c2014 Timothy Aaron – Styles
There are two common notions assumed to be, and heralded as, evidence of a group’s attainment of political empowerment and/or the actual exercise and demonstration of both an individual’s and group’s political power.
One: “Casting the vote.” The notion that vote, in and of itself, is a magical empowering act equivalent to power. Well, in spite of what most people think – real political power is not achieved or attained simply by the individual casting of a vote….nor by the exercise of casting plural votes during an election. Is voting important? Yes? Are large numbers of votes important? Of course they are.
Two: “Let’s do a voter registration drive!” Neither is political empowerment realized or achieved through the “mere” act of voter registration or aggressively engaging in “voter registration drives.”
No matter how many voters are successfully registered, the number of registered voters does not supersede how registered voters actually vote. Sadly, not all registered voters actually participate in the electoral process whether municipal (city), county, state or national.
Based on numbers alone the “successful registration of 3000 voters” looks more promising and sounds more impressive than “500 people who voted” in an election just based on comparing the numbers “3000” to “”500.” However, that lower number could very well be more influential on the outcome of an election than the larger number. The “500” actually could prove more “powerful” and “significant” than the “3000.” Remember this when Bloc voting comes up.
Now, while these two activities (“Voter Registration” and “Casting the Ballot”) are extremely important and significant, there is a common notion – among some communities more than others – that the “political power buck” begins and ceases with registering large numbers of voters and/or “getting out the voters” on election day.
That is: strongly encouraging voters to get out to actually cast their ballots or transporting voters to the polls, to actually cast their votes, on Election Day or during early voting.
Oftimes we hear, or see, many organizations sponsoring or engaging in “Voter’s Registration Drives” and then that’s all we see or hear. Or maybe we’ll hear, or see, them on Election Day engaging in their “getting out the vote” initiatives, strategies and activities.
While both courses of action (“Voter Registration” and “Getting out the Vote”) are commendable, well-meaning and sometimes productive – they, somehow, became the major goals and objectives in the quest for “political empowerment” or the primary measurements in/of assessing perceived acquisition of “political power” for historically dis-enfranchised and non – represented communities. They became “the arrival” as opposed to essential steps along the journey toward realizing authentic political empowerment and flexing legitimate political clout.
Quite frankly, real political power exists even before the voter registration drive is ever even embarked upon, or the candidate’s election committee is formally organized.
Genuine political power lives and breathes before and during political campaigning; long before and during the long contentious and multi – million dollar election season; and long before and during the nail-biting, name-calling electoral process.
Authentic political empowerment continues to function and operate after the polls are closed, the campaign and poll workers go home, the votes tabulated, the winners and losers announced, victory celebrations had and concession speeches orated.
The truly politically empowered are still grinding the wheels during the term of the winning candidate now turned “elected official” even if that elected official wasn’t or isn’t the political candidate they supported or voted for.
Real, measurable political power exists before the casting of a single ballot.
Real political empowerment is everyday. Seven days a week. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Real political empowerment is consistent and perpetual. Actually, while real political power transcends party affiliation, political divisions and unwavering party loyalties – it equally influences and controls any and all parties.
So now what is “political empowerment”? How and when is a group, actually and measurably – politically empowered? What are the ways, means and methods of achieving and utilizing political power?
Bloc Voting is the strategy of a group of individuals, joined together, based on common interests, concerns, goals and/or objectives and each individually committed to vote for one candidate or candidates based on the benefits to, and advancement of, the collective group (i.e. the bloc).
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say there are five- hundred “Martian Americans”; age range 25-30; living in a small community in Rochester, New York where the total population is 12,000 with 6000 registered voters. In this small Upstate New York community research indicates that only 2000 registered voters actually have voted in the local city council race for the last five city council elections.
These 500 “Martian Americans” throw their collective votes (bloc) behind the local city council candidate with whom they have collectively met and negotiated and who has committed to addressing the collective concerns and issues expressed by the five hundred bloc members.
This bloc vote consisting of 500 individual votes could significantly influence the outcome of a local election with two or more candidates – especially with low voter turnout.
The take-away: Registered voters must be educated and directed to treat their individually – registered and individually – cast votes as part of a unified and collective effort in order to achieve and wield real collective power. Individual registered voters should be educated and encouraged to actively seek out blocs to bond their vote with and commit their vote to.
Political campaigns need funds to operate and compete effectively and, as much as I hate clichés – “S/he who has the gold makes the rules” is a political axiom.
Bloc Campaign Contributions are financial campaign contributions made by a group of individuals joined together based on common interests, concerns, goals and/or objectives and to supporting one issue, position, candidate or candidates and committed to pooling their financial resources to support one candidate or candidates based on the benefits to, and advancement of, the collective group (bloc). Whether the members actually vote in the election or not, the most important thing is the monetary contribution and financial support made by the group to the candidate, party, issue or cause.
Let’s flashback to that hypothetical “500 Martian Americans” in Rochester, New York who each donates $50 to their bloc campaign contribution “account” which totals (to) $25,000. They collectively decided to contribute the total amount to a State Senatorial candidate whom they have met with and who has committed to addressing the concerns and issues expressed by the five hundred bloc members, or they will use the total amount for and towards the same candidate’s election efforts.
