As I pick through the rubble on another post-election Wednesday, I can’t quite figure out who the real winners and losers were in D.C.
The Democrats took the U.S. House, but the Republicans managed to strengthen their hold on to the Senate. The Blue Wave was more like a Blue Ripple. I’ve heard some pundits call the election a repudiation of Trumpism. Others say the results vindicated the president’s policies. Basically, the political landscape came out of the latest “most important election of our lifetime” a little muddled.
But here’s something crystal clear.
The nullification movement won and it won big. And this underscores the power of issue-based activism at the state and local level.
Three more states thumbed their noses at unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition. Michigan voters approved a referendum legalizing recreational cannabis in the state, along with industrial hemp. Missouri and Utah voters legalized medical marijuana. Think about that for just a second — voters in Utah, arguably the most socially conservative state in the U.S., legalized medical marijuana despite federal prohibition.
There was also a big win for privacy in New Hampshire. Voters there approved a constitutional amendment strengthening individual privacy protections and setting the stage to undermine the federal surveillance state.
In Oregon, eight counties become “gun sanctuaries.” These voter-approved ordinances set the stage to end enforcement of both state and federal gun control.
And also in Oregon, voters said no to a measure that would have overturned the state’s 31-year-old immigration “sanctuary state” law.
Think about that. In the same state, voters said yes to effectively nullifying both federal immigration law and federal gun laws.
This underscores the power of issue-based activism. By focusing on issues instead of politicians, the nullification movement picked up solid wins. Why? Because people across the aisle can often agree on single issues. People on both the left and the right agree that the war on a plant has gone on long enough. People on both the left and the right value privacy. We even saw success with issues that more neatly fit into the left-right paradigm, such and guns and immigration, because activists could focus on specifics instead of trying to sell people on an individual’s position on a wide range of issues. It’s easier to get a majority to coalesce around an issue or principle than it is a personality.
By focusing on issues instead of personalities, we can build coalitions with various groups and organizations. We may agree on very little outside of the focus issue, but that doesn’t really matter. By joining forces, we can win victories.
Sadly, liberty doesn’t seem to sell as a broad political principle. Politics have evolved toward unadulterated pragmatism. But liberty does sell when it comes to individual issues. People still want their privacy. They still want to choose the plants they grow and ingest. They still want to own the firearms they chose to defend themselves and their families. They still want food freedom. They still want healthcare freedom. While the average person might reject the broad “liberty message,” they will embrace taking action on given issues they care about.
Therein lies the power of issue-based activism.
People tend to focus all of the attention on politicians and party races. But as Dave Benner put it, politics isn’t all about putting politicians in office. He was talking about third parties, but his comments apply equally to issue-oriented campaigns.
“Certainly, those calling themselves Whigs and Sons of Liberty did not view things in such a way when they obstructed the Stamp Act, Tea Act, and Admiralty Courts, those calling themselves Jeffersonian Republicans did not deem this so when they nullified and resisted the Sedition Act. Those involved in blocking the callous 1850 Fugitive Slave Act dared not to act with full deference to the party in power, nor did Rosa Parks when she refused to abide by legal segregation laws. Far from waiting for the next election to produce a legislature willing to repeal Prohibition, those who sought to do so acted without regard to the law, and the apparatus of state-imposed prohibition crumbled at its very foundation. Instead of relying on desired electoral outcomes, overt tyranny was rolled back because the arguments were won with the populace at large.”
In other words, the great political changes in American history didn’t primarily come about because somebody got elected to office. They occurred when large segments of the population coalesced around specific issues and forced change at the grassroots level.
That’s the strategy we take here at the Tenth Amendment Center. And it’s proved effective. Just look at the election results Tuesday night. Nullification won big. Now it’s time to keep pushing forward.