Declaring Independence: Why Bernie Sanders must lead America in rejecting our political “common sense”.

The buildup for this presidential election has been like a Tale of Two Cities. On one side, you have numerous Republicans lining up to court the money and votes of America’s right-wing. Will the nominee be union-busting governor Scott Walker? Or will the Republicans go with the establishment candidature of one John Ellis Bush? Perhaps the youngish libertarian wing will get their crack at selecting the nominee in choosing Rand Paul? Or will the Republicans choose their own dark-horse candidate of color in Dr. Ben Carson? There is no shortage of candidates to get conservatives and neoliberals fired up about taking back a country that, to be honest, they have never really lost.

But for Democrats? It was Hillary. The most decidedly neoliberal Democratic candidate for the presidency since, well, her husband ran to “end welfare as we know it” ‘in 1992. The candidate of lost emails and lecturing on the corporate circuit (but do not worry; her husband will continue speeches in her stead because, you know, they got to eat). The candidate of unabashed free trade and empty frequent flier miles as secretary of state. But the nomination was hers for the taking because she has waited her turn and, besides, do you not wish to have a woman president? Will someone please think of the children? And with Elizabeth Warren ruling out a run, it seemed that left-wing voters would be forced into their usual decision of third-party or staying home.

But last Wednesday, the political system got a bit of a shock when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced his candidacy for the presidency. A former mayor of Burlington and a candidate for governor under the socialist Liberty Union Party in the 1970s, Sanders is the longest serving socialist in the history of the United States Congress. He has long identified with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and the organization has a #WeNeedBernie page where members of the organization (of which I am one) can go and show support. It was once unthinkable that the United States would ever see a major left-wing challenge to the two-party system in the mold of Debs and LaFollette, but with Sanders in the running, that time might just be now.

There is only one problem: Bernie Sanders is running to be the nominee of the party that he caucuses with in the U.S. Senate, the Democratic Party. That is a mistake.

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There Are Other Options.

The title is a little frustrating for me because this feels like one of those things that you should not have to explain to adults in the 21st century. And yet, here we are. From the linked piece:

So, while I understand that Hillary Clinton isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I can promise you this much – she’s a hell of a lot better than any Republican alternative. So to all of you liberals who loathe her and feel that voting for her would be “selling out,” do you really want a Republican president potentially replacing four Supreme Court Justices?

It will be an argument that neoliberal Democrats use early and often: vote for Hillary, otherwise the brownshirts will be choosing our next Supreme Court. They will use it because it is fairly persuasive; Democratic nominees to the Supreme Court are typically more liberal than Republican nominees to the Supreme Court, and it seems as if every Supreme Court ruling is being decided with a knife’s edge.

But here is what comes along with the opportunity to vote for someone who may or may not get to nominate a couple of Supreme Court justices:

  1. Hillary Clinton praised Henry Kissinger, calling him a friend and stating that she relied on his counsel. Makes sense given her role in helping to depose a democratically-elected president in Honduras.
  2. The title of this article is “Why Wall Street Loves Hillary”. If you can imagine, it has to do with her Wall Street-friendly economic policy than anything else.
  3. I am old enough to remember Hillary Clinton saying that she believes abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”, which sounds an awful lot like the Texas GOP’s line on abortion shortly before the voted on a bill that ended up closing the vast majority of the state’s clinics.
  4. Hate war? Try and find a foreign military encounter that the United States has had that Hillary Clinton has not supported.

All of that for the possibility that she may be able to approve a Supreme Court justice or two? Really?

The American people do have options, though. Jill Stein is running for the Green Party presidential nomination. The Socialist Party USA typically runs candidates for president. Also, you could not vote at all for president or anything else. The options and strategies for you as an individual are limitless in 2016!

We need to have continued discussions on what it takes to build an independent working-class political movement in this country, but that is for another blog post. Today, the assertion just has to be made that the choice for leftists over the next nineteen months go beyond whatever middling centrist pablum the Democratic Party has on offer.

