It seems to us somewhat ironic, but presidential election years are simultaneously times of greater citizen engagement in political matters, and also times when it is more difficult to mobilize active participation in issue advocacy and non-electoral activism in general.
It really seems that elections, and especially the presidential race, suck almost all the oxygen out of the room.
People are paying attention to whatever outrageous thing Donald Trump has said today, or the state of the contest between Hillary and Bernie; who has endorsed whom; what attack ads are airing; what the polls are saying; what voting irregularities have been noticed; whether third party candidates will make any inroads and similar questions, rather than focusing on issues including climate change, war and peace, economic justice, etc.
Of course a primary reason people support certain candidates and oppose others is their issue stands. So issue and electoral activism are not antithetical. This said, when citizens back off from engaged involvement in the issues and instead focus all their time and attention on the candidates, less serious issue work gets done.
And, of course, depending on the race, there often is no candidate running who progressives really agree with on critical issues. Peaceworks, as an educational non-profit, does not endorse, campaign for or oppose any candidate. We do pay close attention to where they stand on the issues. And we can’t help but note that, despite the very real differences between the candidates, often our views on critical issues including war and peace or climate change are not embraced by either of the major party candidates running for a particular office.
In practical terms, if one is hoping to see change on an issue—say ending U.S. war-making in the Middle East, achieving significant cuts in the Pentagon budget and redefining the role of the U.S. military to being a defensive force—we quite likely will find that the candidate with the best positions, from our perspective, on these issues has a platform that falls far short of what we’d embrace.
This means that if we—as individuals, of course—decide to work for candidate A, who we see as somewhat preferable to candidate B, the most we can do on war and peace concerns, while working for him or her, is to articulate their positions, despite the deficiencies we see therein. As it is often noted, politics is the art of the possible.
Climate change is perhaps the defining issue of our day, as it presents a uniquely existential threat. But you wouldn’t know that if you just listened to what the candidates are campaigning on. And, come election day, we are often forced to choose between a climate change denier and a candidate who acknowledges the reality of climate change, but rejects taking the sorts of actions needed to effectively address the threat.
So, each of us, as an individual, needs to decide what level of involvement we might have in the electoral process. Some choose to eschew electoral politics altogether. Others vote, but otherwise are not engaged. Still others choose to volunteer time and/or donate money to support the candidate(s) of their choice.
Whatever level of electoral involvement we choose, however, we should not forget that issue work—education and advocacy—is also critically needed. In fact, it is issue activism that moves these concerns front and center in the electoral arena. Were it not for 350.org, and the climate movement more broadly, shining a bright spotlight on Keystone XL, it is highly unlikely that this awful project would have been stopped by President Obama, or that Sec. Clinton, who was initially a strong proponent, would have come out against it.
We, here at Peaceworks, know that whoever prevails at the polls in November—whoever is inaugurated in January—our presence in the public dialogue on the issues of the day will still be sorely needed, throughout the election year and beyond.
And for Peaceworks to be here to raise our shared concerns requires active participation and financial support. We thank everyone already involved and everyone contributing. And we trust that, as much as you might involve yourself in the electoral process, you won’t leave us gasping for a breath of air. Our work is needed now, and it certainly will be still once the 2016 electoral dust settles.