Sunday, July 8, 2012

Elections and History

While I am not one to place electing progressive candidates to office above building grass roots movements, I am also very aware that the fate of grass roots movements often depends on those who hold public office, especially those who control the power to suppress such movement through the application of armed force. Many of the most important strikes in US History-the 1877 Railroad Strikes, the Homestead Strike of 1892, the 1894 Pullman Strike, the 1919 Steel Strike- were defeated when Governors and Presidents ordered the National Guard and/or the US Army Conversely the two most important strikes of the Depression Era, the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934, which turned the Teamsters Union into a powerful national organization and the Flint Sit Down Strikes of 1936-37, which led to the unionization of General Motors and US Steel, only succeeded because progressive governors, elected with labor votes, refused to use the national guard to suppress the strike, and because President Roosevelt refused to send in the army Today’s activists need to keep these examples in mind when deciding how, or if, they should become engaged in local and national elections. No grass roots movements can succeed without taking actions which stretch the boundaries of the law. How elected officials dealt with such instances will be critical to their success. One example of this is the occupation of foreclosed and abandoned properties by Occupy groups and advocates for the homeless. All over the country, housing activists are barricading themselves in houses to prevent foreclosed families from being evicted and placing needy families in abandoned and foreclosed houses and apartment buildings. In some instances, Mayors have ordered police to evict protesters; in other instances, they have let protesters stay. How Mayors and city officials decide to act will have a critical impact on the impact of this growing movement, which addresses the failure of the private housing market Similarly, some parents and teachers are occupying schools which have been targeted for closure under federally mandated “turnaround” policies. Local officials thus far have moved to use police to suppress such actions, but if enough such actions start occurring, they may hold out for a negotiated settlement in which the community’s interests are taken into account In both of these instances, who is holding public office, and what kind of demands are made upon them during their campaigns, matters enormously. Occupy groups and allied activists know how devastating it can be when elected officials unite to suppress a movement; they now have to turn their attention to strategies which turn some elected officials into allies There is no simple formula for doing this, but it is something that has to be done. Elections matter, and influencing public officials is as important to the success of grass roots movements today as it was in the past. July 8, 2012

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