Imagine a politics that’s not about voting

 

I’m no big political analyst. But I’m beginning to think and talk about what happens after the PNM wins the next general election. That’s not foregone, though. But not because another party will. It’s that some folks feel like something could easily blow up our liberal democracy before we get to all run back to the polls and do 2010 in reverse. I’m increasingly seeing running to the hills as an option for nation building. I know running abroad to build a different one will become one for many by the time the PNM ends up back where it was in 2009 and the Partnership is today, with different characters and dramatic tensions, but the same plot.

But assuming the election happens—when the PNM wins, what happens to the real coalition that won the 2010 election? The assemblage of people who care about family and opportunity and security, but also care about gender and labour and justice and culture and inequality and environmental sustainability and such —what in other countries might be called the Left.

I’ve been listening to our handwringing, and remarking how politically unproductive and lazy and unimaginative we seem to be—despite the fact that we’re not confronted with the naked use of state force and marking as outlaws earlier Caribbean generations faced for political mobilization. When Anand rattles the sabres of the state, we giggle or steups.

Since the profound trauma the self-destruction of the Grenada revolution inflicted on our regional politics, we haven’t dared to imagine any political or nation-building enterprise outside of the framework of the corruptly financed, tribal party system of election politics—since 1986 with various styles of coalition and narrow margins. The only reason there isn’t a political movement that offers us a different way to participate in power and policy is that we haven’t built one.

I have no illusion that a Left party or some other political framework will emerge before the Partnership leaves office. We ought not rule out the MSJ. But they will become relevant only if women and young people become visible in a more participatory leadership, and they figure out how to use their depth of labour organizing to turn out more than 166 votes for a local government seat—something highschoolers do to get elected prefect. And God knows nothing will reform our constitution meaningfully while any party wants to defeat another in the next election.

So what about after the election?

First let’s use the next changing of the guards to mark a consensus that our small, neoliberal, stain-yuh-finger-every-five-years idea of democracy doesn’t and won’t fulfil our aspirations for nationhood. Even Eric Williams said that.

Joining and working within parties—all of them—once seemed to me a promising approach for Left voters to reshape political accountability, values and agendas from financiers to people. Since parties currently form governments, it’s a way to ensure whoever ends up in power is accountable to or invested in a particular programme, especially when if requires leadership, resources and commitment. Plus, institutions are best changed by organizing within. But because of the hypertribalism of the current party framework, it will be enormously difficult to transform them from election and patronage machines to thinktanks. They don’t allow meaningful inputs outside the frames of loyalty, there’s a huge cost in grassroots credibility for working within a party; and the PNM’s recent elections have sucked up most of my optimism about internal reform. Most of us who work on gender don’t believe their new old guard will make anything useful happen in this important area of national development over the next six years.

Building political frameworks for citizenship that move real power away from the tribalized ballot box seems a better investment. Constitutional reform recommendations have included various proposals for moving real policy decisionmaking back into structures of local and village councils, or making one of our legislative chambers a civil society body.

Many of us run NGOs that are strategic, do effective work, perform well in the grants marketplace and have become platforms for vision and leadership. But we’ve shunned engagement of those groups with real power and statecraft, choosing to work in small spheres. We’ve bought into a North American good nonprofit governance model of nonpartisanship, when all across the rest of the Americas NGOs are highly politically engaged, because politics is about the power to govern, set policy and build a nation. We leave the nation and the state purse up to politicians whom we know can’t manage either.

Our churches, too, as much as they clamour about political roles and relevance, aren’t fighting the Government for justice and health and things that matter. They’re just platforms for a different class of resource-mobilising politicians not unlike the ones in the electoral system, who are caught up trying to preserve patriarchy, ban sex between adults, discourage pleasure, and force women to bear babies. Pastor Dottin got it wrong. The martyrdom of religious leaders (who ought to be working on their own healing) won’t rescue us, and being willing to die isn’t always necessary for change.

But we do have to start with the radical but simple idea that voting is not productive politics.

Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith

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