Tag: Bernie Sanders

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?

They Have Learned Nothing And Forgotten Nothing.

Look, I should be upfront about this: I am not a Democrat — though I was at one point — nor do I think that the Democratic Party is an entity that will ever have the working class’s interest at heart. In a way, the party’s flailing campaign of red-baiting and blame-shifting onto pointless crap that few people give a damn about works as a benefit to socialists who are working to build a politics of equality and liberation. Additionally, I really hate writing response pieces; I would much rather be thinking of ideas that can be put to use as we move forward.

But after reading Susan Bordo’s article in the Guardian — titled “The destruction of Hillary Clinton: sexism, Sanders and the millennial feminists” — I simply could not help myself on this.

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.

It Can Happen Here, Unless…

“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’”

Halford E. Luccock, Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938)

The emergence of Donald Trump, Republican frontrunner, is not a joke.

His rise isn’t, say, indicted former Governor of Texas Rick Perry developing sudden amnesia during a GOP debate in 2012. It isn’t former awful pizza company CEO Herman Cain’s creepy grin. As much as Trump is a blustering buffoon like Perry or a caricature of the greedy businessman stereotype like Cain, there’s nothing funny about his emergence at the head of the Republican pack.

It’s not funny because the folks coalescing around Trump as supporters and allies are already hurting people. A Trump supporter in Mobile, AL proposed permits to murder undocumented immigrants at the southern border. Trump supporters in Boston beat and urinated upon a homeless Hispanic man, and the most recent incident of ad hoc political violence against a protester at one of Trump’s rallies is the third by my count. The implications of this all are not good, and the main worry I have is that the gap between disorganized political violence and organized political violence is minuscule, and is already being jumped over.

Just like discussions of killing baby Hitler as a hypothetical way to head off atrocities like the Holocaust ignores the fact that the NSDAP was a political movement with a base of support that was actively able to contest state power, focusing too much on Donald Trump the person conceals the conditions that are allowing a malignant political movement to form around him. When you get right down to it, the only way to stop ‘Trumpism’ (if you can call it that) is by understanding the groups of people who are feeding his rise.

Labor Rights Are Civil Rights.

I debated whether I should write this. I feel like this far too often when I sit down to write lately, especially when it comes to addressing something as thoroughly empty as anything dealing with Black Lives Matter. That goes tenfold for anything that happens regarding Black Lives Matter within that razor-wired echo chamber known as social media. In fact, I had not planned on writing anything more about this, and I plan to go back to doing so once this piece is finished.

But witnessing this breathtaking display of rank stupidity compels me to point out a couple of things:

  1. People associated with Black Lives Matter have managed to put out precisely one detailed list of demands. Those demands are tightly focused around one issue. If you abhor the quick death of a policeman’s bullet but are hunky-dory with the slow death caused by out-of-control unemployment, health disparities and outcomes, and the degradation of America’s contract with its working class, then I have to ask which Black Lives Are Supposed To Be Mattering with these demands? And if you cannot articulate a comprehensive plan of action for your community of interest, then what are the protests if they are not symbolic?
  2. The March on Washington….For Jobs and Freedom. Look up those demands sometime, if you ever want an example of what an actual plan for liberation looks like. If you are the kind of person who likes substance and detail, perhaps the Freedom Budget, championed by labor leader and March on Washington organizer (and a Black man to boot!) A. Philip Randolph is more up your alley.
  3. Related to that last point, a Black man is head of America’s second largest labor union. A Black man (and an immigrant) is the Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. Black people have been the largest supporters of an expansion of labor rights, and they have been the backbone of one of the most successful labor campaigns in a generation, the Fight For 15. Black people are also more likely to identify as working class rather than middle class or wealthy. The notion that pointing out this fact, as well as pointing out that economic inequalities are reduced where workers can collectively bargain, is akin to someone saying that “all lives matter” is, well, out-of-touch with reality. And history.
  4. And since we are talking about Bernie Sanders not protesting with Black Lives Matter, maybe this has something to do with it? It is not really about him, but the amnesia that comes over certain sectors of online activism when it comes to this one candidate has gotten to be really bizarre.

I hate writing about this stuff because it honestly bores me, even more so when you can see the fast-approaching end game of all this. I would much rather be working on my blog piece about histories of leftism in the South, or be researching my dissertation, or be outside enjoying the abundant splendor that is life in Detroit.

But at a certain point, it becomes necessary for there to be a transcript. One that will let people who look back upon this stuff know that the conversation was not one-directional, and that there were people who legitimately cared about liberation and freedom who nevertheless opposed this mild reformism, infused with radical posturing. And one that states the painfully obvious: that if every police officer put down their guns and fully disarmed tomorrow, that this would do little to put food in the bellies of hungry children, or put a roof over the heads of the approximately 20,000 homeless in Detroit, or give our kids an education system that treats them as humans, and not just numbers or dollar signs.

