I wanted to set up a post sharing some resources on voting, and on engaging in electoral politics more broadly. I may continue to update this as November approaches; hopefully it can be useful; please feel free to share, or make your own version.
***UPDATE #1 (10/14/20): A new poem that speaks to some of the stuff in this post.***
***UPDATE #2 (10/26/20): I put together a Twitter thread of what a bunch of activist organizations are saying about voting. Read it via the link, though I’ve also put a transcript at the bottom of this post.***
***UPDATE #3 (10/30/20): If you’re still thinking about voting, know that it’s too late to mail your ballot, but you can still drop it off or vote in person (early or otherwise). This link has some great info (MN-specific).***
Pressure on the Wound: Why I Vote.
I’ve written before about my own position on voting (as someone who can vote; it’s worth remembering that it’s a right that too many people are denied). To summarize: I believe that change is driven by mass movements, not by individual politicians. That being said, elected leaders are power bottlenecks, and whether their policies are imperfect, bad, or catastrophic has a direct impact on the kind of movement-building that can happen in opposition to those policies.
In other words: Voting is pressure on the wound. Applying pressure to a wound doesn’t heal it, but it can buy time for the healer to arrive, for the real work to be done. That pressure, alone, isn’t the solution to the injury, but it can still be the difference between life and death.
That’s my reason, and I get that it’s not the best soundbite for a mass audience. I’ll share some better quotes from people smarter than me below. But first, let’s pause on the why and focus on the how.
This past week, dozens of survivors have come forward to speak out about abuse, harassment, and sexual assault in the local music scene (and beyond). Their voices have joined those that have already been raising the alarm, and prominent artists, labels, and venues are now releasing statements, doing damage control, and considering next steps.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, and the subsequent calls for defunding and abolishing police departments around the country, more and more people are imagining new possibilities, and committing to the work of making those possibilities real.
That work will include more protest, policy work, shifting resources, and leveraging power. It will also include education (popular, political, and otherwise). Of course, “reading books and having conversations” is not everything that needs to happen. But it does need to happen, especially in a moment where millions of people are fundamentally rethinking what policies are “common sense,” what policies are “radical,” and what policies they will commit to actively organizing around.
How might we bring these conversations into spaces in which they’re not already happening? How can we integrate them into our curricula, into our clubs and organizations, into our social media platforms, and beyond?
I think these are important questions. So for people who are interested or already engaged in that kind of education work, here are three books, three articles, and three poems I would recommend. I’m using the 3/3/3 format because there are hundreds of resources I want to share here, but I also know that can be overwhelming. Hopefully these can be starting points:
“Abolishing prisons and police” was one of those concepts that sounded super radical to me… until I actually listened, and learned more about it.
I know that a few links aren’t going to persuade everyone, but I do think it’s really important to think critically about the stories we’re told about justice, policing, and order, along with the stories we’re not told. Especially right now, as the narrative about the police killing of George Floyd, and the narrative about what needs to happen next, take shape.
“What about the murderers?” “How will we stay safe?” “It’s too unrealistic!” Whatever concerns pop into your head, know that you are not the only person who has asked them. Here are FIVE of the readings and resources that have been most useful to me on my own journey toward understanding the necessity of dismantling the current system.
We must look beyond police for community safety (Star Tribune) As public health experts have been saying for centuries, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A police-first approach to public safety fails to address the underlying causes of crime, while contributing to our status as the most incarcerated country in the world, and one with incredibly high levels of police violence. Why don’t we try something different?
Thinking about how to abolish prisons with Mariame Kaba (Chris Hayes’ podcast – audio and transcript) I’m a prison-industrial complex abolitionist, which means that I have a political vision and ideological commitments and belief in organizing, that we have to organize towards a horizon where we no longer have prisons, policing, and surveillance. That we figure out other ways of addressing harm within our communities.
“Building a Police-Free Future: Frequently-Asked Questions” (MPD150) Police abolition work is not about snapping our fingers and instantly defunding every department in the world. Rather, we’re talking about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.
“Reformist reforms vs. abolitionist steps in policing” (Critical Resistance) These charts break down the difference between reformist reforms which continue or expand the reach of policing, and abolitionist steps that work to chip away and reduce its overall impact. (This graphic is really cool, but there is a similar, potentially easier-to-read piece here).
Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind (New York TImes) Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”
BONUS UPDATE: Some writing from this past week’s Minneapolis Uprising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd:
Longer Reads: Of course, these links are just a start, but I think they frame the argument really well. If you want to dig deeper into the data, the history, and the policy side of what needs to happen, here are some books and other resources that might make good next steps:
The End of Policing by Alex Vitale
Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Y. Davis
Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex (Anthology)
Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian Williams
A parting thought: I wanted to share something here that was a little more focused than the “here are 35379 things people can do” pieces floating around out there. Of course, “learning more” isn’t the same as action, and isn’t enough to create the changes we need. But it is an important step, especially for those of us just getting involved for the first time.
One reason an abolitionist approach makes so much sense to me is that, as these readings show, it isn’t just an abstract philosophical concept- it’s a process with some pretty concrete, practical, winnable steps. Here in Minneapolis, I’d definitely recommend people check out Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective, the coalitions that are kind of at the center of this kind of organizing, as well as MPD150 (a group I’ve worked with for a while now; some cool stuff on the horizon too). An easy action step is to follow those groups on whatever social media platforms you use, and stay plugged in.
There’s short-term work that needs to be done (protesting, taking care of each other, contacting city council/mayor to demand divestment from police), and there’s long-term work that needs to be done (pressuring local policy-makers via elections, lobbying, direct action, and public pressure to shift resources away from police and toward community), but both can be done with an abolitionist framework. A last link: I’d encourage people who are interested in taking action to check out Deepa Iyer’s “My Role in a Social Change Ecosystem” to help with that process.
I’m supposed to be working on poems for my new book; I wrote this instead.
In the Marvel cinematic universe, costumed superheroes battle an assortment of global threats: Loki invades Earth with an extraterrestrial army. Ultron threatens to replace humanity with artificial intelligence. The forces of Hydra infiltrate the governments of the world and seek to bring them down from the inside.
But the ultimate villain, the larger threat looming over the more than twenty films leading up to the MCU’s climax, is Thanos. A being of unfathomable power, Thanos is also an antagonist with a specific philosophy. He believes that the problem with the universe is too much life, too many mouths to feed, too great a strain on finite resources. So his solution, his goal, is to wipe out half of all life in the universe; he believes that by doing this, the remaining half will thrive.
In these films, it is taken for granted that Thanos is the villain, and that his plan is as nonsensical as it is horrific. In the real world, however, his general philosophy – that there are too many people, that we’re going to run out of food and resources unless we control the population – is something that a lot of people (including mass murderers in El Paso and Christchurch) actually believe. Whether we call it Neo-Malthusianism or eco-fascism or whatever fancy name, it very often goes hand in hand with anti-immigrant bigotry, yellow peril xenophobia, and a sociopathic focus on rugged individualism over community, empathy, and cooperation. Pandemics make it worse.
Over the coming years, we’re going to see more of this. So here are three frames, metaphors, and counter-arguments that have been useful to me. Hopefully they can be useful to you, as well.
1. If there are a hundred people, and a hundred apples, and one person has 90 apples, and the other 99 people have to share ten apples – the problem is not that there are too many people.
The eco-fascists will tell you that there aren’t enough apples, but the truth is that as a species, we have all the resources we need, right now, to make sure every person on earth has food, shelter and access to a healthy life. The problem is that we spend billions of dollars on F-35s and stealth bombers, while propping up a system that allows a tiny minority of people to hoard unfathomable amounts of wealth that they couldn’t spend in a hundred lifetimes. The issue isn’t scarcity of resources; the issue is the system we use to distribute those resources.
2. If a pandemic comes along and kills a few million humans, disproportionately affecting the elderly, the poor, the vulnerable – refugees, prisoners, people without access to health care – that is not “the ecosystem resetting itself.” That is not “mother earth fighting back.”
I know it can sound like a cool, edgy hot-take to be like “humanity… is the real virus,” but my nieces and nephews are not viruses. My friends who are nurses and advocates and educators and working-class people just trying to live are not the problem. “Humanity,” as a general concept, is not to blame for the climate crisis. A handful of obscenely wealthy capitalists and the multi-billion dollar extractive industries they control are to blame for the climate crisis.
And while it can be annoying when some hippie on Twitter says stuff like that, it’s important to understand how that rhetoric connects to xenophobia and racism. As Trump and his supporters start calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “kung-flu,” we have to remember how historically, anxiety about overpopulation and disease has led to crackdowns on those labeled “other,” whether immigrants, religious minorities, or whatever scapegoat those in power wish to use to distract from their own incompetence. Today, we’re already seeing hate crimes targeting Asians and Asian-Americans. We must have zero tolerance for this.