To assert otherwise is as short-sighted as it is disconnected from reality.

Thoughts on Alabama and its Democratic Disintegration.

My wife and I are housesitting this week as it is Spring Break and the homeowners are on a business trip. The homeowners have cable, which is something my wife and I got rid of over a year ago. So we have spent a good amount of time watching the stuff that we used to love when we had cable: mostly The Food Network and BBC World News. On Friday night, however, I tuned into Alabama Public Television to catch Capital Journal. It is a fairly boring show in a state with fairly boring politics.

But something interesting happened that I had never really noticed before. At the end of the show, they brought in their two analysts to discuss goings on at the statehouse. One person covered the Senate while the other reported on the House. While the two reporters referred to the party labels of the leaders in the Legislature (obviously, all Republicans), they would only refer to the leaders of the Democratic caucus as “the leader of the minority party”. When they talked about amendments being offered to the charter school legalization bill that has become priority number one for Republicans, they talked about the “amendments offered by the minority party” and the fact that the bill had such an easy time in the Senate was because of the “outreach that Republicans made to the minority party”. Only a couple of times did the reporters mention the actual name of the “minority party”, and even then they were referred to by the much-hated “Democrat” truncation.

I am not in a position to know the political leanings of either reporter, though the fact that they were both Black leads me to disbelieve any partisan motivations on their part. So it left me with another, more realistic, and more terrifying option: the Democratic Party in Alabama is so dysfunctional, so irrelevant, so crippled by the factions that continue to bicker over the tiniest of stakes, that reporters on the state’s oldest political talk show on television are not even compelled to mention its name when discussing goings-on in our halls of policymaking. The two-party democracy as we know it in this state quite literally only exists on paper.

Needless to say, it is a great time to be a socialist organizer in the Yellowhammer State.

An Open Letter On ‘Right To Work’ To All Union Members And Allies

To every union member and allied working person in the United States:

I hope this missive finds you well. As those of you who follow the news know, Wisconsin has become the 25th state to allow those in workplaces with unions that fall under the Wagner Act’s jurisdiction to not pay dues while still receiving the hard-fought benefits that come from a union contract. This is a terrible state of affairs, not the least of which because historical union bastion states of Indiana and Michigan preceded it in implementing similar laws. While I am confident that we will eventually reverse this development, this is not why I am writing you. I am writing you about the use of the phrase, ‘Right to Work’. Continue reading

The Invisible Profession: The demise of teaching in the public sphere.

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

teachers credit union.001

This message began appearing on signs throughout Tuscaloosa County in the last couple of months. The new name is apparently imbued with a bit of history itself: the city of Tuscaloosa was founded on the fall line of the Black Warrior River in west Alabama in 1819. It would eventually become Alabama’s second state capital in 1826, and the University of Alabama was established in the city in 1831. With Stillman College, a historically Black university, opening its doors in 1875 and Shelton State Community College doing the same in 1950, it made sense that the city would be home to a robust financial institution specifically catered to the city’s grade-school and post-secondary teachers. Thus we have the Tuscaloosa Teachers’ Credit Union, which opened its doors in 1953. 

This specific change does not seem to be altogether that shocking or scandalous. An institution starts as one thing, broadens its focus, and changes its name to reflect this development. Big deal, happens all the time. Look at the Government Employees Insurance Company, for instance. In and of itself, these kinds of developments aren’t catastrophic, but they are a reflection of the ongoing siege against public education and the erasure of educators from public life.

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#GeneralStrike: Why an old tactic could bring about new changes

This was a piece that I wrote several months ago, but never published. There is no time like the present, though.

