Category: Organizing and Strategy

Democracy Is More Than A Ballot Every Two Years

….and do other stuff, too.

There is a common sense about democracy in the United States.

We elect people to government. By and large, we allow them to do their work. If we like their work, we re-elect them. If we do not like their work, we sometimes get angry, but that anger is mostly confined to the ballot box every two to four years. The power and agency afforded to one in this system is largely based on class: the wealthy are sought out for consult and decision-making, while the working class is almost entirely shut out of such channels of power completely.

This common sense complicates the everlasting tensions between the Left and the electoral process.

On one hand, the crafting of this two-party system is not natural, and is the product of a long line of decisions taken by the privileged and powerful to limit the acceptable realm of solutions to the problems plaguing our society. Barriers such as onerous signature requirements and the lack of alternative electoral options — such as fusion voting or proportional representation — means the choice that one is presented with on their November ballot often constitutes shades of the same. As such, socialists are right in denouncing the American political process as a kind of sham: democracy for the bosses and authoritarianism for the worker.

Yet national mythologies and common senses are rarely formed without at least some acquiescence from the working class, and it is no different with the electoral process. The truth of the matter is that, for now, the ballot box is the way that a plurality of the working class marks their political preferences. Because of this, socialists cannot afford to completely dismiss the electoral process, lest we be out-of-touch with the class that we seek to elevate, liberate, and emancipate.

So then, what is to be done?

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Because the Comeback™ would not be complete without a celebration of displacement and gentrification.

In case you have been living under a rock, Detroit Is Coming Back™.

For years, Detroit has been the poster child of American neoliberalism and austerity. In Michigan, the state is allowed to appoint officials that supplant those who have been duly elected by popular vote in times of financial distress. These officials, known as emergency managers, are granted sweeping powers to do whatever it takes to “balance the books”, even if it means shredding the public sector and the services that they provide to the working class. The institution as a whole is not simply an attack on services; it is an attack on democracy itself, especially since emergency managers have the power to remove “uncooperative” elected officials.

Realizing this, Michiganders went to the polls in November 2012 and rejected Proposal 1, which ended the authority of emergency managers in the state. Not to be deterred, Gov. Rick Snyder — who had campaigned for the office in 2010 on being “One Tough Nerd” and “running government like a business” — and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature passed Public Act 436, which made mild modifications to the previous statute but kept in place the emergency management system.

The emergency manager for Detroit had one job: make the city safe for capital again. Kevyn Orr, the corporate lawyer who was appointed as Detroit’s emergency manager in March 2013, took to the job with aplomb. Union contracts were cancelled, retirees saw reductions in their benefits, and city services were sold to private firms. Orr directed the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to cut off water to those who were behind on their bill, adding another layer of cruelty to working-class families in a city devastated by capital flight and a toxic brew of violence from white supremacy and spatial segregation.

The financial bankruptcy may have ended in 2014, but the social and moral bankruptcy continues amongst those who rule this city. Talk to any long-term Detroiter and they will tell you the same. But if you are unable to make it to this city — a gem full of culture, great food, and even better people — then I direct you to a shining example of such elite turpitude: Detroit Homecoming.

The Debut of Roqin’ With The South Lawn!

We are proud to announce the debut of our new political podcast, Roqin’ With The South Lawn. It’s hosted by us and friend of the blog Roqayah Chamseddine, and it’s produced by another friend of the blog Drew Franklin. It’s a twice monthly podcast that will do interviews and discussion about topics relevant to organizing and political mobilization for the Left, mostly from a view that is skeptical of electoral politics. This episode, we discuss antifascist direct action and general strikes.

The next episode, we are bringing Robert Greene on to discuss the history of socialism in the US. The RSS feed can be found here, and we are working on getting the show into the iTunes Music Store and Google Play Music.

Liberals for Trump.

(This is a joint post by Douglas and Cato)

American liberalism is dead. Stop us if you have heard this one before.

Further proof of this can be found in the liberal reaction to the firebombing of an office being rented by the North Carolina Republican Party. In addition to the damage from the fire, graffiti was also written on the side of the building that said “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else”.

Let us remind you that the North Carolina Republican Party has, in the last five years:

  1. Repealed the Racial Justice Act, which allowed people of color who were on the state’s death row to overturn their convictions if it could be shown that race was used as a basis for their punishment.
  2. Tightened restrictions on a woman’s right to choose in numerous ways, including a tripling of the state’s waiting period for an abortion (from 24 to 72 hours) and the requirement that abortion doctors must record a fetus’s “probable gestational age” and send that information to the Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. Shown a disdain for popular protest in the state by having Moral Monday protesters arrested numerous times for protesting in the State Capitol. One lawmaker, State Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-Wilmington), referred to the protests as “Moron Mondays”.
  4. Slashing funding to public higher education to the point that the University of North Carolina System discontinued 46 majors at universities across the state, including the famed Jazz major at North Carolina Central University. Before the cuts, Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) stated that, “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
  5. On that last note, that brings us — of course — to the most recent crusade of the North Carolina Republican Party: ensuring that transgender citizens of the Tar Heel State are unable to use the bathroom without fear of harassment or violence. The law, named the anodyne Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act or HB2, also severely weakened employment protections and municipal autonomy for all North Carolinians.

One might think that, given the oft-professed concern for the lives of the marginalized, liberals might give the news out of Orange County little more than a shrug. Surely, no one with any notion of progressive politics would dare to do something like, say, open up a fundraiser to get a new GOP office up-and-running in the final stages of a national election, right? That would be absurd and antithetical to any notion of solidarity with the numerous victims of reactionary and oppressive public policy in North Carolina.

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.

Defragmenting The Movement: A Model For Building Working Class Solidarity

(This is a joint post between Cato and Douglas.)

The words on the flag of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are a perfect summation of the labor movement at its best: “JUSTICE ON THE JOB, SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY.”

It is that sense of solidarity that drives aggrieved workers to reach out to union organizers in the first place. They know that they are not just signing up to join a local or negotiate a contract, but to be a part of a movement that has been the last line of defense for many a worker since those Mill Girls first walked off the line in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1845. It is a movement that has come out of the shadows of its craft union past to embrace an industrial unionism that places its priorities in growing the ranks of the organized.

Well….not exactly.

On Right-Wing Political Violence

Yesterday, I wrote the following:

[T]he main worry I have is that the gap between disorganized political violence and organized political violence is minuscule, and is already being jumped over.

Today brings word that five people protesting police violence in Minneapolis were shot by three white supremacists in front of a police station. Some reports have the cops refusing to render aid to the wounded and macing the protestors, which is entirely believable. Thankfully, the specific Nazi scum that opened fire on the crowd are poor shots and those targeted were just wounded and not killed. However, this is not an anomaly but is instead a reflection of an ongoing march of right-wing political violence.