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The Protests and the Election

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Protesters yell at a line of police officers at State and 35th streets, about 3 miles south of the Loop, where police set up a blockade on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Evan Garcia / WTTW News)

I completely agree with the view that the new generation of activists coming into their own due to the protests against police violence have every reason to be skeptical of the political system. And I completely agree that they should not become an adjunct of the Biden campaign or any other Democratic campaign this fall unless they want to do so. They need to remain working on what it is that they want to work on.

Look, I know that for a well-educated mostly white and relatively well-off crowd that reads and comments at LGM, voting is the be all and end all to make change. But that’s just not true. Should these young activists go vote? Sure, they should. Many of them will, some won’t. But them not voting isn’t any more of a mistake that people who won’t go to a protest. Political engagement requires both voting and direct action that is disconnected from electoral politics. It’s the old inside-outside game. This shouldn’t be controversial, but around here, discussion of protest has been over the years, with some commenters calling it ineffectual. Of course, it’s proven extremely effectual in the last two weeks, much more than any kind of electoral politics has proven on the issue of police reform ever. And that direct action has also led to the incredibly rapid removal of many of this nation’s monuments to white supremacy and white violence.

So I don’t think I really have to prove the point by now. But in case I do, it’s vitally important that we have activist protest groups doing political actions that are completely disconnected from politics or are even targeted at liberal Democrats who may be bad on a given issue. Change happens through elections and change happens through protest. You can’t have one without the other and one is not more important than the other. For all the liberal emphasis on making sure people are registered to vote and whatnot, we could use a lot more emphasis on encouraging and participating direct action politics too.

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