Dr. AJAMU NANGWAYA
I recently wrote an article arguing that Black votes don’t matter and another one that made the case that that even when you vote it, you still don’t have a say in the government’s laws, policies and programs. It is reasonable for people to wonder about their options beyond elections.
Many registered voters in Canada and the United States are telling the ruling-class that elections are useless to their economic and social needs. In the 2011 Canadian federal election, only 61.4 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls. The voter turnout in Ontario’s 2014 provincial elections was an unimpressive 52 per cent. Ontario is Canada’s most populated province.
It is possible that less than 50 per cent of Afrikan-Canadian voters bother to vote. A research project on voting in three municipal elections in the City of Toronto revealed that the proportion of immigrants and racialized people in a ward is the best predictor of the percentage of people who will vote. The higher the percentage of immigrants and racialized people in a ward, the lower the voter turnout.
In the 2012 presidential election in the United States, an uninspiring 57.5 per cent of eligible voters came out to vote. They were probably turned off by President Barack Obama’s failure to deliver the “change we can believe in”. The 2012 Congressional election had a voter turnout of 53.7 per cent, but the 2010 mid-term elections had a turnout of only 39.9 per cent of eligible voters.
Many people, especially the working-class, racialized people and other socially marginalized groups, are rejecting elections. Their priorities are not expressed in the social and economic programs that are delivered by governments.
The regimes in Canada and the United States are beholden to the policy preferences of the industrialists, financiers, wealthy donors and other privileged fat cats.
Is voting with their feet the only option available to the economically marginalized in demonstrating their displeasure with the electoral system?
Fortunately, the members of the working-class have options besides voting for parliamentary representatives who ignore them after the election and support policies that are contrary to their needs and interests.
In order for the alternatives to voting to achieve their full potential, the members of the working-class need to develop a high level of class consciousness. It is necessary for the people who sell their labour to private businesses and the government to understand that they are a separate class. Furthermore, the members of the working-class need to realize that their interests are in conflict with those of the elite and its agents.
Class consciousness would enable the labouring classes to analyze and determine government policies and programs that are harmful or beneficial to them.
We live in a racist, sexist/patriarchal, ableist and homophobic world that has pitted the oppressed against each other. It has led to mutual suspicion and enmity. The oppressed participate in ideas and activities that leave them divided and make it easy for the powers-that-be to rule them.
The working-class within each oppressed group should be politically educated in order to rid itself of oppressive ideologies and behaviours. With an adequate level of class consciousness, the economically marginalized would demonstrate class solidarity and unite against their common exploiters.
The people will need to become members of social justice organizations and stop the practice of outsourcing the quest for liberation to a small group of activists. These social justice organizations would build social movements so that they may coordinate their activities and share resources beyond their immediate area of operation.
It is social movements that are going to force governments to make political and economic concessions to the people. The government of Ontario has responded, albeit inadequately, to the people’s demand for an end to police violence by way of carding. It is not voting that is forcing this provincial government to act. It will be organizing from below and not voting that is going to end carding.
While the oppressed are weaning themselves of discriminatory behaviour, they are obligated to build neighbourhood-based self-governing, democratic assemblies. These assemblies would provide the people with the space to politically and democratically set their priorities and fight for the type of programs that are needed. The assemblies would federate with each other to address common issues.
These assemblies are going to serve as the embryonic democratic bodies that will exist in the just societies of the future. They would compete with the existing political system for power and influence among the oppressed. The assemblies would provide the people with the knowledge, skills and attitude to operate alternative economic, political and social institutions.
In the area of work and economics, we are at the mercy of the class that owns the workplace and wealth in society. However, the people can create businesses that are owned, controlled and managed by the workers.
This practice is called worker or labour self-management. It would allow the working-class and other oppressed groups to control their lives at work and to learn how to become familiar with the operation of their workplace. These self-managed workplaces would be additional places for the people to acquire the habit of direct democracy.
Just like capitalism cannot exist without supportive structures and organizations, the forces for economic democracy would create organizations such as credit unions and banks, educational institutions, entrepreneurial and business management entities, and research and development centres.
The people would use the power of the mass movements to force governments to set aside a large percentage of their purchase of goods and services for worker self-managed businesses and other cooperatives.
We could express self-governance in other areas by using cooperatives to collectively own and operate supermarkets, insurance companies, financial institutions, childcare centres, apartment buildings, and other forms of business. Cooperatives are democratic businesses that are governed by the membership.
We have alternatives to voting. But we must be willing to become active citizens who are committed to creating participatory-democratic societies.