How to 10x the Power of Every Social Movement
It’s Monday, November 9, 2020, and my liberal friends are celebrating. Biden won the presidency, and they believe nothing is going to get done in the next four years.
I don’t think electing an impotent government is cause for celebration. I think it’s cause for serious reflection on where our standards should be for how our government represents us.
In an earlier article, I wrote that political action was arguably the best way to create change in the world. In a vacuum, I still believe that, but the last few days have shown me that working through this current political system is not the most effective way to create change. I could’ve seen this coming — I often think about a 2014 paper that found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” Still, though, part of me thought that if we just fought hard enough in 2020 we’d get a Democratic government and then magically we’d have a Green New Deal and a whole host of other issues would finally be addressed. No such luck.
This has left me in quite a conundrum. Now that I believe that this current political system doesn’t offer the best opportunities for change, but that an ideal political system would — and that my goal is to create change — where should I focus my efforts?
Right now, I believe that this leaves me with two paths. Either I can find a way to create meaningful change outside of policy and government, or I can try and change the governmental structure itself. Given the political bent of these past few days, I want to write here about what that meaningful governmental change would look like.
Now, of course, I know that I’m just one citizen in a population of 330 million. I alone can’t actually generate any of the change I’m about to outline. But as a practice, I find it useful to imagine an ideal world, and then genuinely shoot for it — and as the saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still land among the stars.
Shoot for the ideal world you imagine, and although you won’t reach it, you might get pretty damn close.
So: I’m proposing these government reforms as my top three let’s-get-these-done-ASAP goals.
- Abolishing the Electoral College
- Using ranked choice voting
- Ending voter suppression
Those three things sound like impossibly high goals, especially given that in many cases the incentive structures for people in positions of power don’t align with enacting them, but again: aim for the moon and land among the stars. Here’s how I currently think about actually getting those three things done.
I should note that I think getting money out of politics is also a hugely important piece of this puzzle, but I haven’t seen any clear paths to getting that done, so I didn’t want to spend too much time on it here. I do think instating these three reforms would be significant, but this is one example of the work that would be left to do.
Abolishing the Electoral College
People often talk about this as something that the Executive branch of government should just do — but, alas, the Electoral College is written into the constitution and so would require a constitutional amendment to change. Unlikely to happen under the current system.
However, states also have complete jurisdiction over how they want to allocate their electoral college votes (Maine and Nebraska already do something a little different than most other states).
What if every state just agreed to allocate their votes to the winner of the popular vote, regardless of how their own population voted? What if this could work without every state getting on board?
Enter the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It’s an agreement among several states that if enough of them have signed the compact, they’ll award their electoral college votes to the winner of the popular vote, essentially guaranteeing that the winner of the popular vote would win the presidency — and we’re already 73% of the way to getting enough states to sign it (technically, 73% of the way to getting enough electoral college votes’ worth of states to sign it).
This is huge. I’ll admit I have no idea how plausible it is to get the last 27% by 2024, and there is a legitimate argument that the last 2% will be much harder than the first 98%, but doing it this way does sound a hell of a lot more plausible than a constitutional amendment. If you vote in one of the states that hasn’t signed on and are at all upset about the way the electoral college has played out in the past, I think urging your state legislature to pass this compact is genuinely one of the best things you can do.
Ranked Choice Voting
I’m going to be honest here, I can’t make the argument for ranked choice voting much better than Hasan Minhaj did in this episode of Patriot Act.
Before watching that video, I didn’t fully understand the impact that ranked choice voting could have on this country. But imagine this — a general election where multiple people in the same party can run against each other without any negative effects on each other’s chances of winning, and so voters are able to vote on issues they really care about instead of worrying about who they think can actually win. An election where you can always vote for your candidate of choice in a general election, and your vote will still count even if your first choice candidate only get’s 1% of the popular vote; the system will then allocate your vote to your second choice candidate, all the way up until your vote counts for whoever your preference is between the two most popular candidates. Imagine if Bernie had made it to the general election in 2016 or 2020 because we never had to make a choice between him and another Democratic candidate to put in the general election. Yeah. That’s ranked choice voting. I say we do it.
Ending Voter Suppression
I say “ending voter suppression” somewhat tongue-in-cheek because there quite literally has never not been voter suppression in this country, and it’s baked into our culture in a way that the electoral college and ranked choice voting are not. It frankly is barely comparable and doesn’t really belong in a list with those other two reforms. There are so many issues underlying voter suppression, and it would be so much more challenging than passing a simple interstate compact to fix.
I also think it’s the most plausible way to make progress and that it has the most potential for change. This is the big one.
Imagine a world where the winner of the popular vote always wins the presidency and we use ranked choice voting, but there are still huge sections of the population who systematically can’t vote as easily as others. That is not a democracy.
All of these reforms I’m suggesting are aimed at creating a more representative government, but while there’s still voter suppression, there by definition cannot be a truly representative government.
That’s why I think this reform has the highest potential for impact — and might also be the easiest issue to address. Instead of needing one or two bills to be passed, it can be approached from many different angles, and each of those smaller pieces is a more manageable size than abolishing the electoral college all in one go. Personally, I think there are a few (relatively) easy wins that could have huge impacts: restoring voting rights to all felons (not just former felons); making Election Day a national holiday; making all citizens eligible to vote when they turn 18 instead of requiring people to register (see these stats about racial discrimination in the way voter registration happens).
Why These Reforms?
Admittedly, there are so many huge issues in the world right now, it’s hard to compare and make value judgements about which should be worked on first. Should we all be marching in the streets for Black Lives Matter or the climate movement or immigration reform or women’s rights or….the list goes on. (Spoiler: they’re all incredibly important and we should be doing them all right now)
Having a representative government would mean that policy change can actually happen swiftly in response to mass unrest, and that politicians would more often believe in the causes their constituents are fighting for. Fighting for these reforms may very well be one of the best ways you can fight for any cause you care about.
If we can get these three governmental reforms done, we will 10x the power of every social movement.
These reforms wouldn’t just multiply the power of every social movement, they would also become exponentially easier to accomplish as we get some of them done. We are balanced at the precipice of a governmental reform movement, the dominos in place ready to fall. All it takes is a few more states to sign the NPVIC, or to implement ranked choice voting, or to allow their felons to vote. The rest will come more easily — though not without a fight — as the dominos start to fall.
If you’re feeling fired up about this, here are a few things I’d recommend channeling your energy into:
- Looking up whether your state has signed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and contacting your state government about it if not
- Working to get ranked choice voting passed with FairVote
- Picking a subset of voter suppression issues and working on those. One good place to start is with Fair Fight