3. As a purely intellectual exercise, the idea of 100 people on a sinking ship and only ten being able to fit on the lifeboat might lead you to some “harsh but fair” conclusions. In reality, though, we have more choices beyond “most people die” and “everyone dies.”
To continue this metaphor, we could bring more lifeboats on the ship. Stepping back, we could design the ship to more elegantly fit additional lifeboats, and/or be more resistant to sinking in the first place. Stepping back further, we could institute regulations on the shipbuilding industry that mandate that ships must have enough lifeboats for all passengers.
Outside of this hypothetical, it’s worth remembering that in real life, who do you think is most likely to have access to a “lifeboat?” The rich, the privileged, and the powerful have a vested interest in making the rest of us think that there aren’t enough resources to go around, because that minimizes pressure on them to share what they see as theirs alone.
To return to the MCU: using the infinity gauntlet, Thanos became effectively omnipotent. If he truly cared about making sure there were enough resources to go around, rather than wiping out half of all life in the universe, he could have snapped his fingers and created more resources, or ensured that humans and aliens across the universe distributed those resources in a better way.
The fact that his “solution,” seemingly the first and only course of action he considered, was to murder half of all life tells us a lot more about him than it does about the issues he claimed to be concerned about.
Of course, Thanos isn’t real. But his philosophy is. Watch out for those whose imaginations are big enough to envision millions dying in a pandemic, but aren’t big enough to envision a more just, equitable system that would allow all of humanity to thrive. It’s on us to dream bigger, to work together, and to save ourselves. Nothing is inevitable.
Twin Cities COVID-19 Mutual Aid Resources (General pandemic safety info, plus a focus on mutual aid, “pod-mapping,” and how we can support another; also links to some mutual aid funds people can contribute to or make use of)
Minnesota COVID-19 Response (Policy demands, plus some fantastic info on unemployment, rent support, childcare and beyond) by a great group of local organizations)
A good document pulling together some links and “how-to” resources on mutual aid and pod-mapping; basically, how we can support one another, in our communities, through the COVID-19 situation.
Additionally, a few thoughts of my own I posted on social media a couple days ago:
A million links to share, but to avoid stressing people out, here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been reading regarding covid-19; shared this the other day, but a few edits:
First, let’s remember that there’s a lot of room between “everything is fine” and “it’s the apocalypse.” Don’t panic, but please take it seriously: lives are very much at stake, especially older people, people with compromised immune systems, and frontline health care workers, and those people matter.
I’m thankful for everyone pointing out how, like a lot of big problems, the covid-19 pandemic requires solutions at both individual and institutional levels.
As individuals: there’s been a ton of good writing, articles, resources, etc. on specific things we can do: take extra care to wash hands, avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings, cancel events, offer to get groceries/supplies to people who might be more at risk, go out less, etc. This can make a real difference.
Also important: read credible sources; don’t fall for conspiracy theories, or racism (watch GOP politicians pivot to calling it “the chinese virus” or whatever), or facebook-style “I don’t know anything but I’m going to authoritatively state that this isn’t a big deal and it’s exactly like the common flu.” It’s not.
On the institutional level, we always hear calls not to “politicize” crises like this. But this crisis is political.
When people don’t have paid sick leave, they work sick, and that makes things worse– and that’s politics. When the Trump administration eliminates the position of “senior director for global health security and biodefense,” that’s politics. When millions of people don’t have health insurance, so don’t seek out the care they need, that’s politics.
So yeah, we can physically avoid one another for a while, while simultaneously committing to uniting together to tackle these underlying issues. This crisis will pass, but these bigger problems will ensure that another crisis won’t be far behind… unless we act- voting, organizing, mutual aid, everything.
“How can you become what you cannot imagine?” -bell hooks
Here’s the last episode of season one! We recorded this LIVE at the University of Minnesota in November 2019. We knew we wanted to end the season with something forward-looking, speculative, and maybe a little weird. We also knew we wanted to bring in a bunch of other voices. These guests were so generous, and so brilliant; we’re super grateful for their contributions.
Thanks also to all of the sponsoring organizations at the University of Minnesota: the Women’s Center, the Asian Pacific American Resource Center, the Aurora Center, the Office of Fraternity/Sorority Life, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Program. It’s definitely cool to see that kind of collaboration; if you’d like to bring #WhatsGoodMan to YOUR college, conference, or other space, get in touch!
Also thanks to all of our listeners over the past few months. It means a lot, and we hope people will keep sharing episodes, sharing quotes, leaving reviews, and of course- continuing the conversations, whether that’s with the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on social media, or in real life!