Or, we continue with business as usual where another four years from now and beyond, we are still talking about how this next election is the one that will finally do it for us while we continue to be picked off daily by this backward system.