This is the third in a series of 5 posts.
I'm sure you've been wondering what you can do to help end systemic racism and generally make the world a better place. Maybe you're not able to protest or feel like your everyday work is making a difference. Perhaps you want to try getting politically involved, but aren't sure how. Well, I'm no expert, but I can share the things I've tried or know about. I'll focus on Washington residents and my personal experience, but if you're reading this elsewhere the same steps may help. Feel free to use the comments to add ideas!
Level 3: Use your resources!
In 2010, the Supreme Court decided that money was free speech. If I'm being melodramatic, this signified the end of the America that we think of (Of the people, by the people, etc.) and the legalization of the creeping power of the American oligarchs. Unlimited campaign spending and the sovereign personhood of corporations got the approval and only a constitutional amendment can end the evils of both.
In the meantime, to get politics done, Americans have to pay. Recent campaigns (*cough* Bernie *cough*) have inspired millions of people to make small donations and have an impact against corporate-owned candidates. Like all things political, this is more effective the more local you get, but even presidential campaigns have benefitted from small contributions. So, let's talk about money.
Donate straight to campaigns
My union has a PAC. A PAC is a Political Action Committee that collects cash and does political things with it. For a mere couple bucks a month, I can join up and support their endorsement process and their campaign donations/ad buys/whatever. I've been a union member for 16 years and have never joined. If I don't believe that corporations should be able to form super-PAC's and donate infinity dollars to campaigns, I can't support even "good" PAC's that can't donate infinity dollars. If you don't have time/motivation to research candidates and want to still fight corporate interests, a PAC might be a good option. They're not completely terrible, but I am severely skeptical of them. One problem is that they don't always choose a candidate you agree with, so be careful. For example, in the run up to the 2016 election, my union's PAC sealed my non-participation by jumping out early to endorse the wrong Democrat.
So, in that same election year, I decided to make up for my lack of campaign donations. I threw $50 at an old white man who loves birds and has people first on his agenda, not corporations. Since then, I have donated every year (except 2017 for some reason) to local and national campaigns that closely match my values. I have far outspent what I would have paid to be in my union's PAC and I have focused those funds on candidates I can be proud of, even if they didn't win. (I'm currently 9 for 13, if you're curious). These small donations are a pittance against big corporate donors, but they can make a difference.
Time is money
If you're not living the lavish child-free teacher lifestyle that I am, you don't have to donate money. You can donate time. Check out the campaign of folks you're interested in supporting and volunteer to help out. Find a place for your skills or stretch your skills and volunteer for something difficult. I'm not encouraging you to think about your worth as your productivity, but think about your hourly take-home pay and multiply that by the number of hours you work for a campaign and that can be a quantifiable measure of your fight against the corporatists!
I've participated in campaigns for people and initiatives/referendums in a number of ways. I've done phone banking for many campaigns (school levies, R-74, candidate campaigns, etc.) and I ABHOR using the telephone. Usually, the campaign focuses on getting out the vote and there is a script provided that I promptly ignore and talk like a regular person (I'm never saying "Democrats up and down the ticket" ever again). It's really easy. Even easier is text-banking, a new thing that the kids are into these days. For phone banking, I usually contact, like, 70ish people an hour, but a text-bank I recently did was blasting out, like, 500 contacts an hour. Super low-pressure for phone-phobics like myself (heh, telephonophobia). When we break out of this pandemic, we'll probably have opportunities to do door-knocking again, which is probably most effective, but also most time-consuming. I've also helped out a couple initiatives by gathering signatures, which will probably also have to wait until after the pandemic. Apart from all of this, you can also volunteer for campaigns in many other ways... get out there and help!
Causes instead of campaigns
At the start of 2017, I pledged to myself to donate about 1% of my monthly paycheck to counteract the evil of president #45. Every month, I would pick a different cause and make my donation. I know, I know, I can hear the applause and... cut it out. Every person with means, particularly white people like myself, should be paying their fair share to progressive causes, preferably run by Black, Indigenous, or people of color. To be honest, I should be donating tons more. Until my taxes support these groups so much that these organizations are unnecessary, I plan on keeping this up. Actually, I raised my monthly donation this year. You could do so just as easily! Here are some organizations I've supported:
- Rosehip Medic Collective
- Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County
- King County Equity Now (Check on some troubling claims about these folks if you're trying to donate)
- Minnesota Freedom Fund
- Aurora Commons
- North Helpline
- Tenant's Union Of Washington State
- Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
- Alliance For Gun Responsibility
- Food Lifeline
- Real Rent Duwamish
- March For Our Lives
- Southern Poverty Law Center
- Shout Your Abortion
- Teen Feed
- American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
- Black Lives Matter Global Network
- Fare Start
... and that is just this year and last year. Taking every paycheck, thinking about a cause or two, finding an organization doing good work in that area, and donating towards their work can make a big impact for a lot of progressive, BlPOC-benefitting/owned organizations. Again, if you can't donate, volunteering for an organization is just like donating! What you do with your money is a vital part of your political process. Let's keep working to make it not so necessary, though, eh?
Money sucks. It's the root of all evil. Currently, our politics and our lives are run by it. I don't know if you've noticed, but the rich are generally revered and the poor are generally reviled in this country. Everyone else is forgotten, or at least thinks they are. However, I think there's a power in that forgotten segment of society that we could put to work changing this place for the better.
At this point, the pro-corporate people have probably all left, but I'm going to talk to them anyways. The only tenable position in support of infinite corporate donations being allowed under free speech that I can think of is that the interests of business need to be represented in the lawmaking process. I get that. People need jobs and if our legislators were to, say, shut down all the online shopping, that would be problematic. However, there are two fundamental flaws. First, if money is speech, then the richest people have the most speech, and we no longer have a fair society. That's messed up. Secondly, if a corporation is a person (therefore guaranteed free speech, therefore guaranteed political spending), they should have the same spending limits as a person does. Right now, companies buy elections and candidates all the time. That is messed up and we must act to end this practice. In the meantime, we must throw our tiny stones at this machine until we build up enough power to smash it.
Right now, how you spend your hard-earned funds determines who wins. From refusing to buy from evil, multinational corporations, to supporting folks working on causes that help everyone, all the way up to helping elect the most powerful leaders in the nation, your spending makes a difference just as much as your vote does. Spend thoughtfully.
Okay, you've made your donation plan and you've reconsidered that purchase from that bastard that ruined your town, what's next? There can't be another level can there? Well, check back in a couple days for Political Involvement, Level 4: Getting properly stuck in.