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Don’t Believe the Lie That Voting Is All You Can Do


I’ve led movements for most of my adult life and have heard similar misguided refrains far too many times. The truth is voting is an honorable act that many movements use as a tactic. But the popular message that it’s the only real source of power misleads the public about how social change happens and stifles the energy required to bring about the change we need.

Instead of suggesting that participation in movements is inferior to voting, people with influence should educate themselves and the public about the often hidden role of social movements in achieving change in this country.

Movements led to the abolition of slavery, brought Jim Crow to its knees and won child labor laws, the minimum wage, the Clean Water Act and more. African-Americans and women wouldn’t even have the right to vote if it weren’t for people taking action.

Those victories weren’t just the results of elections. They came from the work of activists to change social conditions. Where voting changes the players on the battlefield, social movements alter the very terrain on which the battle is being fought.

“Movement work is the thing that enables any of the legal and policy change to be successful,” Chase Strangioa lawyer who won the recent Supreme Court ruling protecting L.G.B.T. rights, explained in an interview with GQ. He noted that Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, had initially worried that protecting transgender people might result in social upheaval. But less than a year later, his mind had been changed.

“On some level, I have to believe that in eight months, he learned something from watching what was going on in the world,” he said. “And that is a testament not to our briefs and not to the legal movement, but to the organizing movement.”

A common misconception about movements — like the mythic story that Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of the bus spontaneously sparked the civil rights movement — is that they “just happen.”


Read entire article at The New York Times