Zinn on Election Madness

Howard Zinn Don’t you hate how real news like the massive foreclosure crisis get second row to election-mania? I know I do. Well so does Howard Zinn. In a piece in the March issue of Progressive magazine he points out that even progressive activists fall into the presidential election trap of living and dying with the presidential election. He argues that we, as progressives, can do better:

The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry. . . .

No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.


4 thoughts on “Zinn on Election Madness”

  1. Well, Will, I’m touched that you think I can straddle the line between social justice and political debauchery! Isn’t that my life’s goal? Anyhoo, for more “Change ain’t enough” fodder, check out this article, “When Change Isn’t Enough: Seven Steps to Revolution.” (http://alternet.org/democracy/77498/)

    Later this weekend indeed.

  2. And I love Ariel. It seems that you have good and critical reasons for being as involved in Mr. Obama’s campaign that makes sense. I’m definitely voting for the guy if I ever get around to getting my absentee ballot business figured out. However, I think that there are a lot of progressive activists and just like progressive people who are getting wrapped up in Obamania without thinking about what Hope and Change actually mean. Despite a campaign that’s running rhetorically to the center, he’s certainly better than Hillary in every respect that I can think of off hand in the amount of time it takes to comment on a blog. I think there’s also something to be said for punishing family that ushered the bills in your talking about as well as NAFTA and welfare reform. THAT BEING SAID I think it’s important for progressives to put their agenda out there and not merely trust the candidates they support to follow through with that agenda without organizing around it and making a stink over it. I don’t think this is as big an issue with someone like Ariel, whose on about social justice organizing all the time, BUT we have to be careful. I also hate to see the life sucked out of the organizing work Zinn talks about once every four years.


    I think there’s something I might see you at later this weekend.

  3. I love Howard. I love Will. BUT, I think I disagree on this one… I had resigned myself to steer clear of candidate/presidential politics and focus on what I see as our generation’s most pressing civil rights issue: prisons. But here I am, totally immersed in the thick of the primary mayhem.

    It seems impossible to avoid getting involved. How can I, when I realize that one candidate introduced 112 separate criminal justice reform measures as a State Senator, while the other sat by while her husband ushered in the devastating Crime Control and Law Enforcement Acts of 94 and 95? How can I sit silent while one candidate talks about reforming the death penalty, while the other neglects to mention that her husband’s Plan Colombia is still, currently, dropping pesticides on non-coca plants and PEOPLE in Latin America? It seems like getting involved in this race will directly affect the issue nearest and dearest to my heart (not to mention the War, lobbyist control of government, and, well, everything else that is totally screwed right now.).

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