Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been an exciting figure for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest one is her commitment to relying on small-dollar donors, and a “sneakers on the ground” approach to campaigning. On the one hand, it’s nice to feel that we have some legislators who don’t owe anything to the aristocrats, but I think it goes beyond that.
All those big-dollar donations don’t just mean that the politicians “owe” their donors, they also represent a huge amount of time spent begging for that money. That’s time not spent talking or listening to constituents. That’s time not spent studying the topics on which they’re passing laws. That’s time not spent writing legislation. That’s time not spent researching the people they’re going to be talking to in congressional hearings.
It’s been refreshing, over the last couple years, to see members of Congress like AOC, Katie Porter, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and others asking difficult, informed questions of agency heads, corporate executives, and other folks brought in under the guise of helping Congress inform themselves about the laws they’re crafting and passing.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those questions seem to be mostly coming from the more left-wing members of the Democratic Party, while those to the center and the right tend to make for less interesting viewing, less pressing questions, and more empty grandstanding. Part of that is about priorities, of course. Politicians further to the right on the political spectrum don’t have the same goals for the nature and effectiveness of the U.S. government.
Part of it, though, goes back to the time spent fundraising. AOC isn’t just naturally more knowledgeable about those subjects. She and her colleagues are so effective because they actually put in the time studying the subjects, and listening to experts, and crafting useful questions. Their approach to funding their political campaigns doesn’t just give them the rhetorical benefits of Left populism, it also buys them the time that’s needed to actually be effective at their jobs.
I think there are lessons there for people beyond the realm of politics. As I and my readers have mentioned before, the use of working-class power costs us more, and is more diffuse that the use of capitalist power. It takes more time, effort, and sacrifice to bring our power to bear and to keep it focused on the tasks at hand. That makes the “easy” solution of taking capitalist funding very, very tempting. On the surface, at least, money given by some large capitalist entity, be it an organization or an individual, can make things a lot easier. It can mean much-needed resources going towards good causes. It can also, however, have a corrupting effect beyond the conventional story of people getting greedy, and losing sight of the mission.
Massive funding from a small number of “well-meaning” wealthy sources can mean that, on the surface, there’s a sense that time and effort spent securing those big donations gets a better return for the cause, and that can, with the best of intentions, result in starving the aspects of our organizations that not only seek funding from “the people”, but that also put those organizations in constant contact with those people.
And in time, becoming reliant on the support of the capitalist/aristocratic class is more likely than not to turn into the kind of subservient patronage relationship we see all to often in Congress.
The issue of material resources is massively important for any revolution worth having, regardless of whether that revolution is violent or nonviolent. Unfortunately, where those resources come from seems to matter beyond vague notions of purity.
This video from Space Commune digs into these questions in a way that I think makes it required watching for anyone who believes that people should be able to govern themselves:
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