Monday, June 05, 2006

June 6th - this dirty campaign season and disenfranchised communities/voters

I totally agree with the teaching dilema described by Sac State Professor and activist Duane Campbell who tries to foster an understanding of the importance of elections for young people. For me, the difficulty is encouraging a 'serve the people' sentiment in community and electoral work among college and high school students while they know that the electoral system is so tilted towards the wealthy, elite, and affluent communities. The students are also instinctively aware that there are so many remaining barriers to equal and meaningful participation for immigrants, low income folks and communities of color. Campbell says:
It is hard to teach this lesson. Young people say: they are all corrupt. The rich own the politicians. And, of course, they are substantially correct. All you have to do is look at the Enron story, or World Com., and their relationship with the Bush family and you will recognize that the rich have looted our nation’s democracy.
But now the California election is adding to the cynicism. The two major candidates on the Democratic Party side are spending up to $60 million to convince voters (and young people) that the other candidate is corrupt, purchased, and controlled by big money. Now, a $60 million media buy has an effect. It teaches people that our elections are corrupt, purchased, and dirty. After seeing the ads you could well conclude that they are all dirty. I recognize that the campaign managers each think they must do this to compete. They know that negative ads work. But, they are also teaching cynicism, hopelessness and despair. No. This is not OK.
See Campbell's Choosing Democracy blog for more.
How to teach about community service, social movements and political empowerment?
Though I am joining many labor and liberal to progressive groups in supporing Phil Angelides for Governor, this California election has been an embarassment with the flood of developer and big business money and the negative attack ads clogging the mainstream media. What I try to get across to my mostly freshmen SF State students are a few main points in teaching about electoral politics and empowerment struggles today -
  • an understanding of past and present voter disenfranchisement in the US [women, working people, African Americans, Chicanos/Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders and immigrants]
  • the proud history of social movements and struggles for voting rights, electoral reforms and efforts to democratize the political system - I find documentaries like Eyes on the Prize and Chicano! helpful in visually and emotionally highlighting some of this information
  • some case studies of local level campaigning models that are issues-focused, build multiethnic and cross-community alliances, and frame single issues in the broader context of a 'common agenda' for social, educational and economic justice

I do like how groups like the May 1st Alliance, Living Wage Coalition, Mobilize the Immigrant Vote and ACORN in San Francisco, AGENDA/SCOPE and the Community Coalition in LA, Just Cause in Oakland, and the chapter-based League of Young Voters [aka League of Pissed Off Voters] are approaching electoral political campaigning by reaching out to a new generation of youth, students, immigrants and working people and tying them into broader social movements which view electoral politics as a necessary and key arena of struggle to improve our day to day lives and for the long term to democratize the political system in the United States. But even in this context, my students are overwhelmed, irked and disgusted by this election season.

For a great voter guide - see the SF League's Pissed Off Voter Guide!

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