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How to Make Voting Matter

As part of our Riverland Native Voter Project, Damita Brown, PhD, community organizer and educator in Iowa City writes about the importance of getting beyond electoral games and why me must overhaul a lot of how our society functions in order to give the vote it's power back.

I think the most constructive thing we can do is to recognize the fact that the cultural frame works we are asked to accept, legitimize the

mainstream narrative which normalizes brutality and oppression. And in many cases this is obscured from public view. And for that reason we participate with a limited awareness of how we are perpetuating that oppression here and abroad. We are buying products and enjoying prices that come at the expense of more oppressed peoples around the world. We are buying cell phones made with cobalt mined by children in the Congo or cheap plastic products made at the expense of the environment or domestic industries. We are attending schools that do not teach us how to fight racism or economic exploitation. Schools are not teaching us who Steve Biko was or why he died. If children are not learning about the deep and rich tradition of slave revolts or the resilience of Haitian revolutions or the revolutions of Chiapas Mexico, we are accepting the erasure of struggles for freedom and justice. The obvious solution is to propose that any institution willing to reform its direction to reflect the realities of these histories and the need to continue revolutionary struggles can be supported. But our main thrust must be to build alternative social justice infrastructure. And toward that goal we must answer the question, what does such infrastructure entail?

Alternative social justice infrastructure cannot be built of the idea that participation in existing political processes is sufficient to bring about justice. Instead at every level of the political process we must challenge the status quo. This means that voting within the two-party system must be regarded as problematic. We must reject a political system that pretends that undue corporate influence in electoral and legislative processes is just. We would need to revoke any allegiance to educational or economic agencies and institutions in which poor people or people of color are not afforded access to legitimate power and economic viability. And we would need to reject any economic arrangements that are conferred at the expense of developing nations or which destroy our natural environment. If we accept these prerequisites for building a just society, then our only choice is to build the kinds of institutions and social organizations that promote equality and a radical re-arrangement of economic and political objectives. Such a direction would include full acknowledgement of the need for reparations to Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and other people of color. It would require reparations and remedial action to ensure that poor people are paid a guaranteed income whether they are able to participate as workers in the economy or not. It would ensure that health care and education are completely adequate and free. Such a direction would ensure that the foundation of public education is anti-racism, labor organizing and independent news literacy among other things. Every aspect of our educational system would need to be brought into alignment with values that place human dignity at the center, that teaches respect for children and elder and that teaches respect and care for the environment.

Alternative infrastructure at that point would become social justice infrastructure and would include the retraining of professional, managerial and administrative positions to understand this shift in the valuation of human beings above profit or personal gain. Once these sorts of priorities are in place, we would no longer have any problem with voting or voter suppression and the idea of disenfranchisement would be absurd. And so we should of course vote but only within the context of a larger goal of creating real choices. That goal can only be realized once we have restructured the entire process form the selection process for candidacy to the debates to the process of creating political platforms based on meaningful social issues to reflect a genuine agenda of creating just society. Such an endeavor of transforming the electoral process can only be the outcome of an informed electorate which benefits from independent media, public forums and a rich and diverse slate of political parties. Without multiple parties reflecting a diversity of views, no meaningful outcomes can be achieved by voting.

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