Voting Activists Deserve More Support

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky
Overpass Light Brigade
Republican voter suppression can really backfire. Big time.

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that $14 billion was spent trying to influence the 2020 elections. While Democrats have no choice but to continue to contribute to campaigns, contributions to voting activists and voting rights groups should be given a place, given greater weight in apportioning contributions, considering the value of what they do. Supporting voting activism and voter mobilization with our donation dollars is certainly among the best, most effective, and most enduring investments we can make in our common political future.

We all know that real democracy is a lot more than selling candidates using marketing methods. We know this isn’t real democracy, and that adds a second powerful reason to consider contributions to voting rights groups. This consideration only gets stronger the more we know about campaigns. Consider how a traditional or average political campaign for Congress would use contributions.

A big slice of the money contributed to campaigns goes for those 30-second TV ads that have done so much to break our politics. Political ads are often masterpieces, pandering to our desires, fears and prejudices. Your contributions may unwittingly contribute to this selling of candidates like products. Of course we should still contribute, but we all know that this way of campaigning is not what a healthy democracy should look like.

And then there is Facebook advertising. Facebook too often allows right-wing campaigns to peddle outright lies, total fabrications, and yet slip these lies under the radar of our scrutiny by virtue of "micro-targeting." Some of your contributions go to Facebook advertising to counter such lies, and in so doing, they pad Facebook’s bottom line in spite of its democracy-destroying behavior.

Some of our money goes for focus groups and surveys. Helpful? Of course. But too often surveys take the place of a candidate’s actual convictions. Politicians figure out what we want to hear and tell us exactly that. But pandering with precision takes money, so some of our contributions go to hoodwinking ourselves. But, of course, we should still contribute.

Some of our money goes for junk mail, and most of that is never opened, which may be for the best. Some goes for those plasticized yard signs, bumper stickers, balloons and weird hats. Think of all this stuff as Plastic Political Pollution, and that’s before you even consider the content of their messages.

And when the campaign season is over, little remains. Except for the plastic crap nobody bothers to clean off, everything goes in the trash. Most of the side effects of modern campaigning are bad, and many are destructive for our democracy and betray our values. Out of all this muck, little benefit remains for democracy itself.

All of that said, Democrats must of course continue to contribute huge sums to campaigns. This is the real world we live in, and we must fight our battles in this world, like it or not. The point of all this is to put contributions to grassroots voting activists in the proper perspective, to consider them in light of how and for what "benefits" other political contributions are actually spent. By considering voting activists in this light, their attractiveness as a focus for political contributions goes up fairly dramatically.

With grassroots activists, many of the negative side effects in traditional campaigning as described above are replaced by positive effects. Most of the "side effects" of their organizing are not "side effects" at all but intended positive outcomes (community empowerment and local social justice victories). And, best of all, the benefits of this organizing are often lasting, bringing better outcomes for many elections into the future.

In a nutshell, supporting voting activism and voter mobilization with our donation dollars is certainly among the best, most effective, and most enduring investments we can make in our common political future. And do a gut check. Would you feel better about sending at least some of your donations to grassroots groups? Do you really want to send all of your donations to campaigns, even knowing that a big portion of every dollar will go to pay for all those undesirable features of modern campaigning described above? Of course we must continue to support campaigns, but rebalancing to give more to grassroots voting activists seems like an idea whose time has come.

To be clear, support on the scale we think is required would mean that thousands of national and community groups and tens of thousands generous individuals would need to pitch in. We think that can and should happen. It is an opportunity. One that we should seize. Together.

Published: October 2021
Revised: June 2023
To Link Or Republish >>