The take-away: That “500 Martian American” group will have the ears of, and access to, that “once –candidate – now – successfully – elected – State – Senator” not just because of the monies the group contributed to the successful campaign – but because they have established and positioned themselves as a dependable financial resource for future political campaigns whether individual -, cause -, issue – or party – based or – centered.
There is an Italian expression I came across some decades ago that I always remembered: “Il denaro el fratello del denaro” which means “money is the brother of money” and which makes plain the significance and relevance of the “Bloc Campaign Contribution” as strategy for political empowerment.
For the record, “Il denaro è la sorella e il fratello di denaro” means “money is the sister and brother of money.” Next…
Most(?) people seem to believe that once a candidate is elected and serving in office that the way to remove them – should there be a just and legitimate cause – is to “vote them out” in their next election. While it is possible to “vote them out” in that eventual “next election,” there are options to waiting that long: The Recall.
The “recall election” has two other names: “recall referendum” and “recall of a representative.” NO matter the name – it is a procedure and process by which voters can seek the removal of an elected official even after the person has begun serving in office. In theory, this mechanism exists, on behalf of the people, as a “check” and limits the sovereign powers of the elected official should the voters and constituency deem it necessary to take their votes back.
While federally or nationally elected politicians can not be re-called – depending upon State legislation and State law – local elected officials, such as mayors, governors, commissioners and even school board members can be recalled.
Rules regarding the recall process vary from state – to – state, yes. However the commonalities between each state process tend to be petitions, signatures, certifications and special elections.
The take-away: you don’t necessarily have to wait for the next election to seek removal of an elected official. The first prerequisite is a collective, unified group of people with the will and resources to initiate and manage the recall. Then they just have to be located in the right State.
The prerequisite foundational tools necessary for any group to effectuate political influence or achieve political power are organizational structure, collective will, commitment and courage. As cliché as it may sound: a group of people must be “loyal, unified and committed” to the same mission, goals and objectives – and courageous enough to act without fear of push-back, resistance or retribution in order to achieve and wield power.
With a strong organizational culture, loyal and committed people, financial resources and a sound plan – the formation of a special interest group can prove empowering.
Special interest groups consist of dedicated individuals who share common interests and common concerns – whether social, cultural, political, religious, financial or even historical (such as preservation organizations). Members work together, in unison and cooperation, to achieve and accomplish goals and objectives determined collectively by the group that will benefit the members of the groups and their constituency.
For example, let’s suppose those fifty “Martian – Americans” were also parents of children with sickle cell anemia. All the parents decide to unite and organize – devoting their time and resources to creating a national movement called, “Families United Against Sickle Cell.”
Their mission would be the formation of a national organization consisting of all parents of children with sickle cell anemia. The objective of the national organization would be lobbying elected officials and legislators to create, implement and enforce governmental policies that would specifically benefit children with sickle cell anemia and their immediate families.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 90,000 and 100, 000 people have Sickle Cell in the United Sates. Imagine the number of potential members such a special interest group might have and the would-be advocacy or lobbying power such a group could wield – locally, state – wide, nationally and maybe even globally.
Lobby(ing) groups, which are one type of Special Interest Group, find protection in the First Amendment as “Congress shall make no law….abridging…the right of the people peaceably…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So both lobbyists, and the process of lobbying are, theoretically, indispensable to the “proper” functioning of U.S. government.
Lobbyists offer and present to legislators and policymakers information, assessment, analysis and perspective on various issues and topics which influences and shapes their decision – and policy – making. Again, in theory – the lobbying process is supposed to create a “check and balance” mechanism for and in the political process – by allowing “the people” the opportunity to shape and influence how policies and legislation are created.
Now – is any of this new? Of course it isn’t. It’s done all the time. The problem is – it’s not done by everyone at, and in, all levels of society. Not every individual, group or community is actually taught, guided or encouraged to engage in such a systematic and methodical manner to achieve real political power.
“Voter education” initiatives and programs are sorely lacking and grossly inadequate in some communities and sectors of the public. And they have always been that way. Now, whether they have always been that way because of some grand design to limit or misdirect some communities or whether they have been that way due to the myopic vision of well – intentioned leaders and political saviors – the bottom line is this: now is the time for re-examination, re-thinking and re-inventing what true voter education is, as well as what real political power is, and .
Real political power – or real power achieved through political means – can only be realized through authentic and well – informed voter education.
To paraphrase Einstein, “the problems humans face in the world today cannot be solved by the same level of human thinking that gave birth to them in the first place.” You know – it’s the same as the Biblical, “old wine in a new bottle” lesson. Old ways of doing things aren’t usually compatible with new constructs, new conditions or (the) new times.
Sometimes the old way is the better way. Maybe most times it isn’t. Within the context of (the) political process, an awakening – a re-birth – is needed today and it starts with teaching and learning. Re- teaching and re-learning – maybe even unlearning.
Real bona fide political empowerment – authentic political power – begins with real, bona fide and authentic political pedagogy. Let the clubs, associations, lodges, temples, churches, mosques – even the living rooms and basements – become the hallowed spaces for initiating and instructing the citizenry into the new and improved “Politics 101” program of study needed in this new-fangled globalized cultural and political landscape.