Reclaiming the Radical Imagination: Reform Beyond Electoral Politics

To foster a radical imagination, we need new spaces for consciousness-raising and debate. How might our society transform if we created free education spaces in our churches, synagogues, mosques, parks, and schools? Credit: Creative Commons/Dominic Alves

The upcoming election of 2012 presents a challenge to progressives whose voices have been excluded from both the mainstream media and the corridors of political power. Under such circumstances, politics dissolves into pathology as those who are able to dominate politics and policy-making do so largely because of their disproportionate control of the nation’s income and wealth and the benefits they gain from the systemic reproduction of an iniquitous social order. In other words, electoral politics is rigged and any notion of liberal politics that is willing to invest in such ritualistic pageantry adds to the current dysfunctional nature of our social order while reinforcing a profound failure of political imagination. The issue is no longer how to work within the current electoral system but how to dismantle it and construct a new political landscape that is capable of making a claim on equity, justice, and democracy for all of its inhabitants. Obama’s once inspiring call for hope has degenerated into a flight from responsibility while legitimating a range of foreign and domestic policies that have shredded civil liberties, expanded the permanent warfare state, and increased the domestic reach of the punitive surveillance state.

It is time for progressives and others to shift the critique of Obama away from an exclusive focus on the policies and practices of his administration and instead develop a new language for politics—one with a longer historical purview and a deeper understanding of the ominous forces that now threaten any credible notion of the United States as an aspiring democracy. The key here is to refuse to enter into the current political discourse of compromise and accommodation in order to get beyond a politics of protests. Rather than fight for Obama’s re-election, it might be more worthwhile to fight for the formative cultures and public spheres that make a real democracy possible—to think beyond the discourse of compromise and conduct struggles on the mutually informed terrains of civic literacy, education, and power.

Under such circumstances, progressives can focus their energies on working with the Occupy movement and other social movements to develop a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres to make possible the modes of critical thought and engaged agency that are the very foundations of a truly participatory democracy. Such a project must work to develop vigorous educational programs, modes of public pedagogy, and communities that promote a culture of deliberation, public debate, and critical exchange across a wide variety of cultural and institutional sites.

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