Forum discusses a turn toward independent politics

January 15, 2013

Kwazi Nkrumah (far left) introduces a panel to discuss how independent politics can benefit the electorate. Next to him, from left to right, are Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, Marcy Winograd and Mike Feinstein. The event was sponsored by the MLK Coalition and Occupy the Ballot. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

For those seeking to shift politics and economics away from corporate capitalism and militarism, the means to their ends are often demonstrations, campaigns, movement building and, for those who think big, revolution. Electoral politics on the other hand is often considered a stifling sell-out, a symptom of the status quo, that leads only to disappointment.

That, however, may be changing.

On Jan. 13, a forum, sponsored by the Martin Luther King Coalition and Occupy the Ballot, was held at The Last Bookstore in downtown to discuss building a political movement outside the current, corporate-controlled two-party system. Over 60 people were in attendance.

Kwazi Nkrumah, a coordinator for the MLK Coalition, said current American politics was not serving the country’s population, citing the foreclosure crisis, “abusive corporate power” and the Obama administration’s inability to stave off austerity measures.

“That is why many of us feel that now is the time to build a mass, independent-politics movement on the ground, in our communities, wherever we are, and begin to make that a movement which has the power to create options for us,” he said. “We need to pull ourselves together and come out of our little corners, and put together something … that cannot be co-opted by corporate interests or crooked politicians, something that is controlled by the people in our community and empowers them.”

Among the speakers participating in the panel discussion were notables known outside of activist circles, such as Marcy Winograd, a former congressional candidate and Mike Feinstein, a former city councilmember and mayor of Santa Monica.

Community organizer Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, as well as other panelists, expressed a desire to move away from campaigns where a person runs for office not to win, but as a sort of commercial for an underdog political party or single issue.

“I don’t give a damn about symbolic campaigns anymore,” said Jitahidi. “We have to win. … We can listen to KPFK all we want to, but we have to get in the streets and work.”

Because of its electoral structure, the U.S. political system has never been welcoming to third parties. Some critics have argued this leaves the political landscape entrenched in a system comprised of moderates and hardliners who, in essence, espouse the same ideology.

Panelists urged people to run for smaller, local offices, such as neighborhood councils, which tend to leave room for grass roots politics. Both the Green Party and Peace and Freedom Party had booths at the event.

Panelist Gary Gordon, a former city councilmember and mayor of Gainesville, Fla., said he hoped that one or two people in the audience would decide to run for office. He is currently a Peace and Freedom Party activist in Los Angeles.

“We got the issues; we got the platforms. We need the people,” he said.

There is much a person could achieve as a city council member, said Gordon. He listed a few of his accomplishments out of 30, he said, that he achieved in three years, which included lowering utility rates, increasing water and wastewater fees on developers so taxpayers wouldn’t have to carry the burden, creating bike lanes and starting a recycling program.

“These are the kind of things that having someone in office that already agrees with you on these issues can accomplish,” he said. “My concern is that people don’t realize what can be accomplished by elected officials that are on our side, that they have contempt for the electoral system and a disdain for the concept of leaders or leadership. People spend incredible resources — time and money — to protest government action and very little resources on securing power in government.”

Included on the panel was Ron Gochez, a current 9th District candidate for LA city council. Gochez is a long-time activist who has focused heavily on immigrant rights. During a question-and-answer period, he addressed an audience member who was concerned about prioritizing elections over direct actions, such as protests and civil disobedience.

“This is just one tactic out of many that we are going to continue to use,” he said. “Organizations that I work with, we specifically said we are not going dump all the community work we’ve been doing for years and just focus on this.”

The forum itself did not center solely on winning elections, but shared its platform with organizers who talked about direct action and community organizing strategies as well. It featured activists from Occupy the Hood, the Youth Justice Coalition, Global Women’s Strike, the Coalition to Stop LAPD Spying and others.


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