Posted by: Ray Brescia | November 13, 2018

The Critical, One-Word Story about the Mid-Term Results: Efficacy.

One of the most important outcomes of the mid-term elections for liberals and progressives may not be the result of any particular race.  It might just be the simple fact that, despite the structural disadvantages facing Democrats this cycle, they were, nevertheless, able to tilt the House to the Democrats, and flip over 300 state house seats, many governor’s mansions, judgeships, and elected positions in roughly every state in the Union.  Those successes boil down to one phrase: organizing works.  And it tells a critical story that can help sustain those efforts moving forward.  As a result, perhaps the most important result of the election is merely the fact that liberals and progressives learned that their efforts are not for naught, that they can have an impact, that they were efficacious.  Thus, the most important story line of this election might be just one word: efficacy.

In order to think about the importance of efficacy, assume a counter-factual: what if the Republicans had managed to exploit their positions of dominance in every branch of the federal government to maintain control of the House of Representatives? What if voter suppression, Dark Money, and gerrymandering had been enough to keep people from voting for Democrats and the Republicans had maintained a slim majority?  One potential result of this would have been a sense of powerlessness on the Left.  That despite the countless hours of phone banking and canvassing, and a highly energized base that cast significantly more votes for Democratic candidates than Republicans, Democrats still couldn’t get enough votes to flip one chamber of Congress.  That despite their best efforts, the structural disadvantages, and the relentless efforts to rig the system would mean that the system is broken and cannot be fixed.  We see so many examples of this type of systemic, structural exploitation.  Gerrymandering. Voter suppression.  Attempts to impede and undermine the Mueller investigation.  Stealing a Supreme Court seat.  Forcing through an unfit Supreme Court Justice whose main reason for being nominated at this point for Republicans was that he will likely vote to shield the President from the Mueller investigation, when, inevitably, that investigation’s jurisdiction and power should come before the Supreme Court.  One trembles at the thought that a major loss in the mid-term effort to flip the House might have resulted in liberals and progressives giving up, believing that they cannot use the power of the ballot, and democratic, peaceful means to change the system.  While votes still have to be counted in Florida and Georgia, and the full story of the voter suppression efforts in Georgia may never get told, these efforts to rig the institutions of democracy were not wholly successful, and good thing that they were not.  In fact, they may have backfired in some ways.

As research tends to show, the greater the sense of injustice, and the awareness and belief that people have an ability to work collectively through institutions to respond to such injustice (that is, they have individual and organizational efficacy), greater is their willingness to take on tough challenges. In some ways, then, perhaps the Republican efforts to both rig the system and make people feel the system is rigged such that they develop a sense of helplessness has backfired.  Such measures may have mobilized liberals and progressives enough for them to feel they can, in fact, bring about needed change, despite the structural roadblocks Republicans keep putting in their way.

Storytelling is a fundamental component of human nature.  Indeed, it’s what makes us human.  We are often told a story that one cannot fight the system.  And that our selfishness means cooperation is futile.  Such a story has a clear impact: it discourages people from fighting the system, and from trying to do so collectively.  But if a different story can be told, one of cooperation, and that such cooperation can bring about change, that story can, in turn, lead to such cooperation, and perhaps to that change.  In some ways, then, the story of the mid-terms may be a story of cooperation and organization.  Above all, it may simply be one of efficacy.  That such cooperation can lead to positive change, despite the many roadblocks, and the stories, lined up against it.

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