On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, announced his VP pick, Kamala Harris, to a flurry of mixed reactions online. As with all events that make up the political theater typically observed in our country, there were corners of praise and corners of dissent. On one hand, Harris’ nomination symbolizes a potential historic “first” for a lot of Black and South Asian people in this country. It’s an opportunity to be represented in the second highest office in the world. But for many like myself, the optics are totally overshadowed by the bleak reality of electing the white supremacist, grandfather of mass incarceration, and a woman who has unironically self identified herself as California’s “top cop”.
Under a true democracy, people should be allowed to ask questions. Under a true democracy, people should be allowed space for criticism and dissent. But in the illusion of a democracy that we find ourselves under in the united states, where elections cost millions of dollars to participate in, where all parties besides two are rendered virtually invisible, and where the two visible parties pull strings behind the scenes to usher forward uninspiring candidates, dissent is oddly viewed as life-threatening. We are taught that democracy should be free, but every four years, the american people are held at gunpoint and forced to make a decision. Every election becomes “the most important election of our lifetime”.
When those among us who choose to dissent speak up, we are often met with the same retorts. One that we can constantly depend on is, “So what do you want me to do then?” I first want to recognize that a lot of times this question is asked from a genuine place. When you are held politically hostage the way we continue to be in this country, we find ourselves destitute and miseducated. People’s concerns about the future are real.
But more often than not, “So what do you want me to do then?” is a question asked in bad faith, particularly to leftists (people who identify as communists, socialists, anarchists, or any other faction of the true left), who, after lifetimes of study and lived experience, have decided to opt out of the dog and pony show that is american electoral politics. It’s a question asked to invoke shame; to suggest that we are the true failure of this country. To remind us that if we just took this thing a little more seriously, maybe we’d all be in a better place. The question only serves to further isolate the people.
I do not like being asked this question because I know that most people who ask it do not actually want an answer and most certainly will not like mine. Because the truth is, I don’t want you to do anything. I literally just want you to stop.
The big issue with being socialized in a patriarchal society, which is to say, a society governed by and constructed in the benefit of men, is that solutions are constantly valued over concrete analysis. We are constantly leaping for solutions to problems that we do not fully understand. And that is why we continue to find ourselves repeating the same mistakes and asking the same questions (read: “So what do you want me to do then?”) over and over again. When asking this question, understand that you need new tools. You need a new framework from which to understand the world around you.
Dialectical and historical materialism allow us to step back from the noise— the mindlessness of corporate cable news and the non stop hysteria of social media, and actually evaluate the material conditions around us. They remind us that almost everything in life can be explained when you look at real world conditions and apply the context of history. It asks us to sit with history, and evaluate the contradictions that come up in our society. A person constantly asking “So what do you want me to do then?” is very far removed from this crucial process of interrogation. I need you to unplug from the theater and join me in struggle and in material evaluation. I need you to take a break from condescension as I invite you into the thought exercise of a lifetime.
“So what do we do then?” To tell you the truth, it would actually be great if you commit to coming back into the streets with us. I want you to abandon individualism for collectivism. I want you to stop ignoring houseless people in your own community. I want you to give them money and food and clothing every chance you get. I want you to band together with your friends and figure out ways to get them off the streets permanently. And I want you to study the history of houselessness in your city. I want you to make the safety and security of poor people more important than your own individual career and professional goals. Why are so many people without homes where you live, while so many homes sit empty? What are your local politicians doing to address it and what’s taking them so long? I want you to get so angry about that, that you do something.
“So what do we do then?” To be really honest with you, there are likely hundreds or thousands of people where you live who have been laid off. I think it would be great if you got organized in your city and learned how to do an eviction blockade. Because millions of people are about to get evicted. Bonus point: it would be really awesome if you have a home that someone who’s getting evicted could live in while they work to sort out their life. I’d love it if you stopped shaming people who are receiving the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits. I’d like it if you developed a better class analysis and stopped going to war with people who share similar material interests as you on behalf of the ruling class. We all deserve more. I want you to get so angry about that, that you do something.
“So what do we do then?” I want you to figure out what resources the elderly in your community need access to. I want you to help an elder do some grocery shopping. Is an elder struggling to afford prescriptions? As it stands, no one running for office is interested in even discussing universal healthcare. Perhaps you can help pay for their meds? Maybe do some crowdfunding? What about the single parent households where you live? I want you to be a resource to those who are about to struggle with starting virtual learning in the fall. Can you talk to them and find out what they need? Can you and a group of your friends mobilize around that? I want y’all to get so angry about what’s about to happen, that you do something.
“So what do we do then?” Well, right now we’re living through a moment where more people than ever are ready to explore getting rid of one of the deadliest forces in our country: the police. At this moment, Harris wants to “reimagine” them, an exercise we’ve done before that is proven not to work, and Biden wants more of them. It’s likely that with the current presence of police, your community already isn’t safe. If you’re a cishet man, I want you to talk to other cishet men about the ways in which women in your community are not safe, and how you contribute to that. I want you to build community with Trans folks in ways they don’t have to initiate. I want you to study how to organize a system of protection for people who are harmed in your community, and a system of accountability and restoration for those who do harm. I want to see genuine efforts for community divestment from violence and punishment. I want to see more people talking about things like communal rest and how we handle interpersonal conflict. I think it would be great if we all took some time to think about how we model ideas like abolition in our everyday lives. I want us to get so mad about this shit, that we do something about it.
“So what do we do then?” I want you to develop a better analysis of the country you live in and begin to engage it in a more ethical way. I want you to really process what it means to live at the heart of the US empire. I want you to not be ok with disposing of the lives of Black and brown people in the Global South and Middle East for the reward of representation. I want you to interrogate why you even want to be represented as the face of the death machine that is the united states. I want you to stop invoking the aesthetic of Black Panthers and other Black radicals until you understand the politic that set them on fire. I want you to be pissed off about the fact that you’ve never participated in a truly democratic election in your entire life. I want you to get angry about the electoral college. I want you to stop asking me “So what are you going to do then?”, and maybe ask yourself what YOU are going to do in the event that November 2020 ends up being just like November 2016— a scenario where your favorite war criminal wins the popular vote, but still loses the election.
What a proper analysis of our situation tells us is that we did not get here by some slip of a lever. Nothing about our current situation is by mistake. The path that we continue to go down is totally predictable, in fact, people have been theorizing our current reality for decades. What a proper analysis tells us, is that if we don’t completely halt and bring this empire to its knees, it is going to swallow the rest of the world while it simultaneously cannibalizes itself. What it tells us is that until we wake up and stop feeding the machine, nothing is going to change. The only material way to stop this is to start building a new world from the ground up. Starting with ourselves, and then in our communities.
Our obsession with electoralism is a masochistic love affair with the machine that’s set to kill us. And no matter how much people claim “we can do both”, history shows us that until we prioritize organizing ourselves, we will continue to rely on presidential elections to address the societal problems that it has proven to be unequipped to fix. No matter who sits at the helm, the machine is never going to slow, turn around, or stop. It will only move forward. So please don’t treat questions like “So what do we do then?” like Big Jokers in a game of spades. Before asking “What are yall going to do then?” or “What are the alternatives?” understand that those who fully understand the problem aren’t looking for alternatives. We’re trying to build something new, and we are asking you to join us.