Labor unions have been at the fore of fighting for all of those things. And not just that: the strength of a nation’s labor movement has been shown to positively affect the responsiveness of government to its most vulnerable (Bartels 2010) as well as the size of its social welfare state (Goldfield 1987; Esping-Anderson and Korpi 1983). The backing that the fights for civil rights, Medicaid, and Social Security had from the labor movement, and their successes, should prove that in multitudes.

Labor rights are civil rights. And if we really intend to make Black Lives Matter, perhaps a simple recognition of that easily researchable historical fact should be recognized.

Black Lives Matter and The Failure to Build a Movement.

Black Lives Matter has become an embarrassment.

Even if I were not a supporter of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination (though I wish that he would run as an independent), I would feel this way. Proof of their wholly unserious treatment of serious issues can be found in this sprawling Facebook post, replete with Beyoncé-based hashtags and all, that manages to spend hundreds of words saying nothing of note:

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 5.45.55 AM

And then there were tweets like this, which abounded social media:

For a group of people that are fond of telling people to Google It, these folks seem either unwilling or unable to find out what Bernie Sanders actually stands for. However, since I am an organizer (and part of that role is to educate), here are the facts:

  1. This was not a Bernie Sanders rally. It was a rally in favor of expanding Social Security and Medicaid. On the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, polling in multiple swing Senate races and House contests found that Black voters overwhelmingly supported the expansion of Social Security. In Arkansas, one of the most conservative states in the Union and a state that twice elected the dad from 19 Kids and Counting to the state legislature, Black people supported the expansion of Social Security by a 9-to-1 margin. Do their voices matter? Maybe they are also “white supremacists”, as one of the protestors called the attendees of the rally.
  2. Bernie Sanders has one of the best civil rights records of any person to run for president. I know that some former foreclosure lawyers might feel some kind of way about discussing this, but it is important that we discuss things that people have actually done. So here are Bernie Sanders’s ratings from civil rights organizations throughout his career in Congress. Here are the bills that he has sponsored over his time in Congress. All of that, of course, is in addition to the work that Sanders did during the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe someone who made their money off making poor people homeless (even if she did cry about doing so, all the way to the bank) does not care about such things; I suspect that the people reading this blog, though, might feel differently.
  3. This quote from one of the protestors is stupefying. “‘Bernie, you were confronted at NetRoots at by black women,’ (Marissa) Johnson said before adding, ‘you have yet to put out a criminal justice reform package like O’Malley did.'” Just in case you were wondering, that would be Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore who put in place much of the aggressive policing tactics that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray on April 12th. The candidate who has stood at the forefront of civil rights advocacy for over fifty years is now being told by Black Lives Matter activists (and liberal columnists) that he needs to be more like, you know, the guy who gave thousands of Black men across his city arrest records for the ridiculously minor legal transgressions. It is a perfect example of the triumph of form over substance in politics.
  4. The notion that these activists are putting anything on the line with these protests is hilarious. You have to chuckle a bit at the notion that these activists are putting their lives on the line….at a rally for expanding Social Security and Medicaid in Seattle. Perhaps they feared the septuagenarians tossing their fair trade Starbucks at them on stage? In any case, whenever the “hooriding” on Republicans commences, please let the rest of us know. Hell, I would be happy with them simply “hooriding” on Hillary Clinton, but we hear that doing so might require actual work, so maybe we will not see that, either. If these folks can’t pull together a coherent, disruptive protest against Hillary Clinton in the way that climate activists just did, how is there any chance of them successfully challenging police violence?

But as much as this series of protests might irritate me as a Sanders supporter, my frustration is not really about him or this ridiculous protest. I am frustrated by what one of the protestors called “the biggest grassroots movement in the country right now” and their lack of interest in winning any tangible gains for those that they claim to have as constituents.

Making Black Lives Matter to Liberals.

Only white men care about economic issues.

Politicians like Bernie Sanders who discuss things like economic democracy, the right to form labor unions, and the redistribution of wealth have a callous indifference towards the plight of oppressed communities who simply do not care about such things. 

If this sounds absurd that’s because it is. Women and people of color care a lot about wealth inequality and so-called “class issues,” the cornerstone of Sanders’ presidential campaign. So much so that the polling is unambiguous — those so-called “Bernie Sanders” issues are prioritized by women and people of color again and again.

Given that black people and other people of color are the most likely to consider themselves working class rather than middle class, this makes sense. And since the working class is disproportionately female and nonwhite — and since workers tend to be pretty smart about what is and is not in their material interest — this should not be a surprise.

So why is The New York Times and other liberal media outlets trying so hard to convince us otherwise?