Skip to content

Boots Riley on How Political Change Actually Happens

Boots Riley / Photo by Amelia Kennedy

If what you want is actual change, then what has to be built is a mass movement that is militant and can use direct action to slow or stop profit. A movement that can do that can demand whatever it wants. Why? Because politicians answer the dictates of the ruling class, the 1%. [Politicians] are merely puppets. If you have a movement that stops a portion of the economic machine, the ruling class will make their puppets dance for you.

None of the changes that we see as great advances in human or civil rights have come by electing the right politician. Social Security, Medicare, Section 8, AFDC, Civil Rights legislation — that all came because there were movements that were using direct action to stop profits; movements that the ruling class was scared would turn revolutionary. In the 1920s there were sit-down strikes in factories across the U.S., mining strikes across the south, hundreds of thousands of people in the streets for demonstrations against capitalism in the cities, and J. Edgar Hoover deemed states like Montana and Utah “hotbeds of Communist activity.” And it was true. The ruling class was scared and got FDR to pass the New Deal. JFK had, years before Civil Rights legislation was passed, said that he wouldn’t be for such legislation. A movement forced him to concede. Hell, Affirmative Action was passed under Nixon because people were out in the streets in the U.S. and there were revolutions happening around the world.

Whoever is President, if there is no radical mass movement, things will go to the right. Knowing this history, understand what is being set up when the same media outlets that paint radical mass movements in a bad light — or don’t report on them — decide to tell you that your ultimate political expression is to vote. At this point, voting is being presented as an alternative to a mass movement. Campaigns take a huge amount of energy to make happen. The Kerry campaign pretty much decimated the anti-war movement that was going strong in 2004 when many of the main forces organizing that movement started stumping for Kerry. And he wasn’t even anti-war. The Obama campaign decimated the newly regenerated anti-war movement in 2008. And he definitely isn’t anti-war. If the only time you bang the drum is when it’s time to get someone elected, and you don’t get involved in a mass movement, then you’re working against real and substantive change. The truth of the matter is that the system we live under is driven by profit. This collective profit is created by us — from our labor, for which they pay us a piddly small portion as wages. That wealth is what’s used to wield power, part of which means dictating policy to politicians. Until we can democratically control the wealth that is created from our labor, there isn’t real democracy. The elections are a cruel joke.

We need a radical militant mass labor movement that turns into a revolutionary movement that changes this whole system. And short of that, we need a radical militant mass labor movement just to get higher wages, free health care, free higher education, and to stop foreclosures and evictions. Or are you going to wait and wonder why the guy you voted for keeps not doing what he says he was going to do?