by Robert Jensen
Conventional politics in the United States focuses on elections, while left activists typically argue that political change comes not from electing better politicians but building movements strong enough to force politicians to accept progressive change.
Norman Solomon has concluded it isn't either/or. A prominent writer and leader in left movements for decades, Solomon is running for Congress http://solomonforcongress.com/ in the hopes of being practical and remaining principled.
"Since I first went to a protest at age 14 in 1966 -- a picket line to desegregate an apartment complex -- my outlook on electoral politics has gone through a lot of changes," Solomon said. "First I thought politics was largely about elections, later I thought politics had very little to do with elections, and now I believe that elections are an important part of the mix."
Solomon argues that when the left has treated elections as irrelevant, the result has been self-marginalization that helps empower the military-industrial complex.
"The view that genuine progressives should leave the electoral field to corporate Democrats and right-wing Republicans no longer makes sense to me. I used to say that having a strong progressive movement was much more important than who was in office, but now I'd say that what we really need is a strong progressive movement AND much better people in office," he said. "Having John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Jim McGovern, Raul Grijalva, Lynn Woolsey in Congress is important. We need more of those sorts of legislators as part of the political landscape."
The 60-year-old Solomon had been considering such a strategy, and when Woolsey announced she was not running for re-election in her northern California district, he entered the race with the goal of staying true to his left political views, and winning.
"I'm skeptical about election campaigns that abandon principles, but I'm also skeptical about campaigns that have no hope of winning and that are only for protest or public education," he said. "There are more effective ways to protest and to educate."