I’ve recently been asked by a friend to write about what it is we can do to change what’s happening in our government. I’m not talking just about Trump for president, but the over 200 years of control the Republicans and Democrats have had over our government. Even though the Democrats have become more progressive, they do this to survive as a party, and their progressive agenda is largely based on social institutions like marriage and health care. Great causes, of that there is not doubt, but they aren’t looking to make big changes to the economy or our investments in war.
In addition, changes in the Democratic Party don’t help right now, under a Trump presidency. No matter what happens within the Democratic Party in the next four years, Trump will still be president, and at least for the next two years, both the House and Senate will be controlled by the Republicans. So, I’m not interested in looking there for change, nor do I believe I’ll find it there. The Democrats to me are the true turncoats. They support what’s popular. What do the polls say? People support gay marriage. Ok, we do, too. (Hillary Clinton is probably the most public offender of this type of Democrat.)
There have been calls from Republicans and Democrats to come together, to work within the system, but working within the system is what got us here in the first place. And it’s insulting to say that we haven’t been. Over 121 million people participated in the system this November, and only one party will have control of the government and only two parties have any real representation. Last I knew, there are more than two kinds of people in America.
But it’s more than that. As Trump said, the system is rigged, but not against him. It’s designed to keep people out. It may not have been designed by one or even a small group of engineers, but over time, our political system has maintained a two parties and actively seeks to keep other parties out.
Ballot access is one of the ways in which this is done. Each state is different, but getting on the ballot as a third party candidate is intentionally very difficult, and in some states close to impossible.
Holding emergency or even secretive sessions obstructs democracy and keeps majority groups in power (I’m looking at you Wisconsin legislature). Even if we agree with the reason why a group of politicians decided to hold a last minute and almost secretive session in order to vote on a controversial bill and even though they can technically do that, that’s obstruction to the democratic process.
Delaying a vote or action on an item until after an election isn’t good democracy either, but seems to be well-used tactic to maintain seats during an election year. There was a lot of silence regarding the DAPL from Washington until after the election. And that silence served it’s purpose. Republicans and Democrats don’t want to lose votes to third parties because they want to approve the pipeline. I’m not going out on a limb here to say that they probably do want to approve it.
Lobbying is a dangerous practice where corporations and special interest groups work to influence the vote of our representatives. It’s a bit of a catch-22 because you want special interest groups that you care about to be talking to your representatives but not others. What’s scary is that the wants of corporations and special interest groups become more influential than that of a representative’s constituency. Additionally, lobbying makes Republicans and Democrats stronger via campaign contributions and other funding sources that third party candidates don’t have.
Another example of a defunct system is politicians using their influence in government for personal gain. They hand over government contracts to their own businesses, to the businesses of friends, etc. Because current politicians can make money off of their political influence, they can use that money to maintain their position in politics; thereby, keeping third parties away from the bargaining table.
So working together within this system makes no sense. The system has to change. That doesn’t mean throwing out the Constitution, but it does mean a complete overhaul which includes more control over our representation in government with things like term limits, ending or greatly restricting lobbying, and forcing politicians out of deals that are a conflict of interest (like many money off of a government contract). Republicans and Democrats will not make these changes because they are also profiting from war, deregulation of banking, favoring their own businesses in government affairs, etc.
It’s hard to think about these things and not think about a total armed revolution. But I still believe that the majority of Americans, even pro-Trump Americans, don’t want that. I know I don’t. But how can you revolutionize an entire system without a large-scale revolt?
Don’t under-estimate the power of protesting. Directly, it does not change policy, but indirectly, it can be powerful. Large numbers of people converging on a place or marching in the streets gets media attention and puts pressure on politicians. It also gets people talking. People who might not be informed on a topic become inspired to learn more after learning about large scale protests. Protesting is a long term commitment, though. Politicians are counting on you to run out of steam quickly and not commit long term to your cause.
Boycott large corporations as much as you can, especially those that lobby politicians. This can be very difficult especially in rural areas where your only grocery store is literally a Walmart, but when you make politics about money, politicians listen. Remember that politicians either have stock in corporations or are owners of large corporations and don’t want to lose money. So they are likely to start listening if they are losing money or if lobbying groups that support them are losing money. It also serves to weaken corporations that should have no say in government in the first place.
Sit-ins and strikes
Organize and participate in sit-ins and strikes. This is like a two for the price of one deal. You’ll get media attention, and sit-ins and strikes usually cost companies money. A sit-in can be organized on public or private property, but do so knowing that you could be arrested for trespassing. Strikes traditionally have more to do with workers’ rights, but their scope has expanded. This year in Poland, women all over the country walked out of work to protest an anti-abortion bill. If half of your workforce walks out of the job, you bet people are losing money, and politicians are listening when businesses lose money.
Sit-ins and strikes are kinds of civil disobedience. Other types are obstructing roadways, like with some of the BLM protests; blocking entrances into places of work (again businesses losing money); refusing to follow a law or a rule, like standing for a white person on the bus. Civil disobedience on a wide scale has been very effective, but usually it requires breaking a law. Some laws, however, should be broken.
If you’re not ready to take some of the above steps or if I haven’t convinced you to work outside of the system, here are some additional ideas. Some of the most successful social and political movements actually coordinated efforts from within and outside of the system, so these are worth your time. Also remember that when you disrupt the system, you change the system.
Support ballot access for third party candidates
Because our two party system is so corrupt, it’s time to seriously consider third party candidates. Many other democratic governments have 3 or 4 major parties. And yes, their systems aren’t leaps and bounds better than ours, but they are largely considered to be better to some degree (some more than others). And it allows for more voices of the populace to be heard, which can lead to a greater effort in collaboration. One of the things we want to avoid is one party controlling more than half of Congress. Even if you can’t 100% support a third party, find one that’s close. Chances are you don’t 100% support the Republicans or Democrats either. This also means taking the time to sign petitions that get third party candidates on state and local ballots. This is a very important step and should only take 15 minutes of your time.
Vote for third party candidates
So once you have that third party candidate on the ballot, you need to also vote for him/her. Again, in our current system, one party has more than half the seats of Congress. No one viewpoint should have this much say. Third party politicians can change that. Even with one viable third party, the chances of one party having control of a government body is very small.
Join a non-profit
Even if it’s just to give money, do it! Pick any organization that is near and dear to your heart. The ACLU, a local homeless shelter, an organization that helps settle immigrants, scholarships for minority students, etc. I encourage you to pick an organization that advocates for minority groups because they are the ones that will be the most hurt by Trump’s administration and the Republican controlled Congress. Many organizations also offer easy ways to contribute your time. You don’t have to become a board or committee member to work with a non-profit.
Write letters to your representatives often
You’ll have to do your due diligence and stay informed about votes coming up and then write to your representatives about how you think they should vote and why. The easiest way to stay updated is to join an organization that pays attention to bills under consideration and puts that information in a newsletter or email list. Don’t forget about your representatives at the state and local levels, too.
Lastly, if you want what it is you’re doing to gain and maintain momentum, encourage others to join you. Be specific about your plans and be specific about how you want people to get involved. I know that for me when people ask me to help and they’re not specific, it feels overwhelming. For example, consider these two requests: Can you help me out at the conference? and I need someone to register people as they come in for the conference. Can you help me with that? The first request is too open-ended. It sounds like you could be doing any number of things for an unknown amount of time. But the second one is more specific. I’d be more likely to respond to the second request than the first one just because I’m rarely available all day to help with something and because I want to know what I’m committing too.
So many groups are mobilizing, so you don’t have to start from scratch. Feel free to add some of your ideas in the comments.