Author: Douglas

So You Think You Can Take Over the Democratic Party?

The Democratic presidential primary has finally come to an end, with the longtime frontrunner Hillary Clinton clinching the nomination. Bernie Sanders has now come out and said that he will work with Hillary Clinton to defeat Donald Trump. It may have killed hopes that some leftists may have had that Sanders might still run as an independent or with Jill Stein on the Green Party ticket, but his endorsement of Hillary Clinton is far from unexpected.

With the nominating process now behind us, the question for supporters of Bernie Sanders both unwavering and critical is simple: What is to be done now?

One of the solutions that will eventually be bandied about is entryism, which is the practice of having people join a party en masse in order to engineer a takeover of the political party in question. The most famous modern example of entryism occurred within the Labour Party in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. There, members of a Trotskyist organization known as Militant attempted to steer Labour to the left by signing up to join the party and winning control over the organization piece by piece. They succeeded in having a Militant member named as the National Youth Organizer after taking over the Labour youth organization, meaning that the organization had one person on the National Executive Committee (NEC). Attempts by more moderate Labourites to expel Militant were initially unsuccessful, but after the Militant-dominated Liverpool City Council decided to run a deficit in contravention of national law, Labour eventually succeeded in expelling the organization from the party. They even went to the extent of deselecting Militant’s two MPs (more on this later).

Left-liberals and social democrats in the United States might push forward by saying that working within the Democratic Party is the best way to ensure that the concerns of the working class get heard, and that we should use the enthusiasm generated by the Sanders campaign to bring people into the party with the hopes of changing it. Let’s engage with this idea and analyze just what it would take to have this happen.

Why Virginia matters to American labor in 2016.

The most important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.

On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Education as a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

“It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.”

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take.

An Open Letter to Rep. John Lewis.

Representative Lewis,

Yesterday, you stated the following about Bernie Sanders’s record on fighting for civil rights in the 1960s:

“I never saw him. I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed (the) voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President (Bill) Clinton.”

We are going to ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl, or that you once stated to a Clinton biographer that, “[t]he first time I ever heard of Bill Clinton was the 1970s”, or that it has already been well-established that Sanders worked with the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) at the University of Chicago in the 1960s. We are also going to leave aside the fact that every mention of Bill Clinton in your book Walking With The Wind described an instance that he opposed some policy that you cherished.

Instead, we are going to talk about another person that you never saw or met.

When Performance Is Your Politics.

(Roqayah Chamseddine is a writer and activist based in Australia. This post was originally shared on For Those Who Wander.)

After the frightening attack on Planned Parenthood some of the best commentary social media had to offer was in the form of increasingly smug and hollow sarcasma cyclic outbreak of facetious questions in regards to the shooter’s religious history, his racial background, and who will condemn his actions. This reaction is repulsive as much as it is procedural. It is deeply formulaic, and after a few minutes on Twitter, for example, anyone with a keyboard and even a minutely popular account is able to reach thousands upon thousands with their own banal witicisms:

When are Christians going to go on television and denounce the Planned Parenthood shooter?
Why didn’t law enforcement kill him? Why is he alive?
Why aren’t they calling him a terrorist?
When is the white community/Christian community going to be surveilled?

A Moment of Silence: The case for keeping new organizers offline.

(This is a guest post from “Frank Little”, a union organizer in the Midwest.)

The goal of organizing is winning.

Your community has a need? Organize to build power and you use that leverage against those with statutory power to get what you need.

It is that simple.

This is the first lesson new organizers must learn. They must understand what winning looks like BEFORE they can dive into strategy and tactics.

We can’t win if we don’t know what winning means.

The Value of Small Changes: A Canadian perspective

(Allison Sparling is a social democratic political activist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. This post was originally posted on her blog Always, Always Something.)

Something that’s struck me a lot, especially since living in Toronto, is how frequently we mistake progressivism for some sort of brand to be consumed instead of a movement dedicated to tackling hard changes to save the planet and make humans more equal. When Conservatives decry the latte sipping elite, it’s a facile stereotype but they’re not wrong: social justice is not about what kind of coffee you can afford to drink, even if it treats its workers better.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t drink coffee that treats its workers well! This is good. This is important. But this is the one of the smallest parts of a social contract that needs to change. Businesses that exist in this type of economy need a competitive edge to justify their cost and continue their existence so they amplify their social good as a form of marketing to make you feel like this small choice is what you needed to to do end inequality, save the planet, justify your spending $3 when there’s cheaper coffee elsewhere. And if you spend that $2-3 at a locally owned business that treats its workers well, that’s even better.

But that’s still not social justice.

Which One Are You?

The practice of politics is something that I was born into.

My grandmother, Dorothy Marie Boone-Anderson, was a community organizer during the Civil Rights Movement.  Being someone who left school in the eighth grade to work in the fields and help support her family, she understood that the only way oppression could stand was in the face of a hopelessly divided working class. She was someone who understood that building coalitions and activating the common spirit were indispensable qualities for a successful movement.

When my father first arrived on the job at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1982, he came home and told Grandma that someone had talked to him about joining the union. When she asked him if he had signed up for the union that first day, he said that he had not.

My grandmother was a woman of many qualities; introversion was not one of them. After getting a talking to about the importance of collective bargaining and working-class political power, he quickly joined the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. When he was moved to a different shop, he became a member of the Machinists. It is through that union that he continues his service to America’s working class.

Given this, it seems obvious that the discussion of current events around the dining room table were as much a part of my childhood as my grandmother’s delicious cornbread or the smell of roasted peanuts. The topics ranged from the local (usually around Suffolk politics or the Civic League that she belonged to) to the national (my father’s discussions about fighting the North American Free Trade Agreement’s passage in 1993). Even after my father moved away to pursue new job opportunities (he had been laid off from the shipyard in 1993; thanks a lot, President Clinton), the routine remained the same: Grandma would ask me what I wanted for breakfast; I would reply that I wanted the usual; and about twenty minutes later, I would come out to pancakes, bacon, black coffee with sugar, and the day’s Virginian-Pilot.

Through these conversations and my experience in American politics, I have learned one important lesson.