Electoral Politics: What would it take to inspire? To affect substantive change?


Good morning after staying up late to watch the midterm returns.

Well, if you stayed up.

I said I was going to stay up and watch, then started to get stressed and decided to go to bed (it’s amazing how a body can remember 2016 in its muscles) but then I tuned into a livestream with less stressful hosts and watched anyway.

I didn’t sleep as long as I would like, but I’m glad I watched until most races were called.

Yesterday, a few questions swirled around in my mind quite a bit. What would it take to inspire greater hope and possibility through politics? What would have to happen for that to take root? And what would have to happen for politics and governance to create widespread, positive changes in the lives of more people?

Two things brought these questions to mind:

1) Throughout this election season, many of my friends, both local and across the country, framed the importance of voting through conversations about “harm reduction.”

I saw this quite a bit on social media this year, and I think that’s an absolutely necessary conversation. Similarly, the same friends were quick to point out that voting is only one tool in the toolbox, and we cannot expect to enact positive change through electoral politics alone. If we want to participate in movement-building and the protection of neighbors, that requires much more than a vote every two to four years. I completely agree.

But I also thought, how sad that we have reasonably come to expect that voting is capable primarily of harm reduction, and perhaps not much more? I’m not criticizing this. I’m wondering what could be possible if electoral politics and governance were more inspiring with tangible, substantial changes in the lives of many more people?

What could politics be? What is possible?

2) Yesterday, someone sent me an excellent podcast. It’s an episode from Freakonomics, which makes the argument that the two-party system of U.S. politics is a duopoly — that it’s an industry which primarily serves its own interests rather than creating substantive changes in the lives of the majority of people.

On the podcast, Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter are two guests who have done a great deal of research into this. Having asked themselves how this duopoly could be altered and transformed, they also propose several solutions. One is non-partisan, citizen led redistricting, something that my home state of Michigan passed just last night.

But all of this brought up my larger questions too: How might we transform campaigns and governance? How might we envision politics and transform it toward greater possibilities?

These are the kinds of questions that need to linger and marinate for a long time, but here they are, sitting with me and maybe with you this morning.

Renee Roederer

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