Written by John Molloy, a member of the University at Albany SSDP chapter.
I will begin this post with a bold statement: we have enough people marching. We have enough people talking about our struggle, even if the mainstream media pays precious little attention. What we don’t have, however, is enough people in city halls, in legislative buildings, on state and federal courts. We need to begin the next wave of the insurgent political movement in order to one day inherit the offices of the representatives who currently stand in opposition to sensible drug policy. It is not enough to protest and march and have real conversations because the conversations happening behind closed doors really dictate what happens. They can shut us out of the statehouse and let us shout on the steps of city hall till we’re blue in the face because they know it won’t be enough. Real change comes when the people in our movement become the candidates and civil servants we need.
Now, before I begin, I must make clear the utter respect and support I have for the people on the front lines. The blood, sweat, and tears of those out there marching, organizing, orating and leading are the bread and butter from which revolution pours forth. I want nothing in my tone or content to suggest that I hold any disdain for these activists, for they play a crucial role in the work we do. A lifelong activist is someone who will play a small part, time and time again, in something massive. The social revolution has been happening since before we were born and will continue long after we are put to rest. We are all part of this.
What I mean, in short, is that there is an unfortunate lack of people on the other side of the line. This must change, for a well-placed crack in the dam will bring forth the flood. Having a revolutionary behind the desk of a civil servant, mayor, police chief, or member of Congress can have an undeniable impact on the people with whom they work, those they lead, and those who oversee them and their work. In their peers they must seek to cultivate a renewed sense of patriotism: an inclusionary patriotism, a progressive patriotism, the patriotism that lacks any other conditions beyond “I want what’s best for my family, community, citizens, and fellow human beings.” Finding ordinary people in this day and age who answer the call to duty with such vigor is not uncommon, but what the revolutionary as a public servant can do is make sure those around them are inspired and engaged in their service to society. They can spread literature, ideas, and information to people who can use it in their day to day work. The sheer banality of the suit-and-tie bureaucrat makes them a seldom seen yet instrumental agent of change. More often we see the “representative” of citizens, those with ulterior motives, self-enriching motives that uphold the status quo. If such symbols of the plutocracy are so visible now, then we have plenty of examples of what not to do with those powers and their inherent responsibilities. As we the revolutionaries rise in the ranks of governmental power, we can surely maintain our principles and allegiance to popular sovereignty, always act in the public’s best will with full transparency, and otherwise uphold the oaths we made to our fellow citizens. These principles have made history before, and have led individuals to achieve great things for their country and for the world.
Think now to what it would be like as a publicly elected official beholden to no one but the people and yourself. All the corruption and polarization of modern politics is behind us, with publicly funded elections and transparency laws in place to ensure the government is fair, accessible, and responsive to the needs and wants of the people. Admittedly, it takes a lot of people to make that vision a reality. It doesn’t happen without people on the front lines organizing, petitioning, and marching to make our will recognized. Good progress towards organizing in electoral candidates, getting them on our side before they even enter into the swamp, is being made by https://candidateswithacontract.com, an organization that has created a contract for candidates to pledge to uphold. The first year is upon us, and any election winners will have an opportunity to lay down a foundation of legitimacy for this agreement. They are creating a coalition to pass legislation on such topics such as Citizens United and expanding direct ballot measures in all fifty states for referendums, recalls, initiatives, and vetos. This is only one of the many democratic avenues we have to fill our legislature at all levels with real citizens who are held accountable by their peers. Any one of us could be one of those exemplary representatives that formed the backbone of the new progressive movement that forever put America on a new path.
Whether you’re on the picket line, the assembly line, or facing down the riot line, you could always give electoral politics a shot. People need other people to represent their interests in a democracy, and as long as you seek to do that and stay true to your principles, you will find yourself surrounded by a network of fellow activists that want the same things as you: peace, justice, and prosperity for all.