One criticism we wage against the "go vote" crowd is their shortsightedness and general lack of serious knowledge about the history of electoral politics in this country. Instead of presenting a science based analysis on how to use voting as a tactical tool in our struggle for justice and liberation, the proponents of voting rely strictly and exclusively on emotional coercion based on dishonest claims about our ancestors and their desires when they made their contributions to our our forward progress.
I say dishonest because none of these emotional claims bother to even provide a semblance of a historical perspective on this question. The civil rights movement was only 50 years ago. This means many of the people who made those sacrifices are still here with us. Many of these still with us people are talking about why they made the sacrifices they made and the solid analysis many of these people provide e.g. Mukassa Dada (Willie Ricks), Cleve Sellers, (Stokely Carmichael), Ms. Hamer, etc. needs to be elevated to the level of people like their political contemporary John Lewis. Congressman Lewis is used as the poster child of voting rights today exclusively because his views coincide with those promoting how voting is handled today.
Besides those who struggled who are still alive, many of the people who are actual ancestors had enough focus on them so that their experiences and views are documented for all to see. Its incredible that so many people who claim to be experts on this subject fail to even engage in a cursory view of this history. Take Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer for example. her life is a textbook poster of the proper approach for utilizing the vote. Something that is not even remotely considered today, not to mention implemented. Ms. Hamer was an extremely poor sharecropper in rural Mississippi. She was a proud woman who saw her deep belief in Jesus as a pillar of strength against oppression. In other words, Ms. Hamer didn't rely on her faith as a crutch or justification to exist in an alternate universe, as many so-called Christians, Muslims, etc., do on a regular and accepted basis today. Instead, she saw Christianity as the vehicle that would ultimately empower her to become a larger than life figure on the civil rights stage.
In 1962, Ms. Hamer made a decision that could be life threatening. She decided to attend a meeting with Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members being held in rural Mississippi. In that meeting, SNCC organizers exulted the local people to come together to challenge Mississippi's racist tradition of disenfranchisement of African voters. The organizers were extremely practical in their inoculation practices. Years later, Kwame Ture a leading SNCC organizer in their Mississippi projects, recalled that a very sober discussion took place in those meetings where it was made clear to everyone there that standing up could and probably would come with crippling economic hardship and even death. Ms. Hamer, relying on her unquestionable belief in God, never hesitated in volunteering to become one of the local people to heed the SNCC call. Despite having a third grade education and no previous organizational experience, Ms. Hamer became fully engrossed in SNCC work. Her decision to do so was overwhelmingly costly for her. The European landowner where she and her husband sharecropped immediately evicted her once he became aware of her voter registration work. Ms. Hamer and her husband were forced to move in with other local people and the resulting financial hardships created tension in her marriage, but she was undeterred.
In June of 1963, Ms. Hamer and other SNCC activists were engaged in creating the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which they saw as a political vehicle to challenge the hegemony of the racist democratic and republican parties on Mississippi politics. SNCC's idea with the MFDP was to create opportunities for African people to run for local political offices and to become nominated to represent the state of Mississippi in state and national political decision making. While traveling to an MFDP conference during that time, Ms. Hamer and other activists were stopped by police in Winoma, Mississippi. She was jailed and it was there that police coerced two Africans who were incarcerated there to hold Ms. Hamer down and beat her relentlessly for hours. She was beaten so badly that she needed over a month to recover and the two men who beat her suffered health issues themselves from the amounts of energy they expended in brutalizing her. Still, SNCC, and Ms. Hamer were not to be intimidated. As SNCC continued to push against racist representation practices within the electoral process, it became evident that all of SNCC's work had created the conditions where the MFDP had a chance to seat delegates at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ms. Hamer gave an internationally televised testimony about the beating and other illegal intimidation tactics utilized against the MFDP, and immeasurable support began to swell in favor of the MFDP's efforts.
Due to SNCC/MFDP's pressure against the national democratic party during that convention, the national party was forced to negotiate a compromise with the MFDP. Although the SNCC activists didn't get all that they wanted, they did succeed in seating African delegates at the convention which was a historical first. And, this act served to open up the national political process. What that means is people are celebrating the election of so many women to office during the just completed election, without recognizing that none of that could be happening without the sacrifices of SNCC and the MFDP.
When we say SNCC and the MFDP, the important piece to that is the organizational effort that pushed their political efforts forward. Its the difference of having a movement that elects candidates as opposed to what we have today; candidates who run independent of the communities they allegedly represent. This is our principle critique of electoral politics today. There is a complete disregard for the effective and grassroots based strategy that SNCC implemented in Mississippi, and Alabama as well with the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO - the first Black Panther Party) one year later. There was no electoral politics without a movement directing it. Today, we have completely dismissed that sound organizing strategy to embrace an approach that relies 100% on the racist democratic party since we have no other organizing mechanism (like SNCC, MFDP, LCFO, etc.) to ensure our interests are met. We continue to approach these elections the same way just described and at the end of those terms we have absolutely nothing to show for it. Some of us are so confused and so disconnected from our movement history that we actually believe having dark faced candidates is just as good as having an organizational mechanism that represents our mass interests.
The point is SNCC was the vehicle that held the MFDP accountable to the people. The MFDP was the vehicle that held the candidates like Ms. Hamer accountable to the people. There were no candidates for office through MFDP that did not go through their process. By the time that happened, those candidates were not confused about who's interests they were obligated to protect. Today? There is nothing even remotely similar to that in place. And none of the endorsers of capitalist electoral politics are even well versed enough to call for something like this to exist.
There is absolutely no reason why a mass coalition of activists from all sectors e.g. reform electoral activists to revolutionary organizers, could not be assembled to engage in strategy sessions around how to build political organizations today like the MFDP. The Poor People's Campaign could be that, but even that process is too heavily dominated by the democratic party. The MFDP was completely independent and that's what we need today. An organization that isn't beholden to the democratic or republican parties because both of those parties are in the hip pockets of multi-national capitalism. If a mass organization could be built with a mass political agenda of practical things (for working people) like national employment, universal free health care and education, etc., the people harassing people into voting wouldn't even have to coerce anymore because people would be highly motivated to participate. The reason you don't have these political platforms today is because the political parties are dominated by anti-working people's interests. White supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, and all values connected to capitalism are the order of this day in electoral politics. People who aren't voting are not stupid. They are telling you they don't want to pretend that the system is viable. With a more genuine vehicle in place, many of those people would participate without your worthless pressure against them.
Finally, we must remind you that we are revolutionary organizers. Therefore, we do not believe electoral politics within the capitalist system can ever get us the freedom we seek, but we think mass political organization in electoral politics will do a lot to raise consciousness and more importantly, build a movement. Once that movement is active then the people can decide for themselves if they want to continue to reform capitalism, or go farther towards true justice and liberation. Either way, movement is the key and critical element that moves us beyond the current disgusting cycle of promises, loyalty on behalf of the working poor, particularly African people, towards the two party (one head) electoral scam, and continued suffering until the next "extremely important" election. If you truly want freedom and justice for all, you will stop trying to force people to compromise with capitalism and you will contemplate the history Ms. Hamer and the MFDP gave to us. To not do that is completely ill-responsible at best and criminal at worse.