Occupy the Ballot Forum and Independent Politics

occupy the ballot forum

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 January 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 of , 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.

L. George Friday, a panelist and field organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee urged people to run for smaller, local offices, such as neighborhood councils, which tend to leave room for grassroots 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.”

dan bluemelThe 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 CoalitionGlobal Women’s Strike, the Coalition to Stop LAPD Spying and others.

Ron Bluemel
LA Activist

Wednesday, 16 January 2013



  1. Alan8 says

    One obstacle to third parties is the “horse-race” mentality of many voters.

    They confuse elections with horse races and conclude that if the candidate they voted for doesn’t win, they’ve “lost” and their vote was “wasted”.

    Of course if a corporate Democrat they voted for wins, then votes to cut Social Security and to support the NDAA, that’s hardly a “win”.

    If enough people vote for a progressive, e.g. the Green Party, to put a corrupt “Democrat’s” victory in doubt, that IS a win, because it contains the implicit threat of even MORE people voting progressive in the NEXT election. The “Democrat” that won will think twice before selling out to corporate interests and the 1%.

    This is how progressives can influence the Democratic Party immediately, with only single-digit percentages of the vote. Having a real progressive in the race with the two corporate-funded parties also allows progressive issues (e.g. single-payer health care and restoring taxes on the rich to pre-Reagan levels) to be raised, and reported by the media.

    When you vote for one of the corporate parties, then YOU share the blame for the damage they do while in office.

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