Boots Riley tweets

Back when I was a liberal posing as a socialist in my early 20s, I would always sneer at the suggestion of a general strike by the leftists I hung out with. After all, the only thing approaching a national general strike that I had ever read about in American history books was the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. That strike, which began in West Virginia with workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, ended with President Rutherford B. Hayes calling out federal troops to suppress the strikes and states passing laws to ensure that such interstate cooperation amongst the working class would be rendered illegal in the future. Plus, my experience in organizing for the Democratic Party had embittered me to the notion that low-income families and communities would ever join such an action. My thinking was, “Hell, I cannot even get these folks to vote for shiftless, do-nothing Democrats! What makes y’all think these folks would willingly walk off their job to support their neighbors?”

But as the conversation surrounding the non-indictments of police officers in the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown has become focused on possible solutions and methods for obtaining those solutions, I find myself being thoroughly disappointed. If I am not reading something on body cameras or hiring “smarter” cops (as if the systems producing state violence are somehow no match for your run-of-the-mill MPA student), I am reading about meetings with the President where it is difficult to discern whether the florid rhetoric was matched by any real binding commitment to anything other than technocratic tinkering around the edges. Phillip Agnew exhorts that if the demands of the group in that meeting are not met, then they will “shut it down”.

But shut down what? And how? The protests that have caused major traffic backups in major American cities are exhilarating to watch, for sure. Many of us could only dream about such an occurrence unfolding nightly before our eyes a year ago, and yet here we are. It has been a sight to see. But anyone who has done community organizing or political organizing can tell you that such micro-level actions are not sustainable for the weeks, months, and possibly years that it will take to see change through this system of ours. And despite all the rhetoric of needing to “decenter” people who are either indirectly affected or unaffected in movements for change, the fact is that it will require a coalition of communities and causes to right the systems of injustice that have pulverized and demoralized us for so long. That means communists, socialists, liberals, communities and activists of all colors, low-income, middle-income, and many more will be needed if we plan on “shutting down” anything.

Given this, as well as the perspective that comes from shifting ideologies and growing older, I have come to see that the only way this will come about is through economic pressure and direct action that focuses solely on the accumulation of capital. No amount of liberal technocratic edge-tinkering will bring justice to communities like Ferguson, Brooklyn, or Phoenix so long as it leaves the status quo relationship between state and citizen in place.

Therefore, I join others in supporting the call for a nationwide general strike. There are, however, two big things that would have to be put into place before such an action could be successful. After all, this would be a massive undertaking for a country that has never seen such an occurrence.

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The Dead End of Identity Politics.

Pull up a chair. I have a story to tell.

Sigh.

Sigh.

A former colleague of mine posts this on Facebook. Makes you wanna give it an eyeroll or two, right? There is nothing in this critique that one can use to organize or build community around; rather it is simply one more scold in an atmosphere full of them. I challenged the person who posted it to find me something similar on how you can build bridges or educate the mass of people that we will actually need in order to build a coalition for change. She replied that she was not necessarily using it to exclude folks from spaces; fine, I said. I do not understand how one can post something like that and say with a straight face that they “are not trying to exclude”, but I was ready to let it go.

A socialist organizer friend of mine weighs in on the fourth point. I read it and….huh. It kinda does sound like the poster is blaming white LGBTQ+ individuals for their own oppression. I mean, I can kinda see the point (these struggles are connected, and one oppression fuels others), but it was made in such a bombastically ridiculous way as to lose the point entirely. And knowing the struggles that white LGBTQ+ youth endure in the South, this particular admonishment came across as being very unfeeling and insensitive.

The response that he gets from others? Google It, basically. Maybe I should not have done this, but I basically told the person who said that to stuff it. Like, this mess gets very old, very fast. When another person, a queer Black woman, came in and left a big block of text stating that it was perfectly within her right to tell people to Google It, and how I was apparently devaluing intracommunity work by stating that it is an organizer’s job to educate, I stated the following:

Everyone cannot be an organizer. Fine. But please, do not politicize your laziness and comfort.

Her response?

Did you just call me lazy? Did you not hear me say that I am a queer Black woman….

What conversation is there to be had around that? It is as if the mere existence of her identity inoculates her from any critique. How did we get here?

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